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Books Read, Some Not Recently

In December and over the holidays I read a number of Damon Runyon's short stories collected in The Bloodhounds of Broadway and Other Stories (1981). A writing giant of the 1930's, Runyon has a wonderfully distinctive fictional voice and smashing comedic timing.

A coworker lent me Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale (1983), which is a brick-long love story to New York City, in the mode of magical realism. Amazing prose, inconclusive plot.Collapse )

It's a hot mess and I like it. The plot is a mess with absurd resolution, when any thread resolves at all, and the prose is over the top, and it doesn't matter, it's so bizarre it takes the reader right out of the world into the world of the story.

I tripped and reread Martha Wells' Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy (2004-2005), some of the Ile-Rien and Cineth short stories collected in an ebook in 2015. It's hard to succinctly talk about why I enjoy these so much. I love the way The Wizard Hunters drops the reader into the troubles Ile-Rien and Cineth face and gets the multiworld ensemble working together against their common enemies, and against the frictions individual characters face with "their" people. The Ships of Air develops the cultural blind spots both sides discover alongside a breakneck action plot. The Gate of Gods almost sticks the landing; there's a lot of landing to stick (Tremaine and Ilias! The reason for the Gardier invasions! Giliead and sorcery! Ixion! Florian and Ixion! What's going to happen to Arisilde! And oh yes, defeating the Gardier.)

And there is snark. So much snark and sarcastic humor.

"It's a grend," Tremaine explained, keeping her voice low. "It's got Gerard trapped."

"You saw him?" she demanded. "What's a grend?"

"A big... thing." Tremaine flapped her arms in a vague gesture. "We didn't see him, but he's got to be there. If it had already eaten him, surely it wouldn't still be hanging around."

Florian stared, taken aback. "You know, when you're optimistic you have a strange way of phrasing things."


Then I read The Death of the Necromancer (1998) for the first time. The Death of the Necromancer is set a generation earlier, focusing on the adventures of the previous generation as Nicholas Valiarde's attempt to avenge his foster-father's murder is derailed by someone else's plot, one that smells of banned magics. One of the joys of The Death of the Necromancer is seeing Nicholas surrounded by characters in his weight class. Co-conspirators Madeleine and Reynard have their own histories, ambitions, and agency - Madeleine's particular defiance of family tradition plays a role, as do Reynard's disavowed military connections - and mad brilliant drug-addled Ari, repeatedly called the greatest or most powerful sorcerer in Ile-Rien, is least as much a problem as a sorcerous help. I love the sense of place the descriptions of Vienne evoke. I also like Inspector Ronsarde and Doctor Halle, whose antecedents are fairly obvious and I do not care at all.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2016): Being the latest in the Vorkosiverse, this time focusing on Vicereine Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan and her burning desire for six daughters; and also the start of a post-Aral romantic relationship with Admiral Oliver Jole, who has some life decisions of his own to make.

The e-ARC hit my smartphone on October 21st of last year, and I wasn't able to bring myself to open the book until March, when time and the tenor of other readers' spoiler-cuts had given some hints about how to adjust my expectations. And then I had lots of feelings that assume you"ve read the novel.Collapse )

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/662064.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Booklog: Ancillary Mercy

Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie) (2015): Moving on from Lifeboats to another sort of ship. Excuse me, did the trilogy just stick the landing? Extensive spoilers for all three novels.Collapse )

Also, Leckie's tumblr is a delight. See especially #peep-peep-peep-peep.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/657246.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Backlogged Books

So, er, I found some book logs I started in July, and put somewhere unusual for me, and just found this week. And I remembered I had finished Lifeboats, so here's some novels.

Ancillary Mercy is getting its own post. It's moved me that much.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) (1997 trans. Jay Rubin): Absolutely surreal Japanese fiction about a milk-mild fellow, Toru Okada, and a dry well. Also mysticism, Japan's collapse on the Manchuran front during WW2, fate and free will, and Noboru Wataya, an academic, rising politician, and also the brother of Kumiko, Toru's wife.

It's a floating novel, as Okada wanders through life with very little idea what he wants, or what he stands to lose, until he loses the thing that defined his life. The narrative is fragmentary, filled with negative space during Okada's periods of unemployment and isolation, and with elliptical loose connections between the characters who erratically interact with Okada: May Kashiwara, a teenaged girl who lives in Okada's neighborhood; Malta Kano, a clairvoyant, and her sister Creta Kano; Lieutenant Mamiya; Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka, mother and son in a clairvoyant family business; Mr. Hondo, another clairvoyant. It's a little tricky to judge prose and style across translation, but what has survived the translation is something extremely controlled and literary, with a control of language that gives the reader the sense Murakami knows exactly what he's doing. It took me a really long time to get into the novel, but at the end I was tempted to flip back to the beginning and start rereading in light of knowledge revealed by the end of the novel.

"Penric's Demon" (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2015): A novella in the Five Gods universe, about an accident with a demon and a Very Nice Young Man. It's a nice Bujold novella, that doesn't break any new ground if you're familiar LMB's fiction, but average Bujold is still very solid entertainment.

Lifeboats (Diane Duane) (2015): Joins "Not On My Patch" and "How Lovely Are Thy Branches" as the third minor "interstitial" story between A Wizard of Mars and Games Wizards Play. At 90,000 words, it's not terribly minor. And thematically, it doesn't feel minor: Kit, Nita, and most of the usual suspects are called up on an emergency mission of mercy. As a story about when flashy displays of wizardly power aren't the solution, I really liked it. The teenage angst about Valentine's Day was cute, in a sappy "aw, teenagers" way. It's a lot of fun watching Nita and Kit grow up; I'm enjoying how Duane is developing their characters and relationship.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/657027.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Ancillary Mercy Insta-Reaction

I just finished Ancillary Mercy.

Now that was an ending. And Seivarden! I was not expecting Seivarden of all people to be promoted in my affections. Unlike [spoiler] who is awful and steals the show with awesome one liners from pretty much the first second onstage. And [epic spoiler]! Enjoy the salad. With fish sauce.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/655964.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Booklog Blitz

Sprint update!

Gunnerkrigg Court v.1, SiddellCollapse )

Fairyland,Collapse )

Inda, Smith; did not finishCollapse )

Trying to force through the Hugo nominees and Inda killed my novel reading momentum for months.

The Dark Forest, Liu and MartinsenCollapse )

Go Set a Watchman, LeeCollapse )

The Just City, WaltonCollapse )

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/655278.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

The 2015 Hugo Awards

The 2015 Hugo Awards have been announced! Congratulations to the winners in this historic year.

The awards ceremony was livestreamed. Watching it in real time with [personal profile] norabombay in chat was a blast. I hope future Worlcons continue to make the awards ceremony available live for those of us offsite. A potentially fraught ceremony was handled with grace by the MCs, David Gerrold and Tananarive Due.

Nomination and voting statistics are up for this year's awards and are being crunched, as you would expect from SF/F fandom.

tl;dr commentsCollapse )

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/654379.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Hugo Nominees 2015: Voting

For some time I've had a tab about Samuel Delaney and this year's Hugos open in my browser. It's a good article because it discusses racism and the Hugos, and it's not an article I'm comfortable with because it's continuing the theme of Delaney The Token Black Science Fiction Writer. It's a work in progress, but the science fiction community is becoming more diverse.

Race issues aside, it says something that this year's Hugo drama has been covered by mainstream journalism. Whether something about the science fiction community, or about the movement of geeks from a fringe group to a more central place in American culture, or something else, I'm not sure.




Too many words on my voting experience.Collapse )

So now I have evaluated the puppy slates on their own merits, and having done that once, I can say I can use any future slates as guidelines of work I can skip without missing something amazing, or even likely relevant to my interests, either in excellence in genre or particular types of SF/F.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/654318.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Hugo Nominees 2015: Novel

Two nominees got punted on Did Not Finish grounds, but the other three - Addison's The Goblin Emperor, Leckie's Ancillary Sword, and Liu's The Three-Body Problem - have had me dithering.

3BP is good but flawed. If I can tell the physics is silly and inaccurate, the physics is really silly. AS is very much a middle novel; it's a competent middle novel, but my evaluation of its quality will be greatly influenced by Ancillary Mercy, out this October. And TGE is operating in such a different register from the other two novels, to the point where I ask whether you could strip out the genre aspects and have the exact same story.

In a good year, the Hugos are an embarrassment of riches, a diverse slate of competing innovative well-written ideas. I'm pleased these three novels give me a taste of that. I say with all my heart there is merit in stories where writers are figuring out their craft, or roughing out new things, or getting the bills paid in a competent but not brilliant fashion. But there's a difference between a story that demonstrates promise or developing talent and a story that merits Hugo recognition. That's why there's a lot of No Award going around this year.

My novel rankings right now are:
1 The Three-Body Problem
2 The Goblin Emperor
3 Ancillary Sword
4 No Award

But yesterday I had AS up top, and I still have a day to change my mind.




Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: already read, and reread it too. In case you were wondering whether I liked it, ah, yes, I did.

The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson: There are so many problems, and I'm only 100 pages in. You know what? I'm 100 pages in, there have been 13 PoV characters in 16 chapters, it's exactly like reading Exile's Song only I'm not 14. The terrible prose, the illusion of depth that would likely be shattered by reading the rest of the series, the failures at basic mechanics of storytelling, the gratuitous Indiana Jones bad archaeology... I can stop now! There's been enough exposure that I know how I plan to rank this when I cast my ballot!

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison / Sarah Monette: already read it. And I reread it while considering rankings. It's sweet and cute and at the end of it I asked, "does this have to be genre?" The story of TGE works equally well as a Ruritanian epic: substitute trains for airships and the goblins for a European power, and you've got something not entirely unlike, say, Philip Pullman's The Tin Princess.

Cut for space.Collapse )

Skin Game, Jim Butcher: The prose is slick, though the protagonist is ridiculous. The story opens with Harry Dresden hanging out on an island with certain eldritch properties, mostly playing parkour and waiting to... die from a magical brain tumor... or... something. Clearly I am coming into the middle of this series!

I only read the sample chapters of Skin Game, which were enough to convince me of Butcher's qualities as a writer without generating sufficient interest for me to check the full novel from the library. Beach reading; competent but not award winning.

(Parkour in the eldritch catacombs. Oh, Harry.)

The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu; Ken Liu translator: Now this is unquestionably science fiction. Spoilers.Collapse )

This is so very rooted in genre conventions. The aliens are hostile; the most critical science is cutting edge physics; a classic physics problem is a key aspect of the backstory. I'm fascinated that the author's note included with the English translation tells us that Chinese science fiction usually writes aliens as benevolent, since that's not my experience of the American approach to life in the skies.

I'm also surprised 3BP didn't show up on the Puppy slates, being the sort of gosh-wow SF they claim to support, but then I found Cixin Liu's Big Idea on Scalzi's blog, and for those of you who have been blissfully ignorant, the people behind the puppy slates are not rational on the topic of John Scalzi and anyone associated with him. Also, dare I suggest that a group that has consistently behaved as through straight white men of a certain socioecomic classes are the only group that counts might have, ah, not welcomed the contributions of a non-white non-American? Maybe I'm mistaken, but it seems like such an oversight not to include 3BP, when writers like KJA, Marko Kloos, and Larry Correira made it on the puppy slate in the novel category.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/653942.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

New Bujold TODAY

Penric's Demon, a novella in the five gods universe.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/653138.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Hugo Nominees 2015: Novelette

The novelettes were a step up from the short story and novella categories, but still not exactly brilliant material. I'm on the fence about voting any of them over No Award.




"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium", Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014): Old man dies on planet colonized by humans, then recolonized by aliens, and uses his death to rebel against the aliens' death rituals, in the first step to triggering a conflict between the two colonizing groups.

After the previous categories, this... isn't bad. It's got a beginning, middle, and end; it's not brilliant but it tells the story it set out to tell. It's not masterful. It's not introducing new ideas to the field, or demonstrating award-worthy levels of skill with prose, worldbuilding, or plotting. It's not that insightful about the material it's retreading. What's the difference between humans rebelling against their alien oppressors, and Iraqis in conflict with Americans? The lack of nuance is enough of a failure for me to knock this way down the rankings.




"Championship B'tok", Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014): Part two of a series about interstellar civilizations knit together by a lightspeed transmission network of... intellectual property? The story treats this as a background element to the unmasking of a conspiracy spanning millennia, but I kept getting hung up on the radiowave IP thing. It's like the backstory for Cherryh's Company novels smashed into Vinge's Qeng Ho, except without the things either of them do well. Both Cherryh and Vinge call out the lightspeed lags and the surprises that pile up between transmissions and reactions to transmissions, and how that plays out. "Championship B'Tok" foregrounds an in-system plot, which cuts down on your lightspeed lags, but treats the interstellar plot as the big reveal. It's a very distracting flaw in the story, which has sidetracked me from the dicey prose and flat characterization. If the plot and worldbuilding were better, I'd be able to overlook the prose and characterization, but that's not the case. Ambitious but flawed.




"The Day the World Turned Upside Down", Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014): the next time someone is asking what nice guy syndrome looks like, look no further! Girlfriend ditches boy, magical realism happens, Young Flower Of Untouched Innocence appears, Symbol of Our Relationship suffers at ex-boyfriend's hands, ex-BF quits this plane of existence in a way that is supposed to show how over everything he is. You can tell because he's mentally telling his ex how so very over her he is in the last paragraphs of the story.

The "romantic breakup = world turned upside down, NO LITERALLY" is actually executed well. If I were doing magical realism, I'd want to have cool ideas like that.

However, the execution relies on me caring about a Nice Guy who pines until he is totally, really over her when he discovers - gasp - there is another man in her life! She contaminated her purity by seeing another man after she dumped him!

Spare me.

It's hard to tell if this is suffering in translation from the subtle difference between the characters being jerks, and the author being completely aware of the intended effect, and the protagonist being a waste of my time because that is the author worldview. Negative one million points for Nice Guy protagonist souring my week.

n.b. this was a non-slate nomination. In the immortal word of Carolyn Hax, wow.




"The Journeyman: In the Stone House", Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014): This... isn't awful. It feels like a chunk hewn out of a larger story, but it has an acceptable beginning, middle, and end; mangles English in service of the story; and assembles the worldbuilding and characterization in a way that puts this that smidge over "Flow" where I cared enough to finish the story without skimming. The plot is, again, Ringworld natives; but it's competent Ringworld natives.




"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale", Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014): Space cadets - Exoplanetary Explorers in training - pick a fight in a bar, get detailed to punishment duty packing up a failed project, and save the project from failing by noticing things overlooked by all other personnel assigned to the project in the last 30 years.

Wiki tells me the golden age of SF is 1938 - 1946, with some scholars advocating the '50s as the true Golden Age. My assessment is that the Golden Age of SF is twelve, when you're old enough to read adult works widely and indiscriminately, before you suss out the qualitative differences between Piers Anthony and Lois Bujold. But going by the golden age as a historic time period, the subtitle is spot on. This is from the "golden age", with the stiff prose, cocksure protagonists, and lack of grounding in actual human psychology you'd expect from that era. I started reading, I started skipping, I started flipping ahead to the end. It might not be bad, but if there's a brilliant idea lurking in there it's hobbled by the deadly words "I don't care about any of these characters, or the thing they're exploring" that escaped my thoughts a fifth of the way through.

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