redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Apr. 3rd, 2019 06:44 pm)

Recent reading:

"Rogue Protocol," by Martha Wells. This is the third of the Murderbot novellas. Like the first two, it's good--I enjoyed the fast-moving plot, Murderbot's narrative voice, and the bits of world-building. Murderbot's viewpoint and goals change by the end of this novella, because of what it sees and experiences here. I finished this and immediately asked the library for the next one, which I got yesterday; it's next on my reading list.

That Ain't Witchcraft, by Seanan McGuire. Another InCryptid novel, an immediate sequel to *Tricks for Free"; spoilers for both books )

In between the plotting, we learn more about Annie's half-human, half-cryptid boyfriend now that they're in the same place long enough to have some time to talk.

I didn't like this as much as the earlier books in the series. This might be because McGuire is running out of ideas/steam on this universe; random variation, in the books or my mood; or that I don't like Annie-as-narrator as much as I did the books about her older siblings. A note at the end of the book says that the next book will put Sarah (their cuckoo cousin) at center stage; my reaction to that was that I miss Verity's narrative voice. Or maybe the problem is the lack of Aislin mice. If you liked the previous InCryptid books this is worth reading, I think, but I wouldn't start here.

"The Measure of a Monster," by Seanan McGuire: this novella is included as a bonus with That Ain't Witchcraft; it's about Alex Price (Verity and Annie's older brother) and his partner going to the rescue after a large number of children are kidnapped from the nearby gorgon community. It includes a bit more about cousin Sarah and her recovery from the mental damage of saving Verity a few books back. The story is set during That Ain't Witchcraft, and Alex is pleased to get even a tiny scrap of news about Annie beyond the inference that she's alive because their dead aunt Mary would let the family know if she died.

Recently read:

So Far So Good: Final Poems 2014-2018, by Ursula Le Guin. As the subtitle says, this is Le Guin's last book of poetry, finished just before she died; death was definitely on her mind here, especially in the last section. It's good, but either not as good as other poetry that I've read (none of it in the last couple of years), or -- likely -- death just isn't what I want to read about right now.

(The new glasses are drugstore reading glasses, while I wait for my eyes to finish healing post-surgery and can get a new eyeglass prescription. For most purposes, my uncorrected vision is now better than my corrected vision a year ago, but for reading and other close work I need glasses, and will be glad when I can get prescription glasses that correct for the astigmatism.)

What I've read recently:

The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel. This is a history of photographic astronomy using glass plates--photometry, spectral lines, and how the photos they were used to study variable stars--and of the Harvard Observatory and the women who did much of the work. Many of the women were first hired as "computers," doing calculations for (originally only male) astronomers, before starting to do astronomy on their own. The group included Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who figured out the luminosity-distance relationship in Cepheid variables, and thus the distance to the Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda galaxy; Annie Jump Cannon (of the OBAFGKM star classifcations); and Cecilia Payne Groposchkin, who became the first person of any gender to get a PhD in astronomy from Harvard, with a dissertation showing that our sun is made mostly of hydrogen and helium.

The book is about both the astronomical work, and the lives of the people doing it, including the ways the women involved had to fight to do it, and be recognized for their work, in both the US and Europe. It weaves together several lives, and stories, over more than half a century. One important thread is Mary Anne Palmer (Mrs. Henry) Draper, who dedicated many years, and money, to support and fund the Henry Draper Memorial to carry on her late husband's cataloging work. (All those "HD" star catalog numbers are from that work.)

Tricks for Free, by Seanan McGuire. This is another InCryptid story, this one about/narrated by Antimony Price (younger sister of Verity, who introduced the series). She's on the run from the Covenant, and thus separated from all her living family (though her dead aunts visit occasionally), fighting sorcerers in an amusement park. She has a team of Cryptid allies, her boyfriend Sam comes back (and they decide/declare that they are boyfriend and girlfriend) and everything moves fast. This was fun, but leans significantly on what happened in previous books.

Around the World in Eighty Trees, by Jonathan Drori. Drori gives us eighty brief pieces about eighty trees he finds interesting, either for botanical or cultural reasons--with locations, usually at the level of "Morocco" but sometimes US states, and for ailanthus it's "Brooklyn, USA." Each tree's essay is illustrated with color drawings. The book discusses trees I hadn't known of, and includes some things I hadn't known, or thought about, and is pleasant, mostly restful reading, a few trees at a time. (The articles on some trees sections talk about global warming or near-extinction from overuse). Recommended by [personal profile] mrissa.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk about Race, by Robin diAngelo. This is more or less what it says on the tin, from the viewpoint of sociology/activism: why it's difficult for white people to talk about race, and the ways that silence about race maintain white supremacy--and that this is not accidental. DiAngelo offers some suggestions about how white people can talk about race, including both ways to talk to (and sometimes challenge) each other, and ways to listen respectfully and not shut down people of color who are taking about racism. The book looks at both structural racism and microaggressions, and how people (don't) talk about hate crimes. I have this as a library ebook, and may need to buy a copy so I can reread it, and maybe use some of her bibliography. It's shorter, and easier to read, than I'd expected. (Your mileage may vary, either if you're less familiar with sociology and some of the terminology, or if the topic is especially stressful for you.) Note: diAngelo is writing from an American viewpoint, and points out both that other parts of the world will be somewhat different, and that American movies, magazines, music, etc. are part of the environment all over the world.

Current reading:

  • So Far So Good, by Ursula Le Guin (still, I'm dipping into it, a few poems at a time)
  • Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin, a collection of short pieces, including humor and reporting
  • At the Mouth of the River of Bees, short stories by Kij Johnson
Recent reading:

Rex Stout, And Four to Go. I thought I'd read all the Nero Wolfe books, but I think this one was new to me. It's a collection of four novellas, none of them impressive. "Easter Parade" does odd things with Wolfe's orchid obsession, and contains some anti-Asian racism, what feels like a mix of Wolfe (and the author) being aware of how that racism affected a Chinese-American woman, and Archie's literal and straightforward use of "inscrutable." (Authors aren't responsible for the opinions of their characters, but sometimes it's hard to tell whether they share them.) An character's actions being with both Wolfe telling one character that he understands that she knew the police wouldn. There's one ("Fourth of July Picnic") that's more Wolfe-tricks-the-killer than usual one where he and Archie Goodwin figure out who did it, but learn the motive in Wolfe's usual meeting of all the suspects. "Christmas Party" is layers of deceit, including Goodwin and Wolfe lying to each other, but didn't quite work for me.

Steven Brust, Vallista. This is the fifteenth of the Vlad Taltos/Jhereg books, and not a good starting point—a lot of it assumes the reader knows who people are, and what happened in many of the previous books. The story starts when Devera finds Vlad and says something like "Uncle Vlad, help me" before vanishing, leaving him trying to figure out what's going on, how, and why, in a building that makes Escher's "Relativity" seem straightforward. (Slightly grumpy spoilers here: Read more... )

Brust has said there will be 17 of these, which leaves two after this, and I'm not sure where he's going to take it from here (which I think is a good sign).

Current reading:

The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel
So Far So Good, by Ursula Le Guin

What I read in January, basically copied from my "booklog" tracking spreadsheet:

Becky Chambers, *Record of a Space-Born Few* This isn't exactly a sequel to *A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet* but is set in the same fictional universe. This book is set almost entirely on the Exodan fleet. There are intertwined narratives, and mostly the characters are trying to help each other, but the different threads didn't feel as connected as in *A Closed and Common Orbit*. This one also has more conventionally shaped families (parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses) than the family-by-choice of her first novel. (One piece of the plot is about someone looking for family/a place to be, which goes badly wrong.)

Nick Lane, *Life Ascending* A book on evolution in the form of ten chapters on what Lane thinks are the ten most important "inventions" in the history of life on Earth, including DNA, the eukaryotic cell, and death. Fun; bits that stuck with me are that the DNA-to-amino acid coding isn't random, and (the claim) that eukaryotes are descended from a fusion of an archaeon and a bacterium, based on biochemistry shared with each kingdom. The chapters are on The origin of life, DNA, Photosynthesis, The complex cell, Sex, Movement, Sight, Hot blood, Consciousness, Death. I'm not convinced (and would want to read more, at least) by his argument for the evolutionary value of death, or how that connects to possible life extension, but yes it's a question worth asking.

Margery Allingham, *Sweet Danger* Another of the odd Campion books, this one with a tendency toward Ruritanian adventure--odd artifacts to prove the claim to a fragment of Balkan coast, and the village doctor is a sinister figure who fancies himself a black magician.

Martha Wells, *Artificial Condition* volume 2 of The Murderbot Diaries, very good. Murderbot finds some other non-humans to talk to/work with, though not trust, and adamantly refuses modifications that would make it in any way sexual or gendered.

Rex Stout, *Before Midnight* Reread of one of the Nero Wolfe novels, this one holds up pretty well.

(That's four books and a novella,)
The King County library system has posted a "ten to try" challenge for 2019, and it feels like a shape of thing that might work for me:

  • Read a book about history

  • Read a children’s book

  • Read a book about a subject that can be difficult to discuss

  • Read a book of poetry

  • Read a book by a journalist

  • Read a book recommended by KCLS Staff

  • Read a book by an LGBTQ author

  • Read a book about a crime

  • Read a book about family

  • Read a book by an immigrant author

I'm going to modify/expand the sixth one to "read a book recommended by library staff," for any of the libraries I'm currently using: King County, Minuteman, Boston, or Seattle (in the rough order of how much I'm using each system). Yes, I have four active library cards; at some point King County and Seattle will probably notice I don't live there anymore and stop lending me ebooks, but for now I get monthly emails from KCLS.

Since this is about reading new books, rereads don't count, but I am counting new books by authors I've read before. (I think I've read all of Pablo Neruda, but not all of Le Guin's books of poetry.)

I have just followed a link from KCLS recommends and reserved (in Boston) what appears to be a book of poetry by an immigrant author. I hereby give myself permission to decide which category to count a book in later, if it fits into more than one, but not to count the same book twice. Also, I hope to use this as a sort of guide when looking for things to read, not a constraint: I don't expect all of the next ten books I read to fit these guidelines.
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Dec. 27th, 2018 09:42 pm)
Books finished relatively recently:

Tove Jansson: Fair Play and Finn Family Moomintroll. These two have little in common except that in each book, each chapter is a different episode, and that they're both about people who like each other. Jansson is best-known, at least outside Finland, for the Moomin series of children's books. I thought I'd read all of them when I asked the library for Finn Family Moomintroll, but there are things in there I think I'd remember if I'd read it before, including the Hobgoblin's Hat, and Too and Ticky showing up and becoming part of the household. Fair Play is an adult novel, or series of stories, about two women, an artist and a writer, who live separately but in the same building, and ongoing events in their relationship. (It's at least somewhat autobiographical, and was written long enough ago that it could be read as a platonic friendship, absent the known context, which includes that the "about the author" on all her books falselu said she lived alone, rather than mentioning her long-term partner.) I'd recommend both of these, if you're at all open to both mimetic fiction and playful fantasy about non-human characters.

Marjorie Allingham: Look to the Lady and Policemen at the Funeral. This is two-thirds of a kindle "box set" of Allingham's Albert Campion stories. Look to the Lady is plot-driven rather than character-driven; not so much that it feels as though the characters are moving around to fit the needs of the plot, as that they're somewhat flat. Policemen at the Funeral is weird, in ways that I think would be spoilers even to hint at, so have a cut: Read more... )

Alma Fritchley: Chicken Run. This was recommended by [personal profile] rachelmanija and is, as she said, a cozy lesbian mystery about a chicken farmer, set in England a couple of decades ago. It's at least as much about shifting relationships as about the mystery, and the pacing of the plot is weird in terms of that genre. I enjoyed this enough that I have a sequel waiting for me at the Somerville Library.

Charlie Jane Anders: All the Birds in the Sky. This one is weird, and I'm not sure I'd say I liked it. The first part of the book is emotionally difficult, parallel/intertwined stories of two children/teens who are being abused by their parents and school systems. There's witchcraft and science/technology, the latter with a sort of hacker ethos, and a character who I'm fairly sure is based on Elon Musk, with the riches and intelligence and egocentricity. It's hard to really like either group or their cavalier way with everyone else's future, even realizing that they're dealing with a series of escalating natural disasters.

Currently reading:

Nick Lane: Life Ascending: the ten great inventions of evolution. Bits I've enjoyed so far include the discussion of how the DNA-->amino acid coding isn't random, and the explanation of how the two photosystems that make up oxygenic photosynthesis work, and how such an odd-seeming thing could have evolved.
Just read: Out of the caldera: chronicles of a volcanologist, by Richard V. Fisher. This is a series of short chapters mixing personal memoir, discussions of field trips to look at volcanoes and other geology, and information on volcanoes, especially calderas and the flow of ignimbrite. He talks about getting interested in geology, and connects it to his time in the navy, and watching the bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.

The author is an emeritus professor, and the epilogue points to a website, the Volcano Information Center, which is old enough to offer AltaVista search (and says copyright 1999); mostly a link farm, at least some of the links still work. I picked this up semi-randomly at the Somerville Library, where I'd gone to pick up a reserved book and decided to sit and read, waiting for the repair people to restore heat to our apartment building after a power outage last week.
I've been slowly reading Alastair Reynolds's Blue Remembered Earth on my kindle for the last couple of months, and finished it this afternoon. I liked it, including the world-building (both in the usual stfnal sense, and some of the literal bits of how the people in that future build their world, on the Moon and Mars and the United Aquatic Nations). Also, it has elephants, of various sorts, and they are definitely plot-relevant. [personal profile] rysmiel said that they found it slow; it might be, a bit, but I think my slow pace has more to do with me than with the book. (I'm still having trouble getting settled in to read books when I'm at home, for some reason; I'm reading lots, more than 90% of it on screens, but that 90% is overwhelmingly nonfiction—news and blog posts and email and Atlas Obscura... On paper, it's mostly the less technical parts of Science magazine, as bathroom reading.)

I got Blue Remembered Earth as an ebook from the library, and it is badly overdue. Having finished it, I can sync my kindle and let it vanish in a puff of logic. I have the sequel listed as "for later" with the library (SPL, I think, or maybe KCLS) but am going to wait to borrow it, having another library ebook waiting to be downloaded to my kindle, plus various things I got for a dollar or two each.
Nine Goblins is by Ursula Vernon, using the T. Kingfisher byline because it's not a children's book. It's a very funny story about nine goblin soldiers who, in mid-battle, charge toward a wizard, who escapes the battlefield by magic, taking some of them with him. Like most foot soldiers, they don't have a clear grasp of the war, and are just trying to stay alive, under a command structure in which intelligence is a disqualification for rank. Nesselka's company includes one soldier who was lost in battle and came back with an injury and a teddy bear, who he insists on speaking through; Nesselka has given up arguing, in part because the bear seems to have improved the goblin's intelligence.

The story of Sgt. Nesselka and her troops' attempts to figure out where they are, and get home, are interwoven with events in the life of the elf Sings-to-Trees, who really loves animals, even the ugly, bad-mannered ones, and is making a more than full-time occupation of treating their wounds and injuries.

I kept laughing out loud when I was reading this, and quoted bits to [personal profile] adrian_turtle when she asked, but ebooks don't work as well as paper for flipping through trying to find half- remembered funny bits.

(This quick review is prompted by Amazon, which just sent email asking me to review this book, then refused to let me because I haven't made enough credit card purchases. This is particularly annoying since I borrowed Nine Goblins from the library.)
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Apr. 25th, 2018 09:14 pm)
Hwarhath Stories, by Eleanor Arnason. This is subtitled "Transgressive stories by aliens." The stories are all narrated by hwarhath (the aliens I first read about in her novel A Woman of the Iron People; the frame is that these are translations by humans, with the goal of helping the human reader understand the hwarhath, with some translators' notes on things that will be unclear or counter-intuitive for the human reader. Some of what would be "transgressive" for a hwarhath reader is ordinary for the human reader, and vice vers ( and presented as written by, the hwarhath. These are good stories, and give a broad idea of these aliens and their society (or societies, over centuries of change).

Some of what's "transgressive" for a hwarhath reader, or writer, would be unremarkable if not actively expected for humans (including heterosexuality for pleasure rather than as a necessity of reproduction), and some things that we'd find shocking or unethical are normal to them. (Some hwarhath would agree with some humans that actors are disreputable or immoral, but not for our reasons.)

This collection is related to A Woman of the Iron People, but neither depends on or is significantly a spoiler for the other. I recommend both, if you like worldbuilding and sf that is mostly about aliens not interacting with humans.
I am now in the middle of three books in hardcopy, and one or two on the kindle (the "or two" is an anthology, but I was in mid-story when the 88 bus came this evening).

Finished during my most recent trip to Montreal:

Ursula Le Guin, No Time to Lose: a collection of nonfiction, and a little bit of poetry, about her life, writing, politics, music, travel, her cat Pard, whatever caught her eye.

I also reread her collection The Birthday of the World: this time I was particularly pleased by "Coming of Age in Karhide," "Mountain Ways," and "Solitude." I borrowed the ebook from the library for travel; there are a few "extras" in the ebook edition, and I found a nice quote in there: my husband never questioned my right to write. This is fairly rare, especially in husbands. My advice to young writers is, if you can't marry money, at least don't marry envy.

I also finished reading the Scintillation collection ebook, edited by Alter Reiss and Naomi Libicki; this was a kickstarter premium for backers of the con Jo Walton is running this fall, and may not be otherwise available. I had put it down a while ago; looking at what was on my kindle this afternoon, I noticed this, and was amused by the one bit I hadn't already read, Ada Palmer's "Library Advice" (which is not just what it says on the tin, and then reread [personal profile] mrissa's time travel story "The Stuff We Don't Do."
Not exactly reviews, but here's what I've read in the last couple of months, with notes I jotted down at the time:

Death in a White Tie, by Ngaio Marsh. Part of her long, loose series of mysteries starring Roderick Alleyn, who is both a police officer and from a well-off upper-class British family. In this case, the victim and many of the suspects are friends of his; this book is where the slow romantic plot arc gets to "yes, I'll marry you." My note on this is "Plausible mystery plotting, though the past [in this case 1930s Britain] is a foreign country—gur zbgvingvba sbe n ybg bs guvf vf oynpxznvy, naq gur ynetrfg frperg vf gung, haorxabjafg gb ure, bar bs gur punenpgref jnf obea bhg bs jrqybpx.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I like Maia, and enjoyed rereading this. And would like reading more about him, beyond the first months of his reign, but have no idea if she's considering writing that.

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman. Third in a series about a widow from New Jersey who winds up working for the CIA in the 1960s. Mrs. Pollifax i getting more confident, and still worrying the actual CIA agent she works for, Carstairs, while letting circumstances take her well away from her assignment. Once again, impressive results; I'm glad that the pattern in the first two of "she is assigned a minder, and he's killed quickly in the course of that" isn't replicated here.

Swing, Brother, Swing, by Ngaio Marsh. Alleyn is (coincidentally) at the scene of the crime in this case; complicated intertangled motives and plotting, a purloined letter bit—and yet another book where things would be so much simpler if the characters talked to each other. Though at least here there are plausible reasons why not (both expectations against honesty between the genders, and that two of them are a long-married couple who either like nor trust each other, but are stuck being married and for halfway-plausible reasons living together).

Dancing at the Edge of the World, by Ursula Le Guin. I reread probably about 2/3, dipping in and out of a library ebook copy; skipped most of the travel writing this time, and I'm going to sync the kindle now that I've either reread, or decided I'm not in the mood for, everything except the last section of book reviews. [I own almost all Le Guin's books in hardcopy, but most of them are still in boxes.]

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire. Sequel to Every Heart a Doorway: a quest, of course, since these are portal fantasy. Starts at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. Some of the students there, missing their own portal worlds, offer to help Rini get her mother back, after Rini falls out of the sky and tells them that the villain from her world has undone her mother's successful quest and made Rini not have been born. Not as silly as that sounds (although Confection is a nonsense world). Rini and Sumi get a happy ending, as does Nadya, who stays in the Land of the Dead so the others can take Sumi's ghost with them; the other questers come back to the school here on earth.

Women and Power, a Manifesto, by Mary Beard. Beard discusses the ways that politics and public speech have been gendered male at least since the Odyssey, and the extent to which that's still true, and still a problem, now. "A manifesto" suggests more suggestions for action, along with the (interesting) examples of the problem, past and present. The book is short, and in two parts, based on lectures she gave in 2014 and 2017.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. On this year's Hugo ballot; the first-person story of a murderbot [sic], a part-organic construct that's supposed to act as a sort of guard. This one has hacked its governor module, and just wants to watch video dramas. Murderbot doesn't exactly like its humans, but dislikes them less than many other humans and wants to protect them. At one point, it observes that it doesn't like any real humans as much as the fictional ones, but if there were no real humans, there'd be no more entertainment programs. Good story, obviously room for a sequel (even if I didn't know the next one is coming out this spring).

At the moment I am most of the way through Eleanor Arnason's Hwarhath Stories, in hardcopy, and just started on a very odd book called S, by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst; the latter is a complex and slightly fragile artifact, which may slow my reading. Those are both library books. On the kindle I just started Le Guin's last nonfiction book, No Time to Lose, and have a variety of other things to keep me company on the bus to and from Montreal.
It's been a month since the previous reading post; I'm still doing a lot of reading and much less of other things, to spare my hands. Once again, it's tended toward light reading, and almost entirely fiction, that being what I seem to be up for right now. So, a list with a minimum of comment:

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel: I liked this a lot. Post-apocalyptic SF,
Trouble in the Brasses, mystery by Charlotte Macleod
Ice Blue and Blue Murder, police procedurals by Emma Jameson, about detectives working at New Scotland Yard. There's romance in these, but the characterization isn't limited to that, and more-than-cardboard characters who aren't part of the romance arc.
The Late Scholar, mystery by Jill Paton Walsh
Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers: reread, and the suck fairy has definitely been here, in the form of very noticeable casual racism and anti-Semitism.
Magic for Nothing and "Every Heart a Doorway," by Seanan McGuire: the most recent InCryptid novel, fast-moving if not entirely plausible fantasy adventure, and a more serious life-after-the-portal-fantasy novella
Irrational Numbers, by George Alec Effinger (collection of short stories, many of them dark
The Hanging Tree and Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch: numbers 6 and 5 in his "Rivers of London" series, read in the "wrong" order because I thought I had read Foxglove Summer, titles not being useful here. Reading out of order wasn't a big deal (though they both contain significant spoilers for the fourth in the series)
Roller Girl, by Vanessa North: lesbian romance about someone talked into roller derby by a friend who thinks she needs a social life after her divorce. Trans* heroine, treated sympathetically by the author and most of the characters.
The Infinite Sea, by Jeffrey Carver: third in the "Chaos Chronicles," a very-large-scale space opera
A Presumption of Death and The Attenbury Emeralds, by Jill Paton Walsh: authorized fanfic/continuations of Sayers' Wimsey/Vane stories, Walsh doesn't quite get Sayers' tone, but also without the casual racism of my most recent Sayers reread.
Oranges, by John McPhee: nonfiction, reread over a few weeks at bedtime
Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang: reread of almost all of this short story collection
Starfarers, by Vonda Macintyre: reread, still good (interstellar adventure, with significant bi and poly characters)
The Book of Night with Moon, by Diane Duane: a "young wizards" book, this one from a feline viewpoint, she keeps the action moving fast enough that you might be able to ignore the physical improbabilities (we tend to give writers a pass on FTL and time travel, though the combination really messes with causality, but Duane is also ignoring the second law of thermodynamics. There's also a certain amount of "make it didn't happen," though once you've got time travel…
Revisionary, by Jim Hines: also fast-moving adventure fantasy, with high stakes, though the "anything in a popular book can be used for magic" assumptions of this book make "impossible" effectively meaningless, which feels vaguely like cheating. Fourth in a series, I think: as with the Carver, Duane, Macintyre, and McGuire, better to start at the beginning of the series.
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
( Jul. 10th, 2016 08:56 am)
Misc comments 54 (from two years ago, but apparently never posted): memories, lists of books, new york city )
Two novels by Greg Egan: The Clockwork Rocket and The Eternal Flame.

These are both science fiction and fiction about science, set in a universe rather different from our own. It becomes clear within the first few pages that the characters aren't human; it takes a bit longer for the reader to discover exactly how different they are from humans, and the ways the physics of their universe differs from ours unfolds slowly, as the characters learn more about how their world works.

The characterization and world-building are both good (Egan has often been better at world-building than characters). The plot mixes development of physics and chemistry (and, in the second book, more biology) with both impending natural disaster and politics on a variety of scales, including the sexual politics of a species whose reproduction is utterly unlike ours.

The Clockwork Rocket is also the first science fiction novel I've read that comes with an reference and online supplemental material.

This entry is brief because I read [ profile] rysmiel's copies while visiting Montreal, and don't have them handy to refer to. These are the first two books of a trilogy; I am looking forward to volume 3, but each of the first two volumes stands alone.)
I spent most of yesterday on a bus from Boston to Montreal, where I made the happy discovery that I can comfortably read from my kindle on a moving intercity bus. (Paper books, not so good.)

The trip from Boston to Montreal is about two novels (plus random looking at the landscape) long. So (apologies to Mris, who got most of this in an email):

The Pilgrim of Hate, by Ellis Peters: this is I think #10 in her medieval mystery novels about the Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael and his friend Hugh Beringar, the local sheriff. For some reason, I was able years ago to find approximately 1-7 and then from 14 or so on, and am trying to fill in gaps from the library. Since it is an ongoing story (though each book's mystery stands alone), there were not only references back, but things I knew about from having read about them in books set later.

The Cadfael books are set during the English civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud (which is not either of the English Civil Wars that most Americans are at least vaguely aware of); this one involves two murders, and the complications of trying to find a missing person based only on his name and the vaguest of descriptions, at a fair (so a place full of strangers) in a time and place where it's taken for granted that he will of course have changed his name when he left home. I enjoyed this, both for the mystery plot (which I didn't figure out early on) and the general story-telling (though I gather that Peters took serious liberties with both history and herbal medicine.

Marionette, by T. S. Markinson: if I had to describe this, it's a sort-of mainstream lesbian novel, about relationships and coming of age (the narrator is 17 and a freshman in college). I read this after a couple of her other books, all found via an email list that sends out announcements of free or discounted ebooks (sorted loosely by genre). Based on this, I have concluded that Markinson is a good writer, and that I hope she has a good therapist—what I have read so far are this, and two books about an unrelated character, and both protagonists have similarreally problematic family backgrounds, not just "they can't deal with me being a lesbian" but "my well-off parents hate me, and don't seem to like each other, and all my father cares about is money and business, and nobody in my family ever had a real conversation while I was growing up" level. I liked this, but it's not exactly light and cheerful: large chunks of the book are set in and around the protagonist's therapy sessions, which she started going to after she attempted suicide and her girlfriend found her in time. (Also, the past, even the recent past, can be a foreign country: this is set in Colorado at the time of the anti-gay Proposition 2, and it's not just that the main character is closeted—given her parents, that makes sense—but the people she's at school with include several who don't think they know any gay people, one of whom apologizes for homophobic remarks when told "my brother is gay."
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Nov. 4th, 2015 04:52 pm)
Reading Wednesday is posting a lightly-annotated list, because it's better than not posting at all. Books finished since I last posted one of these:

Strange Attractors, by Jeffrey Carver. Sequel to Neptune Crossing; Bannie finds himself in a strange, huge construction; finds friends as well as danger, and some fractal beings wanting his help. Whoever brought them there has a mission for him, and maybe for them. Fast-moving, fun. His internal alien "Charlie" is reborn, again, and very confused; Bannie and his robots have both been modified/improved to fit the environment, the robots acquiring rather more initiative than they were built with.

Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights, by Daniel Pinkwater. Episodic sort-of memoir that grew out of a series of radio pieces; fun, and more linear than that makes it sound. (It's partly a matter of plausibility/realism: these pieces are much less surrealist, because reality has different constraints than fiction.

Axeman's Jazz, by Julie Smith. The second of her novels about Skip Langdon, a New Orleans cop, which I have been reading semi-randomly; in this one she has just been made a homicide cop, and is trying to find a serial killer who has been sending threatening letters to the press; she/the team figure out that the victims, and presumably the killer, have some connection to twelve-step programs, but this is a context where people go to those meetings as a way to find dates.

Shadow Tag, by Marjorie Doering. And another mystery, which I read on the plane home, enjoyed, and can recall absolutely nothing of at the moment (two days later).

The Shepherd's Crown, by Terry Pratchett. The death of Granny Weatherwax, lots more Tiffany Aching, another war with the elves. An afterword notes that Pratchett died before he could polish this, and it shows. I'm glad I read it, but would recommend it only for Pratchett/Discworld fans.
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Jul. 8th, 2015 05:41 pm)
Recently read:

Bryony and Roses, by Ursula Vernon (as "T. Kingfisher"). An excellent version of the Beauty and the Beast story, with lots of gardening.

Jhereg, by Steven Brust. Reread of the first of the Vlad Taltos books (first in publication order, the only order that really makes sense here, though I suppose you could go for alphabetical). I'd forgotten how much of the Vlad is special background Brust drops into the first book.

What I'll Read Next:

Not sure, maybe more of the Brust more-or-less series.

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redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)

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