chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

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.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

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.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

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.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

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.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

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.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

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?

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

*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.

chomiji: A woman sits on a crescent moon, spilling snowflakes & fairy dust from a bag (Yuletide dream)

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)
Rating: Mature
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.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Well, it's been a while. I have been reading like crazy, but I doubt I can remember all I've been reading off the top of my head. Here's what I can recall at the moment:

For whatever reason, I have never previously read anything by Tamora Pierce. Recently, Big South American River had all three volumes of the Beka Cooper series on sale as ebooks for a pittance, so I bought them. And after a re-read for a writing project, I read them. And read them. Until I finished the whole thing.

Rebakah (Beka) Cooper is a child of the slums, but she, her siblings, and her mother come under the protection of a powerful nobleman and are taken into his household. The mother dies, and the children are trained in jobs that befit their station: the boys as couriers, the girls as maids ... except that Beka wants to be a Dog, one of the constables that their patron commands. She has a natural aptitude for it, as well as some supernatural powers that come in handy on the job (mages of various kinds are not uncommon in this world). The series opens as Beka as become a Puppy: a Dog trainee. It follows her as she becomes a full Dog and then one of the most skilled in her city's company.

It's very absorbing reading, vivid and enjoyable. I had a very strange feeling about the first two books versus the third, though. It was as though Pierce had conceived of and possibly even written the third book first, and then went back and wrote the first two. The first two are written as though they are the diary of teenaged Beka, and they work pretty well in that way. The third, where the stakes are much higher and where Beka and her team are crossing miles and miles of countryside, gets less plausible as a diary and also somewhat less engaging for me. There's also a plot twist that I'm not sure I buy as in-character for the person involved.

Is anyone here a Pierce fan? Which of her other books would you recommend?

I've also picked up the most recent volumes of the manga Black Butler (vol. 26) and The Ancient Magus Bride (vol. 9). When they arrived, I discovered that I had completely lost the plot of both series, and the previous volumes were lost somewhere in the house. The Mr. finally tracked them down for me.

Black Butler takes a serious turn after the arc about the mysterious doings in the popular music hall, in which we saw Victorian "boy bands" captivating the crowds (anachronisms mean nothing to mangaka Yana Toboso) as a front for far more sinister activities. Ceil discovers something momentous about his past... although this being Black Butler, I'm not sure of the truth of what he has discovered.

The Ancient Magus Bride covers the final part of the arc in which Chise has suffered grave effects after preventing a frightened young dragon from laying waste to London. She, Elias, and some fairy allies also put their main adversary to rest, at least for the time being. This is apparently not the end of the series, but a new major story arc seems to be next.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Hugo votes were due yesterday, so I hurriedly finished my Hugo reading over the past couple of weeks. I'm not going to comment individually on much of anything shorter than a novella: there are just too many of them. I may do an FFRiday post about one of them, though.

The Collapsing Empire (novel) by John Scalzi was better than I expected. He's grown a bit as a writer, and as [personal profile] viridian5 said, the characters are great. But it is very much Part 1 of a longer story and has a pretty cliffhanger-y ending.

And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker felt like a much shorter work than most of the other novellas. I keep wanting to say it's about clones, but it's not really: it's about duplicates caused by parallel universes, and they all end up at a convention together. It's also a locked-room mystery. I wasn't as impressed by it as a lot of others seem to be (and Pinsker's other nominee, the novelette "Wind Will Rove,” was much better).

River of Teeth (novella) by Sarah Gailey was a fun romp, a Weird Western with a flooded mid-America full of hippos, both scary Ferals and specialized domestic hippos used as riding animals. The cast members span a wide range of races and orientations. There are river boats, gambling, sharpshooters, and people of dubious virtue.

Binti: Home (novella) by Nnedi Okorafor will be liked by those who liked the earlier installments and disliked by their opposite numbers. The story takes a weird turn halfway through that seems unconnected with the earlier Binti novellas, as though Okorafor thought it up just recently, but the results of it were more interesting to me than Binti's previous adventures. I think one of the things that's been bothering me about this series and Akata Witch/Akata Warrior is that previously neutral characters seem to suddenly burst out nasty, with no previous indications of such issues.

The Black Tides of Heaven (novella) by JY Yang is SF that reads like mythic fantasy. It was beautiful and sad but somehow rather thin for me. And it is also clearly just Part 1.

I've read the first volume of Seanan McGuire's Incryptid series and am halfway through the second (it was up for Best Series). I'm enjoying them, but they are slighter than her October Daye series. My first choices for this award, both of which I read independent of their Hugo nominations, are in no danger from the adventures of Verity Price, journeyman cryptozoologist and ballroom dancer. Part of my problem is that Verity is a very girly girl, despite the guns and knives and parkour, and I get impatient with her constant commentary on hair and clothing.

The Art of Starving (Young Adult book) by Sam J. Miller is kind of mis-cast as SF&F. It's not clear to me that any of the magical stuff that Matt thinks is happening actually happens. Also, his family seems to have Judaism pasted on: although it's mentioned and his mother is described as buying Judaica/Jewish foods, she never reads to me as Jewish (which I am), and Matt's Judaism never seems to inform any of his actions. I appreciate that he is gay and eventually has a boyfriend, but the overboard angst and lack of anything that reads to me like actual SF&F made this one a non-starter for my consideration or this new award. But of course, I am not the intended audience for the book. Still, that didn't keep me from enjoying the other nominees in this category.

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate (Best Related Work) by Zoë Quinn is an important book. The first two-thirds or so is the chronicle of her harassment by the Gamergate malfeasants after her ex-boyfriend posted an online hatchet job of her character, and the last third is very chunky, rich information about protecting yourself online and helping others who have been victimized this way. But she could really have used a better editor. The continuity gets rough sometimes.

Phew! That's it.


Anyone have any recs for vacation reading? I already have Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee queued up, and I will download the latest Murderbot as soon as it becomes available. Oh, and I think I have another Incryptid or two on my Kindle as well.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

For Hugo reading, I read Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands, which hit an awful lot of sweet spots in the fashion of a piece of fanfic. It's funny, because I believe that some of the other YA not-a-Hugo nominees are better pieces of writing on a technical scale: Summer in Orcus, A Skinful of Shadows, and The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage are all more accomplished in that way. But this appealed.

Young Elliot Schafer, 13, sarcastic, prickly, Jewish (although minimally devout), and possibly a bit onto the autism/Aspberger's scale, has the ability to see magical portals and so is given a transfer from his boring boarding school to the program over the (seemingly invisible) wall. Puny Elliot is clearly not warrior material, so in Borderlands he ends up in the less prestigious Councilor track. Seemingly despite his social ineptitude, he becomes friends with the warrior elf maid Serene and the promising young fighter Luke. But many things are not as they seem, and although Elliot never does have the type of magical adventure he thinks he wants, he has a very important role to play.

The books reads like "Derkholm" Diana Wynne Jones taking on "Narnia": a great deal of the time, Elliot reads strongly as a sympathetic take on or perhaps and answer to Eustace Scrub in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair (look at their initials!). He is also a queer teenager who has both boyfriends and girlfriends by the time the story comes to an end, and although a lot of that is awkward, it's awkward because teens are awkward in this arena, not because Brennan handles it badly.

The other thing I've read this week was Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, Because Reasons. I've read it half a dozen times before, but this is the first time I can recall crying at the end: happy emotional release crying. The parts toward the end where Polly realizes that most of the authorities simply don't take the squad seriously as soldiers seemed to ring more bitterly true than usual, and so Polly's decision for action at the end, and her meeting up with the two young recruits, made the wonderful, silly last line hit very hard. When Pratchett was hot, he was on fire.

I think that next up is John Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire, which will finish me up for Best Novel nominees. I love Scalzi as a blogger, but I've always been less enthusiastic about him as a fiction writer. I don't expect that this is going to change my mind, but I owe him the good college try for all the enjoyment his blog has provided.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

I should have mentioned earlier about reading the first volume of the manga My Brother's Husband, by Gengoroh Tagame. This is about a single dad in Japan who, after his twin brother's death abroad, gets a surprise visit from the brother's Canadian husband. Mike Flanagan has traveled to Japan to meet his husband's family and learn about his early life. Yaichi is extremely unnerved by this hulking, hairy foreigner, but his young daughter Kana likes him almost instantly. Mike ends up staying with them for a while, and from interactions with him and other people's reactions, Yaichi begins to confront his own attitudes toward his late brother's homosexuality.

The book presents a lot of truths about Japanese society, not all of them positive. Gay people still cannot marry in Japan, people with tattoos are not welcome in a lot of gyms or public baths, and one of Kana's friends is told she can't visit Kana anymore because Mike is a bad influence.

Tagame's usual genre is erotic manga for gay men (he is gay himself). His drawings are very bold and clean, yet at the same time detailed. People tend to be a little short and blocky, but Tagame line work is attractively sensitive in a way that reminds me most of recent work by Fumi Yoshinaga (!).

I also read, weeks ago, A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge, which is up for to new YA not-a-Hugo award. This is a grim but gripping historical fantasy set in England just before the Civil War. Makepeace lives in London with her single mother, both of them sharing a closet of a space in the house of some relatives who barely tolerate them. Mother subjects Makepeace to harsh, weird discipline, making her stay overnight in a cemetery chapel at one point. It becomes clear that Makepeace can perceive ghosts, and that her mother is both trying to hide her daughter and make her strong. The first turns out to be futile: mother dies, and Makepeace's father's family come for her. Although they clearly despise her, she has some sort of mysterious value. Eventually, to her horror, she finds out why. I will say that the ending, although hardly sunny, is not completely tragic, and I intend to re-read the book at some point: it's very good.

At this point, I am wading (ha!) through Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140, climate sci-fi set in New York City after the sea level has risen 50 feet (~15 m). This is so not going at the top of my Hugo vote for Best Novel. Info dump, info dump all the way home. KSR plainly thinks I should be interested in his Big Ideas about economics and how it interacts with climate and so on. He's wrong. Also, for the first 20% of the book, I was completely uninterested in any of the characters, especially the so-brilliant young financial wiz Franklin Garr, who speculates in half-drowned real estate and is clearly meant to be (as much as anyone is) Our Hero.

The binding thread for the eight viewpoint characters is that they all call a single building home. The descriptions of this building and its neighbors, and the waterways that make drowned NYC the "New Venice," can be pretty cool at times. There are a couple of entertaining young boys, but I'm 80% of the way through the novel at this point and I still can't tell them apart, aside from their names. The society depicted here is rather odd too. We have men and women of all ages, but aside from our two young rapscallions, I can't recall any children. No one of any consequence seems to have a family. Two of the characters have exes, but that's about it. And that, to me, is just wrong. Conventional marriages may be on their way out, but all the people *I* know still have some sort of family.

Anyway, having come this far, I am bound and determined to finished this book, but it is a slog. I am certainly not this doorstopper's intended audience.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Wow, I have been off-course with this. In my own defense, I had a writing project, and also the very rainy weather had me pretty gloomed out.

It seem to me that I read a lot of things, but I'm not recalling much at the moment. One thing I do recall, I will hold for FFFriday instead. In the meantime:

[personal profile] sholio has been doing a C.J. Cherryh read and re-read, so I am going through the Chanur series again. I'm just starting Chanur's Homecoming, which is my favorite of the series.

I grabbed a couple of Zoe Chant's paranormal romances for brain candy: Bearista and Pet Rescue Panther. As far as I can tell, I'm not really the intended audience: I enjoy the action sequences a lot more than the romance. On the other hand, I used to love running shapeshifter characters in tabletop RPG, and that's what these are all about. They remind me of Marjorie Liu's Dirk & Steele novels, in a good way. They're much quicker reads, but they have the same action-team + romance thing going on. I do plan to get the third in this sequence, Bear in a Bookshop.

The 2018 Hugo Reader's Packet was released this past week. It's a good thing I had already read most of the novels, because only a few were included in full this year. Still, it's a lot of books and stories.

One of the books that was included was Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale. Arden is nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. This is a YA fantasy novel based on Russian history and folk tales. I think it will please a lot of the people who liked Novik's Uprooted. Arden is an assured and fairly elegant writer, but the book did have some flaws that loomed large for me (possibly not for others):

  1. A new character is referred to by his name several pages before the viewpoint character is actually told his name (and bad on the editor - that should have been caught).
     
  2. Most people won't understand the title at all until 75% of the way through the book, and I only picked up half of it sooner than that because I know a little Russian. And the title is still not that great even once you understand what it means.
     
  3. Arden completely pushes an annoying but ultimately innocent character under the bus, allowing this character to to die a horrible death. This is not a terribly nice character, but Arden shows us that the character could have been at least 50% of what our beloved heroine was, if not for different circumstances. And that really hit me hard, and I don't entirely trust Arden as an author now, if you know what I mean. Because part of why this character [spoiler: Anna Ivanova]was developed the way she was, was to provide a contrast and foil for the lead. She really seems a victim, and it left me with a bad taste in my brain.
chomiji: An image of a classic spiral galaxy (galaxy)

Via rachelmanija and yhlee: May SFF sale.

There are four pages in all, with links to multiple online sales outlets for each book. It's an odd lot: A-/B+ books by classic authors, large selections of stuff from B-grade authors, and all the Gor books anyone I know could ever want ... .

I got a handful of borderline obscure fantasy: R.A. MacAvoy's complete "Lens of the World" series and The Northern Girl, book 3 of Elizabeth Lynn's "Chronicles of Tornor." I don't particularly care about the other two volumes, so I wasn't sad that they weren't there.

Anyway, take a look: they're all $0.99–1.99.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

So I did a little Rosemary Sutcliff nostalgia re-reading: The Witch's Brat and Flame-Colored Taffeta. I enjoyed them, although they are not my favorites (those would be The Silver Branch and Dawn Wind).

Then I started something that I had seen listed on many people's lists of favorites in recent years but had never picked up for whatever reason, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I am enjoying it immensely! The jinni and the golem both end up in the New York City of (I think) the earliest 20th century. The book takes many digressions, telling side stories of people involved with the pasts of the two supposedly mythological beings, before returning to the the main storyline once more. The two have just met for the first time. I have no idea how this is going to end! "In tears" is a possibility, but given how many positive reactions I've heard for this book, I'm hoping for better.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Having finished Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones, I had to do the sequel, The Year of the Griffin. I like this one better, but it's strange. The book is set in a university, albeit a magical one, with lead characters who seem in the 17 - 20 age range, and yet the target audience seems much younger, maybe 11 - 14. Some adult-ish things happen, but they are described very simply. For example, some foreign griffins show up. They are crude and rather bestial, and they make lead character griffin Elda (who first showed up in Derkholm) feel weirdly like lying down and giving in ... to sex, clearly, from my much older viewpoint. And I'm not plucking this from nowhere: Elda acts protective toward one of her classmates, hiding him under her wings, and the strange griffins mock her, saying she's clearly ready to be a mother. But would the young pre-teens and teens glom onto what's going on here? I'm not sure.

Now I'm doing a Saga re-read Because Reasons. This is the first time since I started the series 3 years or so ago that I have done a re-read. Holy mackerel, the deaths and the angst.

(For those who don't know this work: Saga is a science fantasy comics series by Brian Vaughan (author) and Fiona Staples (artist). It's about war, and families, and what happens when the two come together. The leads are Alana and Marko, soldiers from the opposite sides of a very long-term war, who hook up, marry, and have a baby. And now the entire universe is pursuing them from planet to planet. It's very violent, sexually explicit, and has some lovely things to say about families, of all sorts.)

I need to make some Saga icons. Also, this series is becoming popular enough that there are Funko Pop! figurines of the most popular characters, including Marko, Alana (either with baby Hazel or a gun), The Will, Lying Cat, and Izabel. I love Izabel in the series, but I don't care for her Funko figurine. There are also some more realistic action-figure-type figurines available of the first four. I also saw a plush Lying Cat, but it was just awful.

I took a brief tour through TVTropes' article on Saga and found the following wonderful quote from the author, ca. 2012 when it was just starting: "This is an original fantasy book with no superheroes, two non-white leads and an opening chapter featuring graphic robot sex. I thought we might be cancelled by our third issue."

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

Missed another week ... mainly, I was off-kilter because we had a snow day, so I teleworked, which is not usual for me. And I forgot about book blogging.

I read Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, which seems likely to end up on the Hugo Award short list for novels. It's a very-locked-door mystery, given that it's set on a slow-boat space ship many years from both its launch point and destination. The care of the ship and its popsicle people passengers is in the hands of some clones: as they die off, they will be replaced by clones of themselves, and thus there will be continuity of care, because each clone supposedly *is* the same person, up to the point when the last "recording" of their brain was taken. This is not really a new idea— Cherryh's Voyager in Night comes to mind, for example—and I don't like it because it's not actually a continuum of consciousness, although Lafferty (or hir characters, anyway) seems to think it is.

At the beginning, it's a good thing I was intrigued with the mystery and the setting, because otherwise, I got a powerful case of the Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care what happens to these people"). Later on, as we learn more about them, I cared a bit more, but wow, are these boring, simplistic people at first. Even the first few background flashbacks didn't help. None of them seem to have much in the way of family or friends, for one thing. Anyway, as Dark Secrets were revealed, the characters and their situations became more intriguing, and Lafferty presents a variety of interesting scenarios regarding the issues of clones in a society. And I'm guessing that was really the point of the book anyway.

If you've read it, were you as annoyed as I am by the handwaving regarding the garden and what happens to it when the gravity fails?

Also, people worried about blood yuck should give this a pass. The opening scene is covered with it.

I restarted and this time finished T.J. Kingfisher's The Seventh Bride, which I had dropped after the first few pages for some reason (maybe when I got sick?). I enjoyed it quite a bit, although some of it didn't make a lot of sense if I stopped and thought about it: the bizarre coming-apart thing that happens to the sorcerer's castle from time to time, for example. I found myself wondering whether Kingfisher (a/k/a Ursula Vernon, author and artist of Digger and many other works) had a dream that inspired these scenes. Anyway, if you enjoy seeing classic fairytale tropes upended and women characters working together, you should enjoy this. Note that there is some grisly body horror stuff involving both animals and humans.

I read another volume of the "Rivers of London" comics: Night Witch. I'm still liking these, slight as they might be. I think part of it is that we spend less time in Peter's laddie-boy horndog head (although I don't mind that as much as some do). It's not just that he is a lusty young man: it's also that it takes some time to read and comprehend his descriptions of complex scenes, and in the comics, you just turn the page, and voila, there's the scene, all complete. I've just started the next volume, Black Mould. I really need to make some icons from Beverly's and Sahra's images in these, and maybe even DS Stephanopoulos as well. I'm sad that we haven't seen Lady Ty or Abigail yet, although we did have Nicky in an extra at the end of at Night Witch

Finally, I've started a re-read of Diana Wynne Jones' Dark Lord of Derkholm, and although the story and some of the characters (mainly the griffins) are keeping me going, I'm remembering why I don't like this one as much as most of DWJ's canon. Most of the plot hinges on a very dysfunctional marriage and the almost complete lack of communication between the partners. There's a reason for it, and DWJ lets us know that she does not entirely approve, but still! I suppose as a young teen I would have focused on the way that having the parents out of commission allows Dirk's very large family of children (human and not) show their ingenuity and grit. However, because it was published in 1998, when I was already the mother of a six-year-old, I can't quite put my married-partner/mother concerns out of the way, and it's a rather horrid book from that point of view.

I'm also vaguely uneasy with some of Dirk's biological ingenuity, but mad scientists have been creating creatures for millennia, so I suppose it's nice to see a basically benign practitioner of this particular magical art.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

I finished the third book of Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library series, The Burning Page. My impression is that she always intended for this to be a trilogy and for this point to be reached, and that much of the two earlier books was specifically pointed toward the climax of this volume, with its massive and well-executed climactic set piece.

Given this, I must confess I'm a little bemused by the news that a fourth volume is due out in January. I'll have to read it and see where she's going at this point

I have to give Cogman a lot of credit for relentlessly ignoring romance/sexuality as a plot element here. Many significant relationships are depicted, and none of them hinge on romantic love (although there's one that involves a large portion of infatuation).

Next, for reasons not entirely clear to me, I sought out the sequel to one of my long-time favorite mysteries, Peter Dickinson's King and Joker. I mentioned a few weeks ago that a re-read of the older book had left me flat, and my only memories of the sequel are that (1) when I discovered its existence, I was completely disoriented, because I'd often daydreamed that such a thing had been written and was shocked to find out that it was so, and (2) that the mystery had turned on a huge act of betrayal. Betrayal is in many ways a squick of mine, so I'm not sure why I wanted to re-read Skeleton-in-Waiting.

On this read, I was more interested in most of the story than I recalled being the first time around; perhaps my disenchantment with the original book made the sequel seem less unworthy. On the other hand, I recalled the identity of the betrayer (although not the details of the entire plot) the minute that character showed up early in the book. Not the best Dickinson, but not the worst, either. One thing I noticed: he had large blocks of dialog with no anchoring physical details to break them up. This is something I've done before myself, and I've been told it's not a Good Thing. Indeed, I found myself losing track of the identity of the two speakers in some of those passages. It was odd to observe it in a work by someone I consider a very good craftsman.

Now I'm reading a non-fiction book (wow, lately I've been reading a lot of these, for me), Rites and Symbols of Initiation by Mircea Eliade. It's research, actually, but fairly interesting.

Not sure what I'll read next. I've bought a few things cheap on Kindle special recently, and I should actually do something about them. I'd been hearing good things about Linda Nagata, for example, so I bought The Last Good Man when it was super-cheap.

chomiji: Doa from Blade of the Immortal can read! Who knew? (Doa - books)

So I have finished not only The Invisible Library but also its sequel, The Masked City. At this point I am enjoying the series enough to continue. And yet, and yet ... I keep feeling that author Genevieve Cogman is not making as good use of her elements as might be. There are bits and pieces here that remind me of many other fantasy works, ranging from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics series through Diana Wynne Jones' Multiverse books (both Magids and Chrestomanci) to Jim C. Hines' "Magic Ex Libris" book series, and as I mentioned last week, the tone and settings remind me somewhat of Martha Wells' "Fall of Ile Rien" series. That's not meant to be a negative: I feel pleased rather than otherwise every time I spot a resemblance.

Still ... we have a series set mostly in a parallel Europe (or rather, a series of parallel Europes), we have a recurring minor character from India, we have dragons that are mostly based on Chinese legend ... but I don't have a feeling that somewhere across the ocean are the Americas, that there is Africa off to the south, that east Asia includes also Japan and Indonesia. The Fae are mostly the British Isles Fae: we don't even seem to have any of the European mythological peoples. The settings we see are fairly well drawn, but I don't have a feeling that anything lies beyond them. I'm not sure what Cogman could have done about this, but it's a lack I felt.

I will say that the series does turn out to have a bit of wit I'd been missing when I wrote last week; still, Irene is not as amusing a viewpoint character as (say) Martha Wells' Tremaine Valiarde. I think part of it is that Irene takes herself more seriously.

I realize that I never wrote about the new-to-me manga series I'd started. Golden Kamuy is a seinen (young men's) series about a whole heap o' gold that's hidden somewhere and the people who are trying to find it. It's set in the early 20th century, right after the Russo-Japanese War, and the two main characters are Saichi Sugimoto, known as "Immortal" Sugimoto, a former Japanese soldier with remarkable powers of recovery, and a petite young Ainu girl named Asirpa who is a superlative hunter and tracker. Weirdly, the series also has a dash of cooking manga: Asirpa's cooking is described with the same enthusiastic reverence shown toward traditional Japanese cuisine in the famous food manga Oishinbo. The rest of the series reminds me of Blade of the Immortal more than anything else, although the artwork is not quite as gorgeous as that (it's still well-drawn, though).

Complex Age is about a cosplay enthusiast, Nagisa Kataura, who is starting to have second thoughts about her hobby. She's 26, older than most of the other cosplayers she knows, and she is keeping her hobby a secret from her co-workers at the office and even to some extent from her parents, with whom she lives. The second volume is mostly taken up with a possible cautionary tale about her stern supervisor at work, who also turns out to be a cosplayer. When people at the office find some pictures online of the supervisor in revealing costumes, the disapproving gossip and sidelong looks get to the supervisor, and she quits. I have to say that this really hit home for me: mainstream folks can still indeed be obtuse and unkind about fannish pastimes. I find myself rather worried with where the series might be going with Nagisa. Note that this is also a seinen series (this is something that confused the hell out of me when I first encountered the idea, with the girls' kendo team series Bamboo Blade), so there are a certain number of panty shots etc. — although the series is self-aware enough that this very subject becomes a plot point in the first volume (someone takes an up-skirt photo of Nagisa when she's in costume).

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