Good Lord, it's been a while since I got around to this.
After I finished the Clocktaur War duology, I felt a need to read something I already knew, so I added Diana Wynne Jones' Magids books to my Kindle and steamed through them. I love them, even when they get info-dumpy. I don't think I'd ever realized how out-of-synch Nick and Roddy are with each other, emotionally, in The Merlin Conspiracy. In fact, SPOILER I don't believe she has any idea how much he's crushing on her, and that's probably just as well. More realistic that way, too.
Now I'm doing some re-reading for a writing exchange. Contrary to my usual practice, I actually have the story outlined: I outlined it on JoCo, during a writing-time meetup.
Then I should do some more Hugo reading. I don't like reading comics electronically (unless web comics), so I bought On a Sunbeam and Abbott, and I should re-read vol. 3 of Monstress which I zipped through much too fast when I got it for Hanukkah.
After that, I guess I'll start looking for Hugo nominee short stories online, but I don't want to mess with the YA nominees untll I learn whether there's going to be a Voter's Reading Packet this year. It's a really sweet deal when they have one, especially now that I've learned how to get the files onto my Kindle.
So I didn't blog my Hugo reading (novellas) last week as intended. So y'all get to read the writeups this week.
The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark is a magical alternate history where New Orleans in the late 19th century is a free city, the U.S. Civil War is still going on, and a very successful slaves' rebellion has resulted in a nation called the Free Isles in the Caribbean. This rebellion was aided by a fearsome magical weapon called the Black God's Drums. Street urchin Creeper roams the streets of New Orleans, picking pockets and performing other minor criminal acts. She is also occasionally possessed by the goddess Oya, an occurrence that is apparently not all that rare. On her rounds, she overhears some very useful information about an attempt to coerce a Haitian scientist to give up the secret of the Black God's Drums. When Creeper passes the information on to interested parties, she becomes involved in a spooky caper out in the swamps, involving Confederate soldiers and a swashbuckling Free Isles airship captain, Ann-Marie. Told in Creeper's lively accented New Orleans dialect, this is a rich and thrilling tale that I enjoyed a lot.
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard has been described by some reviewers as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, with the Holmes character an abrasive detective name Long Chau and the Watson expy a mindship, a traumatized former military transport called The Shadow's Child. The ship was trapped in the Deep Spaces with her dead and dying crew and is now unable to take the long-distance journeys for which she was created. She makes a thin living as a brewer of drugs that ease space travel for humans and allow them to function more effectively in those conditions. Long Chau comes to her for aid in retrieving a dead body from Deep Space for study, but when the detective discovers that foul play was involved in the corpse's death, she and The Shadow's Child become embroiled in a mystery. This is beautifully written, like all of de Bodard's work that I've read so far, but I felt there was a barrier between me and the characters that kept me from becoming as emotionally involved as I might.
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson is on one level the tale of an ecological restoration engineer, Minh, who becomes involved in a time travel project with an organization, TERN, that she doesn't trust at all. Minh, one of the "plague babies" who were born in the underground cities in which humanity partially escaped complete ecological disaster, uses a set of six tentacle-like lower appendages in the place of the legs she never had. Although she is to some extent allowed to assemble her own team for traveling back to ancient Mesopotamia, they have to take along a member of TERN's staff who has experience in time travel. But there's another half of the story, the tale of an ancient king whose people are encountering strange omens. The two stories come together in a messy and unhappy ending, saved from complete disaster for Minh and her team only by the actions of their most inexperienced team member. It's a good story and well written, but it's not a cheerful one.
ANYWAY: this week I have been mainlining T. Kingfisher's Clocktaur War duology, The Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine. "T Kingfisher" is the pseudonym of Hugo-award winning cartoonist (for Digger) Ursula Vernon. I have been enjoying her novels but have previously found them rather slight. She takes several steps forward here, with a dark-ish fantasy of a team of criminals sent on a suicide mission to discover more about (and if possible, eliminate) the menace of the age, the Clockwork Boys, huge, unstoppable clockwork monsters who are destroying entire villages and towns.
The crew is led by Slate, a woman on the brink of middle age (she is 30) who is a skilled forger and burglar. She is accompanied by her former lover, an assassin named Brenner; a paladin who killed a number of nuns while possessed by a demon; and an extremely naive young scholar-priest whose order does not believe in the authority of women. Slate is snarky, very much aware of the paladin's handsomeness and innate decency, and has a surprisingly nuanced relationship with her ex, Brenner. There are scenes of genuine menace and beautifully described magic, and although the expedition is ultimately successful, it is not without cost.
I did find myself ahead of the characters in determining the nature of the Clockwork Boys during the second book, but I was enjoying things so much that it hardly mattered. Highly recommended.
So, the Hugo nominations deadline has come and gone, and I'm still reading the tail-end of something I didn't nominate because I didn't finish it yet.
This did lead to some contemplation on the subject of the various "Vol. 1 in a Series" books I read recently (of which this "unfinished" was one). If you're excited by the first book in a series, is it weird to nominate it for Best Novel, given that most of these don't quite stand on their own?
I had no compunctions about nominating Ancillary Justice and The Fifth Season in their respective years because they both blew me away, and they both wrapped up their endings enough to give some closure. But Robert Jackson Bennett's Foundryside ends quite deliberately on a very blatant teaser for what's to come. In fact I did nominate it because it was some of the best fun I've had in a book for a while, but I do have reservations in that it's nowhere near a complete work.
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller wants to be a great, timely, and significant book. It has ecological disaster, a Cool City, found families, people of diverse gender and sexuality, and its own "edgy employed street kids" answer to the skateboarding couriers in Snow Crash. On the other hand, the degree of improbable relatedness of significant characters gives that in the original Star Wars trilogy a run for its money, and Miller spends lots of time telling us how cool these characters are rather than showing us. He has some (self-consciously) beautiful set pieces near the end of the book that just didn't strike me as honestly earned. He didn't show me enough about (say) Character X to make me impressed and excited about her actions at the end. And this was true pretty much across the board, not just for one character. I found myself thinking that this must be the work of a novice author but in fact, he had a book in the running for the YA not-a-Hugo (now called the Lodestar) last year. And I didn't think much of that one either. Miller just doesn't seem to be a good match for me. Needless to say, I didn't nominate this one.
Then I read three novellas, but I am giving them their own post (likely tomorrow) because this is getting LONG.
Next, Semiosis by Sue Burke starts out very depressing. In fact, it put me in a funk for a day or so on my lovely (book-filled) vacation last week. But part of its grimness is realism: a clear-eyed look at a human colony settling what seems at first to be a very peasant world, with foods people can eat and plants that can be used for building etc. Life's never that simple in reality, of course. The secret of why people are dying and what exactly is going on with the ecology here turns out to be fascinating (and perhaps improbable ... but although I thought this once or twice, the story had me by then). There will be a sequel, and the ending of the current volume is pretty clearly the end of a major story arc rather than the whole work. Potential readers should note, as mentioned elsewhere, that there is a rape early in the story. I didn't feel that it was unnecessarily graphic, and perhaps more importantly, it's framed as one of several acts of violence done to the target in question. She reacts that way as well: it's just one more thing that happened, and she is not defeated by it. I nominated this one.
After that, I read Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee, and hoo boy, was that a weird and unhappy contrast to what I'd been reading. It's not that the book is bad, and in retrospect, Brazee really wasn't terrible with his female characters either. But his prose is clunky, no more than serviceable, where most of the other authors I have read recently actually write well, And the first chapter with Beth, the pilot of a mostly automated survey scout ship, obsessing about her "pee tube" began to get unpleasant — not because it made me squeamish, but just ... alright already, we get it. Beth is not a prude, and being in these ships is no picnic. Once things really got rolling, there was lots of derring-do and camaraderie and siblings-in-arms, and Beth gets a tough female friend so that we know Beth is not Smurfette. I don't regret reading it, and it might be interesting to see where Beth goes. But there are plenty of other books to read, and I'm not sure I want to bother. Your mileage may vary. (No, I didn't nominate it.)
Now I'm reading The Philosopher's Flight: A Novel by Tom Miller. This is a sort of alternate history with a touch of magic — only the faux historical book extracts at the start of each chapter insist it's not magic, it's philosophy. Some people in this world can bend natural forces to their will via the art of "sigilry," in which the practitioner draws special sigils (duh) or glyphs to focus the powers. At the time the story opens, early in the 20th century, philosophy has become Magitek, used for all sorts of practical purposes, from transporting goods and people across distances to putting badly injured patients into stasis until they can receive proper medical attention. One striking feature of the system is that women are naturally better at it than men. Robert Weekes, son of a doughty women of strong philosophical abilities (and possessed of a dark history that her son does not learn until later), proves to have an abnormal talent for philosophy (for a man) and is encouraged to enroll at Radcliffe College. A lot of is made of his gender-role-reversed fish-out-of-water status (he's from backwoods Montana), mostly to good effect. But I'm 95% of the way through, and the thing seems to be running off the rails a bit. We'll have to see how it ends.
My Hugo reading continues. (Quick, cho, write! It's again almost bedtime!)
So, Spinning Silver: Novik stuck the landing. For me, I think that it helped that we have, in reality, three heroines, each very different from the others and yet each very much a significant part of the story. I won't say that it's the best book (or ending) I've ever experienced, but this is the first time that I had the feeling about a Novik book that yes, I think I will re-read this one. Recommended.
Now I'm reading Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett (author of the Divine Cities trilogy), and wow, this is good so far. A very different sort of fantasy, with an intriguing premise for magic that is currently evolving into magitek. The story starts in a very stereotypical fashion, with an arch-thief involved in a spectacular burglary caper, and then goes off the rails in the best way almost immediately. I look forward to seeing where Bennett takes this.
Another drive-by. I worked from home today (snow/sleet closed things), then got into a computer graphics project, made dinner, cleaned up from dinner, and now it's nearly bedtime. (The Mr. cleaned up from breakfast/lunch, served me lunch, and made banana bread.)
I finished Circe: yeah, there was a slight twist to the ending. I saw half of it from about 50 pages out. I'm not 100% sure I believe in the other half. Not likely to be on my Hugo short list.
Then I digressed from my Hugo reading and re-read Andre Norton's Catseye, which I had bought some little while ago as a Kindle deal. I remembered some bits of it from my teen years but not others, and I'm definitely much more aware of her writing flaws now. (Um, you can call him "Troy" more than once, really you can; you don't have to keep alternating it with his surname and various epithets. Also, it's from his POV, so some of the editorializing about him comes off oddly.) But it was fun.
I'm now reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. She has finally written a book that I think I really like, although we'll see how the ending goes. Sadly, I was never better than lukewarm on her Napoleonic dragons series, and Uprooted was somehow not really my thing. I felt like Uprooted was dutiful. somehow? But this one is really drawing me in so that I can immerse myself in the story.
Driveby: I'm having a tiring week, and need to go to bed ASAP.
I finished The Calculating Stars, and it ends well enough for me to look forward to reading the sequel, The Fated Sky. It was also pubished in 2018, so I'm not sure what the rules are re Hugo Award.
I'm now reading Circe, by Madeline Miller. People seem to be excited by this book, including recommending it for Hugo nominations. I am about 70% of the way through, and it is grim, sad, grim. Man, the Titans are disgusting, and the gods are nasty. A seemingly "you are there" inside Circe's head re-telling does not help these facts. I'm also not sure I want to call it fantasy. It's well written, though?
Almost a month ago, krait was doing the classic icon meme, where you get someone to pick three of your icons and then you make a post in which you explain them. So yeah, guess who forgot all about it? Yeah, Anyway, here we go:
This is Tenpou Gensui ("Field Marshall Tenpou") from Saiyuki Gaiden, the prequel to Kazuya Minekura's cult favorite manga Saiyuki. He is a god in a Heaven that resembles a cross between an ancient Chinese court and a modern governmental bureaucracy. Tenpou is very well educated, obsessed with detail in the things he cares about, super sloppy in everyday life, an expert swordsman, and likely more than a little bit kinky (certainly fandom thinks so). I picked him as my avatar for writing Fandom Grammar columns back when I was doing that, because if anyone understands the difference between following a rule right off a cliff and instead applying it with finesse, it's Tenpou.
Here are Dee (left) and Ryo (right), the leads from the classic shounen ai/yaoi manga series FAKE, which is a Japanese view of an American cop buddy series. The series moves from hints and flirting (on Dee's part; Ryo is more shy/restrained) to out and out yaoi at the very end. It's all good-humored and sweet (despite the violence) as well as slightly weird: mangaka Sanami Matoh doesn't quite get everything about U.S. police detectives. The caption, "Love like this cannot be hidden" is from a Carrie Newcomer song that is very explicitly about same-sex relationships (according to the liner notes): Be True (YouTube).
This one is not nearly as fandom-oriented as the other two. It's a view of the Danube River, and I made it for posts about the European river cruise we took a couple of summers ago, as a belated celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary. It was a Viking River Cruise trip from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Bucharest, Romania: up the Rhine, across on the Main-Danube Canal, and then down the Danube: 3 weeks.
Wnt me to pick three of your icons? Ask in the comments!
Introducing the ULTIMATE FANFIC TROPE SHOWDOWN v3.1!!! (See end for link and advice on using it.)
My top results:
|Rank||Name (of Trope)|
|4||Friends to Lovers|
|5||Enemies to Friends to Lovers|
|6||Hot Single Parent(s)|
|7||Fairy Tale/Mythology AU|
|8||Accidentally Fell In Love With The Mission Target|
|9||Snowed-In Cabin/Isolated Together For Extended Period of Time|
|10||And They Were Roommates!|
Whoa, shocker. I do think that "And they were roommates" is too high and "Supernatural Creature/Human Romance" is too low.
The first time through, the results were No Good. As suggested, avoid picking "I like both" or "No opinion."
Hat tip: sholio
Yesterday I had to finish some other things. So here's books on Thursday instead.
I finished Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and it was pretty good: a worthy finish to this series of novellas. Murderbot has to extract a hostage: always the best type of action scenario, as I learned long ago when I used to run RPG tournaments. (Grabbing treasure and running is pretty trivial by comparison.) There's also the question of whether its allies are more trouble than they're worth. The story rolls along fast and ends bittersweetly.
Then, down with a cold, I powered through Lies Sleeping, the latest Rivers of London installment by Ben Aaronovitch. Wow, that was good! I had the feeling Aaronovitch had been basically stringing out events for the last couple of books until he could arrive at this place in the story, because this was much, much meatier and more interesting than this series has been for a while, As I noted on Book of Faces, there was one place near the end where I dropped my Kindle into my lap and applauded. This would make a reasonable stopping place for the series, but Wikipedia says there will be more.
Now I'm about halfway through The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. I picked this up as Hugo reading. I'd been going back and forth on whether to read it until I saw it mentioned in the Hugo context. I'm a little ambivalent about it. It's a compelling story and I like the viewpoint character, but every time I put it down, I find myself thinking it's not my thing. I think it may be Kowal's writing style, and it may even be deliberate. It feels very much like a mainstream novel, and that may be the effect she wants.
The next several new reads will probably all be Hugo stuff: nominations close March 16. If you have any suggestions for SF&F novels or graphic novels published in 2018 that you think I would like, please mention them. Other Hugo-eligible things I've already read are:
- Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
- Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
- Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
I have volume 3 of Monstress (graphic novel) Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda in hand but I have not read it yet.
30: A song that reminds you of yourself
Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel
I was haunted by this song from when I first heard it. It came out the year I turned 19, not long after I had my first major depressive episode on my own as an adult. The weird mysticism, the percussion beat to the odd 7/4 time signature, the theme of alienation from those who think they know you ("To keep in silence I resigned / My friends would think I was a nut"), and the yearning to go home (and at this point, my real home was pretty broken) hit me hard.
And then at the end, the singer realizes he doesn't need his things, all he needs is his actual home, where he can be himself. My spirit still rises in anticipation every time I hear the opening bars, and my heart is full in sympathy every time he sings "My heart going 'boom boom boom.""( Cut for complete lyrics )
The video is weird as all get out: I'm not sure what the cabbage theme at the fade-out has to do with anything.
*tap tap tap* Is this thing on?
So yeah, now that I'm back at work (finally!), I'm going to try to get this rolling again.
I got around to reading Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, which I'd had on my To Read list for ages. And ... meh? It wasn't for me. Sometimes I like Jane Austen-ish pastiche, but I was not so thrilled with this one. I could appreciate Zacharias' position (believe me, I could: that "stick with the job because you were entrusted with it, even while it kills you" is all too familiar), but at the same time, it made for a somewhat claustrophobic reading experience.
On the other hand, Prunella soon made me a little crazy. I'm not quite sure I believe her extremely sudden transformation from the dutiful behind-the-scenes manager to out-of-control sorcery prodigy. And frankly, I just didn't like her that much. I think I'm just the wrong audience for it. And I spotted the romance plot about a third of the way in, too.
My other big read was a bit of a disappointment as well. You all know I'm a super fan of C.J. Cherryh, and her Alliance-Union setting is one of my favorites (Chanur is the other). So I was anticipating Alliance Rising like crazycakes. But it's a really, really slow start. The info-dumping is on par with the opening of Downbelow Station, even though it's framed as the thoughts of the POV characters instead of third-person authorial narration. In fact, in terms of pacing and approach, this reads more like the start of a new "Foreigner" installment, with Bren reviewing all the events of the last three books.
About a third of the way in I nearly burst into tears: we were still on essentially the first real piece of action, the approach of one of the new jumpships to the creaky old Alpha space station at frightening speed. We read it from the viewpoint of a young local merchanter crewman, Ross, and then from the viewpoint of the sad, over-stressed station manager, and then from the viewpoint of a fairly high-up officer on the incoming starship, Finity's End. And OK, we learn something from each view, but hell! We're a third of the way into the book! Shouldn't we be seeing something else by now?
Perhaps as a result of the amount of time spent on this slow opening, I didn't feel as much engagement with the characters, and the station didn't feel as real to me, either, as most Cherryh settings do.
Anyway, I will certainly be following it up: lackluster CJC is still better than 90% of what comes out.
For where I'm going: I've just started Exit Strategy, the most recent Murderbot installment by Martha Wells. This is the finale of the series of "Murderbot Diaries," and I expect to like it, as I did the others. I was pleased to hear that she's sold a full-length Murderbot novel as well.
29. A song that you remember from your childhood
A Bushel and a Peck, sung by Vivian Blaine in the original Broadway cast recording of "Guys and Dolls"
Broadway was big in our house, My mother, who had a pretty decent soprano, used to sing this to me and my sister.
I loved Sara Bareilles' fist album, Little Voice, so much. The follow up was more sticky and gooey, less passion and tartness. When she gives the title callout in this, it hits me right in the feels.
I'm ready and waiting
For a heart worth the breaking
But I'd settle for an honest mistake in
The name of one sweet love.
I have not been reading as much Yuletide as I should, but I have found some great stories amidst what I did read:
The Voices of Small Bears (1050 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: October Daye Series - Seanan McGuire
Rating: General Audiences
Summary: Make no mistake, a family was here.
My take: . A lovely series of vignettes that adds up to a portrait of Toby and her family of choice.
five to one against (5209 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Summary: How Molly and Nightingale discovered haemomancy.
My take: A very strong Molly POV fills out her role in the series.
Cemetery Polka (2073 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Sandman (Comics)
Summary: They regard each other, for a long moment. Behind her large glasses, Larissa’s eyes are unblinking, but her clasped hands betray her, the fiddling of her thumbs against each other. She wets her lips, pursed and full and pink.
Death is mortal, tonight.
My take: That last line sums it up. Gorgeous bittersweet f/f.
the rain falling on the sunshine (2029 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: General Audiences
Summary: In the garden; after the war.
My take: The Secret Garden is a Yuletide perennial (hah!) if there ever was one, and this topic has been done many times before, but this is a nice take on it, with little bathos and a lot of genuine feeling.
The Rock and The River (17442 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi | Spirited Away
Summary: Chihiro takes magic and bends it around herself to make a place in the world.
My take: Spirited Away can generate overly cute fic as well as pieces with genuine mythical power. This is one of the latter. There's genuine human sadness and pathos amidst the many quiet wonders.
Intermission (24398 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Stand Still Stay Silent
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Summary: Emil tries to rebuild his life and help Lalli adjust to their new home in Sweden after their return from the Silent World. Slight canon divergence from the end of the First Adventure.
My take: This is a lesson in how to write romantic fanfiction: the myriad bits of everyday (and not so everyday) life, the tight third-person POV, and the genuine human reactions give the eventual breaking of the tension real power, leavened in the last bits with in-character humor.
I have not been to the movies for ages. Nothing recently has been impressing me enough to persuade my husband to go. But our grad student daughter is home for winter break, and my sister-in-law and our college student nephew were in town this weekend, and they wanted to go, so we all packed up and went together.
I enjoyed the hell out of this, It was funny and intellectually engaging in a lightweight way, with a rhythmic and humorous use of classic tropes to introduce each Spider-being avatar as they showed up. It was also touching and emotionally honest and made me cry, both at happy parts (which is typical for me) but also at sad parts (which I usually weather dry-eyed). I think I needed the catharsis.
It's visually busy but rather enthralling in that way as well. Because the show was close to sold out, we were sitting closer to the screen than I prefer (assigned seating: unusual!), but the Regal Majestic Silver Spring has put in the new reclining seats, so this wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as it might have been.
And the Stan Lee cameo was cute and touching.
Highly recommended for anyone who likes comics at all.
Do any of you all think it has promise?
I mean, I'm right there when it comes to supporting fannish stuff: that's why I do Kickstarter and Patreon. But a social media site needs to have some stuff going on, and I'm not feeling super creative right now.
ETA: Tumblr's Displaced Porn Bloggers Test Their New Platforms — covers both DW and Pillowfort (on Wired; h/t umadoshi)
I'll try not to repeat too much from my profile page.
I'm a slightly genderqueer married woman Of a Certain Age. I have a husband of more than 30 years, a grown daughter in a PhD program on the Left Coast (definitely a nerd like her folks), and various family members in my nearby area, which is Washington DC and environs (specifically, Takoma Park, MD, a/k/a The People's Republic of Takoma Park).
I have been a member of various fandoms since I was an 8-yr-old following the space program with my dad and reading the "Spacecat" books. In middle school and high school, I was a huge Tolkien and Star Trek:TOS nerd, and things went on from there. In college, I discovered D&D, and I still play tabletop RPG (Numenera, most recently) about once a month in a group that includes The Mr., his brother, and friends we have known for years.
I work as a web content manager (and to some degree, a systems analyst) on the intranet portal of a medium-sized organization. We're in the middle of porting a 4500-item site from Rhythmyx to Drupal.
I'm Jewish, liberal, and have fought depression for years (mostly with meds and meditation). I'm also a two-time cancer survivor.
I lock various posts. If you are interested in my health issues (including depression), my fic writing projects, the manga Saiyuki, or the remodeling job we're starting on our 1920s house, let me know, and I will add you to the applicable filter.