cahn: (Default)
cahn ([personal profile] cahn) wrote2017-03-03 11:38 am

Hugo-eligible novels

Okay, I should maybe say something about the Hugos. In the book category, I plan to read Necessity and All the Birds in the Sky before the nomination deadline, but haven’t gotten to either yet. Some I did at least start reading:

Company Town (Madeline Ashby) - 3+. This one started really strongly, with great writing, a great POV character, some really interesting things going on with the worldbuilding. If it had ended as strongly I would have given it a 4; sadly, I felt like the ending was rushed and uneven (and didn’t address a couple of pretty major plot threads) to the point where at one point I was like, “What’s going on?” And the love interest had pretty much zero character. But worth reading nevertheless.

The Obelisk Gate (N.K. Jemisin) - 3+. I liked it. It is a second book of a trilogy, so, you know. But... so, in the first book I was able to put aside Jemisin's somewhat stark viewpoints because the writing was so strong, and here it starts to poke at me. So: one of the major questions of this book is, “When are negative actions toward a child necessary in pursuit of a greater good?” The book seems to come down on “Never!” by using a lot of straw men like breaking a child’s hand. Which, okay, yeah, I agree is probably never necessary.

But if you’re ever in my house around toothbrushing time, the toddler feels that toothbrushing is a Very Negative Action, thank you very much, and is not afraid of disseminating this opinion at Great Volume. I mean, you guys! I feel really awful brushing his teeth! I feel like I’m torturing him! I constantly have to tell myself that it’s for the greater good of him not getting cavities, which would definitely be worse. I think I'm right, darn it.

And then there’s E’s music practice, which is complicated by my never knowing whether it’s going to end in total disaster or a happy sunny child. We’ve definitely had practices where both of us are in total despair afterwards — because kiddo Hates Mistakes and they are liable to send her into a spiral of meltdown — but, I mean, she’s got to learn how to make them! (And we are talking a LOT about how it's okay to make mistakes, that I would rather her deal well with mistakes than play it perfectly, that the Right Answer isn't as important as trying, etc. ad infinitum.) So I do have meta-reasons for doing this. And sometimes she really likes it! And she likes performing! So I don’t even know.

Anyway, that is all to say that I felt some sympathy for Essun teaching her daughter in maybe not the most considerate and sweet way because it was the way she thought would save the kid’s life? And, I mean, she might even have been right considering what happened to her other children? I don't think I was supposed to feel sympathy for Essun; the book pretty clearly comes down on the side of the daughter, here. And I think the question is more nuanced and interesting than Jemisin is willing to admit, and the book suffers for it.

Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, I think this is actually a novella) - 3. I actually love McGuire’s style here — it’s sort of this half-fairy-tale-ish-but-still-in-this-world quality, with some nice set pieces. And I admit I came in with low expectations which the book exceeded. All the negative things people have said about it are true (see e.g. [personal profile] rachelmanija’s review (no explicit spoilers) and [personal profile] ase’s spoilery review) but I didn’t really think about them too hard while I was reading. The funny thing is, the part that threw me out of the book was the part where people talk about the “directions” of fairy lands being, instead of north/south and east/west, wicked/virtue and logic/nonsense, with some “minor directions” in there. Those are not directions! You are not navigating by them! Those are descriptive/categorization axes.

There were two big issues I had, which are somewhat related to each other.First, most of the worlds where the girls went (and specifically Nancy’s) set off all my power-dynamic relationship squicks — I mean, older powerful dude going after young naive teenage girl who feels like she doesn’t belong, telling her that she’s wonderful and fits in and things are different with him and oh by the way he controls literally everything, and hey wouldn’t you like to leave your family and friends forever and be with me? Yeah. Do Not Like. Partially because of this, I disliked the ending intensely. I think I have a Thing about endings where the answer to “I’ve spent the whole book wanting outcome X which everyone has told me is pretty much impossible” is, “Oh! It was inside you all along and all you had to do was realize it!” (blergh) but even more when the answer is “going back to my coded abuser, that’s my happy ending!”

Too Like the Lightning (Ada Palmer) - DNF. On paper this book looks like it should be everything that delights me (rich complex future history, world-breaking sorts of events, lots of allusion, lots of historical resonance, lots of implicit statements) - I feel like… I was expecting Hild or John M. Ford and got something sort of weirdly not either? Also I suspect if I knew way more about the French Enlightenment I would appreciate this more. Also I felt decidedly as if she was trying too hard with the gender stuff, like, Mycroft keeps saying how they live in a gender-neutral society and then he is constantly bringing up gender, gender roles, gender stereotypes... Which I guess is kind of the point, but I felt like Palmer was telling me rather than showing (compare for instance Leckie’s Ancillary books, which make a much stronger point to me by being very quiet and matter-of-fact about its pronouns and describing how other people react to it).

Ninefox Gambit (Yoon Ha Lee) - DNF. Again I feel like maybe I’m not the right audience for this book, because I know a bunch of people really liked it, and on paper it seems really great (militaristic science fantasy with math words being used instead of “magic” words, with honor and belonging/place being a huge part of the culture) but 20% in I didn’t care about any of the characters at all or understand why they cared about their really pretty awful society, so I bailed.

Iron Cast (Destiny Soria) - DNF. Again on paper this seems great - Prohibition era AU with blood magic, manifested through music — this sounds awesome! I got bored and bailed after about three chapters. I dunno, maybe it was me.

Other stuff: I have to get some Related Work stuff in. Planning to look at Geek Feminist Revolution and there might be an Octavia Butler bio out there? Anything else I should be looking at?

Short fic post sometime this weekend, I hope.
thistleingrey: (Default)

[personal profile] thistleingrey 2017-03-04 04:01 am (UTC)(link)
I dunno, another friend who knows quite a bit about the French Enlightenment didn't like Lightning. *shrugs* I still haven't read more than a handful of pages of fiction in a month, so I haven't advanced in Gambit.
ambyr: a dark-winged man standing in a doorway over water; his reflection has white wings (watercolor by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law) (Default)

[personal profile] ambyr 2017-03-04 04:30 am (UTC)(link)
My plan for Related Works is to nominate Terraform Mars, a board game inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. It has a snowball's chance in hell of making the ballot, but it is the best piece of science fiction media I've experienced all year, and I can't think of what else I could nominate it for. It manages the astonishing feat of combining accurate science and elegant mechanics into something that never feels fiddly or tedious, just fun.

However, if there's a Butler bibliography out there, I'd definitely like to track it down and consider it for one of my other slots!
ashkitty: (fizgig)

[personal profile] ashkitty 2017-03-04 12:46 pm (UTC)(link)
I thought the opposite about Obelisk Gate, actually! I thought it was much more sympathetic to Essun, whereas Nassun is shaping up to be a little sociopath. (Maybe because of who the narrator was?) I also had a easier time with the second because in the Fifth Season, everything was SO bleak (well, it's all bleak) but also I couldn't get any feel for the world. I think it was because the protagonists are so set apart from all the rest of society, so you only get the briefest glimpse what life is like (mostly before places are destroyed). With Obelisk Gate, because they're settling into the comm, I guess it felt a bit more personal?

A friend has just recced me Too Like the Lightning, so we'll see if I pick it up. I have a lot on the to-read shelf.
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[personal profile] isis 2017-03-04 03:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Of these books that I've read, I HATED Every Heart a Doorway (great premise, terrible execution) and enjoyed but didn't love both Ninefox Gambit and All the Birds in the Sky. If I had to vote based on these three I'd vote No Award.
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[personal profile] luzula 2017-03-05 08:54 pm (UTC)(link)
I didn't like Lightning in the sense that it gave me warm and fuzzy feelings, but I definitely found it fascinating and creative and I continued reading to the end. And I'll be picking up the sequel.

On the gender stuff, I felt like it was definitely a case of unreliable narrator, and the way that they constantly drew attention to gender while professing not to care was a way of undermining their own professed position. Same with the egalitarianism--it's supposed to be so egalitarian but also it's run by a small inbred group of people who roleplay as aristocrats? I'd like to see how the foreshadowed social upheaval is going to play out.

About Ninefox Gambit--I haven't read it, partly because I'm afraid it will not work because I'm a mathematician. Not that the math will be wrong or anything, more that to me math is not something mystical, and in this book I get the impression that math is basically magic.
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[personal profile] luzula 2017-03-06 09:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Cool, should I keep going on Lightning?

I don't know? You could? I mean, if you didn't like the style in the part you read, it might be that it's going to keep annoying you.

Also, I didn't say that before, but there's a (heavily foreshadowed) reveal about horrible things that the narrator did in his past that I'm kind of suspending judgment about until I see what is done with it in the second book. I don't quite see the point of it now, so I am a bit ambivalent about it.
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[personal profile] luzula 2017-03-08 10:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh cool, I didn't know the second book was out! Thanks. And hey, looks like the third one is also out soon, that is very quick.