Me, early 2017: I will be better about reading and writing about what I've read!
Me, November 2017: So that's going to be a 2018 goal, as well as a 2017 effort. God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine (Victoria Sweet) (2012):
A memoir of practicing medicine at Laguna Honda Hospital, one of San Francisco's last-ditch facilities for long term care. The memoir is infused with Sweet's research into the medical practice of Hildegard of Bingen.
I opened this with a vague idea I'd get a look into one facet of San Francisco's health care history. That's not what God's Hotel
is most interested in. Its focus is on the human face of doctoring, as experienced by Dr. Sweet during her tenure at Laguna Honda, and how her approach to medicine was influenced by her doctoral research on Hildegard. It's a topic that needs periodic reinforcement: the myriad tools available for medical intervention are secondary to healing the sick
. Sweet emphasizes cutting back on dramatic intervention and letting time and the human body do their work. It's the same lesson Shem wrote down forty years ago: the delivery of good medical care is to do as much nothing as possible
. Sweet emphasizes the more positive interpretation: the delivery of good medical care is to figure out what's blocking the path to health, and get rid of the blocks, including the egos of the doctors, nurses, and other people involved with caring for the patient. Provenance (Ann Leckie) (2017):
standalone in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy, set shortly after the trilogy, but essentially unrelated. Ingrey Aughskold, daughter of ambitious and politically connected Netano Aughskold, takes a daring course to challenge her brother for inheritance of Netano's name and position. This gets complicated by Hwae politics, an upset Geck ambassador on her way to the Conclave, and the provenance, or lack of provenance, of Hwae's most revered cultural artifacts. If you've read the Foreigner series, the the complicated political dynamics muddied by personal concerns, and the personal relationships muddled up by the political situation, are going to feel pretty familiar. Provenance
takes that muddling in directions that feel pretty homey if you've read the Imperial Radch trilogy.
I was lucky enough to attend a reading when Leckie was on book tour for Provenance
's release, and got to hear her say - I'm paraphrasing - that she'd learned some things about gender and gender presentation during or after writing the Ancillary trilogy which got put into Provenance
. Hwae society has three genders, thrown in as part of the worldbuilding along with the family and inheritance structures. Those social constructs that have profound implications for Ingrey and her family, and tie into the thematic questions about where things come from and how are they - ha! - made significant.
All this, and aliens too. The Geck ambassador's involvement brings with it a pervasive fear of breaking the Treaty. The Geck angle brings with it questions of humanity and identity that thematically ties back to the previous three novels in the universe. Provenance
is a lighter and faster read than the Imperial Radch trilogy, but very preoccupying for the characters and enjoyable as a lighter thing.All Systems Red (Martha Wells) (2017):
first novella in the Murderbot series.
Murderbot is the chosen identification of the protagonist, a self-proclaimed cheap security droid whose defining traits are being responsible for a mass casualty event and later hacking the governor module that made it kill 55 people. Secretly free of its override protocols, Muderbot's most significant change in habit is its unrestricted space!TV addiction. All Systems Red
covers a contract job gone sideways, which forces Murderbot to reveal its self-actualization to a group of softhearted humans.
Murderbot is... not necessarily the most reliable narrator? Wells has a fondness for a certain type of isolated, distrustful protagonist who is convinced revealing their true nature will end with rejection, more isolation, and maybe death. Murderbot follows the trend, with bonus self-deprecation and psuedo-indifference to the governor module incident that is totally over
, cough, which has nothing to do with why it calls itself Murderbot. Ahem.
I suspect this will come up again in the future novellas, which I look forward to reading.
After many years and several tries I finally got through Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (1993)
. When I first tried to read it I had a vague assumption it would focus on the mechanics of comics, and it does that, but it goes much deeper into how comics function as art and also into the hows and whys of symbolism in comics. A tougher read than expected but very rewarding.Raven Stratagem
(Yoon Ha Lee) (2017):</strong> does one of my favorite things in fiction, the late-story plot twist that is a wonderful surprise and also totally fits with everything that came before. There's limits to that strategy, but Lee hasn't reached them yet.Thrawn (Timothy Zahn) (2017):
Months after reading this I can say it was reasonably clever, it was as good as I expect from Zahn, and the Pryce backstory was nice, but it made me terrifically nostalgic for The Last Command
and Binti:Home (2016) (Nnedi Okorafor):
young woman defies tradition to attend space university, has adventures. If you've read Okorafor, these novellas will feel very much in her style.Three Parts Dead (Max Gladstone) (2012):
Craftswoman Tara Abernathy, cast out of the Hidden Schools of the Craft, is recruited by Elayne Kevarian, of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to deal with a tricky case of Craft whose roots trace back to the God Wars that changed the world, and cut through a tangle of Craft and personal relationships.
If that summary is a mess, well, the novel is ambitious to a fault. The PoV is tight-ish third noir-ish in a D&D-ish fantasy world. But it most reminds me of old school science fiction, the sort where the clever plot turns on the writer explaining the way everything works except
for the pivot-element that swings the final twist into action. In the epilogue, Elayne remarks, engineers: they spend so much time solving physical problems and obeying physical rules, they forget that nonphysical phenomena obey rules every bit as strict.
A couple of years ago the Legion of Honor hosted an exhibit of Breguet watches, fancypants high-end timepieces of the last three or four centuries. The plot of Three Parts Dead
reminded me of the tiny interlocked gears powering the conventional hour, minute, and second hands, as well as all the complications that could be imagined and packed into a handheld device. Like some of the honological complications on display, I didn't quite see the appeal of the threads of history and action connecting the deaths of Judge Cabot and Kos Everburning to Tara, Elayne, Novice Technician Abelard of the Church of Kos Everburning, addict and agent of Justice Catherine Elle, Shale of the Guardians (gargoyles), Craftsman Alexander Denovo, and the vampire Raz Pelham. There is a point where piling on history, secondary worldbuilding, personal backstory, and red herrings turns a cats-cradle plot from a tense interconnected story to a mess.
The book does a number of things "right" - women as protagonists, Bechdel test pass, people of color as characters with agency - but the execution it felt bloodless, clockwork, to me.
On a really petty, petty note, every time someone talked about the city of Alt Coulumb I had college physics flashbacks
. It was really, really distracting.A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers) (2016):
Hugo nominee. Double timeline story about AI fish-out-of-water Sidra's first steps into personhood played against young Jane 24 (aka Jane, aka Pepper) and shuttle-AI-slash-parent-ish Owl teaming up to fix a junked spacecraft.Orbit
is a character book. If you're interested in the characters and their personal journeys, you're going to enjoy this book. The plot acts in service of time with the characters, winding through there's Sidra's challenges as an AI stuck in an un-AI body, with attendant dysphoria; an exploration of Port Coriol's people and cultures; and Pepper's history, topped off with a Leverage-esque shuttle heist / family reunion at the end of the novel, because this is a novel about identity, found family, and not leaving people behind.
There's a sense of a lot of influences, not that far under the surface. That doesn't always work to Orbit
's benefit. The Dispossessed
has a memorable, tightly structured, thematically resonant double timeline narrative. The other double timeline narrative that has rocked my world is Ancillary Justice
. There are interleaved usenet-slash-irc-slash-reddit-ish excerpts with people being people, with AIs on the table, accidentally evoking A Fire Upon the Deep. Orbit
includes a glancing interest in how to make a person, which is right up my thematic alley, but that's secondary to its focus on self-actualization, see "focus on characters". Orbit
is a competent but not brilliant or definitive take on the tropes and ideas in play.
This year I finally finished The House of God (Samuel Shen) (1978)
, a semiautobiographical novel of a first year medical intern's trial by fire, gomer, and administrivia. It's dated, raunchy in the least erotic way possible - there is an awful lot of kind of objectification and doctor/nurse sex - and yet the issues of patient care raised are still painfully relevant to American health care almost forty years later. Thick As Thieves (Megan Whalen Turner) (2017):
Slave Kamet escapes the calamitous death of his owner in the Mede Empire. Since this is a King's Thief novel, there is a big, plot-changing twist, perhaps even several. If one builds a reputation on surprising readers, there's a point where the readers know the story isn't being told straight and start to question closely the statements the characters take for fact, which works against that element of surprise. There's a limit to the strategy of plot twists for the sake of plot twists, which Turner might be starting to bump up against.
This entry cross-posted at https://ase.dreamwidth.org/683520.html
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