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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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4/5. This... may be the most charming book ever! I think the most fitting adjective, actually, is effervescent. I just loved this book SO MUCH.

If I were to write a recipe for making this book, it would go something like this: Start with a base of Georgette Heyer, having scraped out all the unthinking racism and replaced it by actually, you know, thinking about it. Add in worldbuilding extracts of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and a pinch of the same via Harry Potter. Pour in a large dollop of Diana Wynne Jones. Mix well. Fold in some A Little Princess charm (making sure to separate the smugness and classism out beforehand). Glaze the entire thing with humor (I laughed out loud with this book more than I have in quite a long time), and enjoy!

I feel like with an ingredient list like that, it could very well come out as being stodgy or issuefic or dragging or just plain boring -- but no. Cho is like a conjurer, keeping a bunch of dazzling balls in the air at once (well, maybe only, like, four, or five? six? They're so shiny that I get distracted by -- shiny! I mean, what was that again?), and never once does she let them fall. It's just so charming!

I loved all the characters. Poor dear Zacharias, obviously the wonderful Prunella, and I also absolutely loved the minor characters, especially Damerell and Rollo. (But -- I mean -- Mak Genggang! the Sibyl! Aunt Georgina!! I love them all!) Zacharias and his complicated relationship with his parents, I just want to hug them all, AGH.

I will say that the prologue didn't grab me right away, nor did the beginning of the first chapter, and I kept going because I have learned that when [personal profile] skygiants recommends something like this I generally really enjoy it. And this also turned out to be the case here! By the end of the first chapter, I was on board, and by the end of the kindle free sample, I was sort of reflexively hitting the "yes of course I want to buy this" button.

A couple of questions: Spoilers! )

I would strongly recommend reading at least one Heyer before reading this, both to see what Cho is working with/against and because if you don't like Heyer you may well not like this book either, which is written in the same style. I recommend Cotillion if you only read one Heyer. (If you're planning on reading more than one, I do not recommend Cotillion, as this was my first Heyer and all the other ones were kind of lame in comparison.)
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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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5/5. So I was sufficiently disappointed in The Bishop's Wife that I started reading bits and pieces of Lost Boys to compare, and I ended up snarfing almost the entire thing down — all the bits that referenced the LDS church, in any case.

This is a book I can't think rationally about at all, so, you know, I love it very very much and you'll just have to take that with all the grains of salt in the world. It's a formative book for me. I read it first in high school, when I had no idea about anything involving marriage and kids, and it has informed the way I think about relationships and families in a deep way. Like, there's a passage where Card — I mean, Step Fletcher, the narrator, although you can tell this is a book where the characters are deeply identified with Card and his family, where the pain of the characters is pain from Card's own life that has been transformed and transmuted (compare e.g. a lot of his early work, where he just enjoyed torturing characters just because) —

Cut for length: Marriage. Kids. Church. Writing and the ward prophetess. )

Also, you know, for this book: basically all the trigger warnings IN THE WORLD. Seriously, if you have any triggers (including bugs) I would not recommend reading this, at least not without talking to me first. And the whole thing makes me bawl. I mean, on rereads I can barely get through a chapter of it without bawling (partially because the themes of the ending are shot through the entire book).

But if you want a primer to LDS life, to what it's like to live as an LDS family in an LDS ward, I can think of no better, more heartfelt, or more true example than this book.
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3/5. Okay. So. I thought I was going to adore this book. Then I read the first chapter. Then I thought I was going to hate and despise this book. Then I read the rest of it and decided it was okay. Its principal problem is that it's not the book I wanted it to be, which isn't its fault; a related secondary problem is that it doesn't fully engage with its (LDS) environment, which may not be the author's fault (more on that on a bit) but which I think is a flaw in the book. It's also got some other subsidiary flaws.

The book I wanted was a mystery-sleuth-esque version of Orson Scott Card's Lost Boys, which as far as I'm concerned is the book describing what it is like to be a practicing LDS living in an LDS ward. I don't know of any other book that does it nearly as well. What I wanted was for this book to do for LDS women what Lost Boys did for LDS wards as a whole: show the fabric of the cross-connections, the friendships (the feuds, for that matter), the acts of service and love binding together the women of the ward (and, heck, the acts of pettiness and obnoxiousness, and how they're dealt with) -- which is THE thing that I find most wonderful and valuable about the LDS church -- and use that as a jumping-off point to solve the mystery.

The book I got was a mystery that sort of tangentially took place in a space created by a religion that was similar to but utterly unlike the LDS Church I know, with almost nothing in the way of cross-connections between women (heck, it only barely passes Bechdel), no sense of that fabric binding the ward as a whole. Linda, the main character and titular Bishop's Wife, is some sort of brave soul all by her lonesome forging those interpersonal connections one agonizing link by link by bringing baked goods and for the first time opening up to other people who open up to her because she is The Bishop's Wife.

Baked goods, hierarchical inaccuracies, Miss Marple, Heroine Validation. )
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5/5. tl;dr version: READ THIS BOOK. READ IT.

Long rambly version: I really, really did not want to read this book. It's about about the end of life. It's about death. It's about how we (individually, in partnership with our doctors, and societally) prepare, or should prepare (and often don't), for these things. Ugh. Who wants to read about that?

I trust Gawande, though, so I read it anyway. And it was brilliant and difficult and something I am really, really glad I read. Long rambly version continues. )

This should be required reading for anyone who lives in a modern society and has a loved one who is going to grow old and/or die, or is going to grow old and/or die herself. That is, all of us.

It is February, which once upon a time [ profile] julianyap designated as Put Quotes in Your Blog Month, and though no one remembers this but me, I still think it's great, so have a quote:

Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?


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