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Glass Houses, by Madeline Ashby

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Madeline Ashby should go in with Cory Doctorow and Jon Evans to get T-shirts reading, “You Don’t Have to Be Canadian To Tell the Truth About Shitty Startups (But It Helps).”

Should you get on a private plane with the rest of your startup senior staff all at once: seriously no, don’t do that, there are solid reasons that they should not want you to do that, so if they’re asking you to do that, red flags. Kristen does that. And Kristen wakes up on a tropical island in the wreckage of a plane crash with, uh, most of her co-workers. Stellar start to celebrating your company’s sale, there. The island is home to a single mysterious house that’s automated…for some members of the group and not others…and injuries and deaths keep racking up. Kristen has to figure out what’s going on–and what’s been going on–if she wants to have any chance of getting out of there alive. And her past has more to do with it than she really wants it to.

This is a short, tense near-future thriller. Ashby has nailed startup culture, as it deserves–but there are also fine details of language that point so clearly to the startup being Toronto-based rather than Silicon Valley or Research Triangle, and it’s beautiful to see those bits making the thing specific and real. Is it a nice book, no, it is very much not a nice book, but it was a gripping read, and you’re not always looking for a nice book.

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Skies are…well, lots of colors really

New story out today in Lightspeed! And the Dreams That You Dare to Dream is available for your reading or listening pleasure. I wanted to write a story about finding your place and finding your magic…only some of which is new. Yes, the title is an Oz reference, but actually it’s the Oz books that inspire me, not the movie. This one goes out to all of you who remember Ozma’s whole story and are newly delighted by it as adults. I wrote it for my friend J. R. Dawson and for all of the members of the Silent Queer Migration. Welcome home to Minnesota. We’re delighted to have your magic. I made you a story to say welcome.

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Books read, early May

Nathalie Bardet, Alexandra Houssaye, Stephane Jouve, and Peggy Vincent, Ocean Life in the Time of Dinosaurs. Lavishly illustrated, divided by era so that it will be useful for reference if you want it by time period, lots of interesting ocean creatures, basically exactly the sort of natural history book I liked as a little kid but for grown-ups and yes, I still do like that sort of book.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance, Memory, and Komarr. Rereads. Now it can be told: I’m rereading this series to do a conversation with Lois focused on Mirror Dance as a middle book at Fourth Street Fantasy next month. These three really are the meat of the middle of this series, and while Miles still gets to make mistakes, he also gets to do some genuine growing up. I’m also pleased that we’re in the portion of the series where we’re seeing changes in Barrayaran culture rather than being told that Barrayar is a culture in flux. Some of that is spending more time on Barrayar, but some of it is the long-series aspect of “setting expectations in order to overturn them.”

Judith Butler, Who’s Afraid of Gender?. This is a valuable thing to do, albeit more valuable for people paying less attention than I am, but I think I was expecting the title to be more rhetorical, and instead it could be rephrased as Some Jerks Who Are Afraid of Gender. Which was more of an “ugh, these people, in specific and at length, I already knew” than I was entirely anticipating, though some of the details were new.

Vajra Chandrasekera, The Saint of Bright Doors. I really like it when there’s no immediate “oh this is just another one of xyz” comp title in-genre for new fantasy novels, and this is one where there isn’t. The protagonist is substantially reactive, which means that the plot drifts weirdly and has its own shape, Aristotle be damned. I’m not that attached to his unities myself anyway, and the setting is the most interesting part here–inspired by various aspects of Sri Lankan history and dystopian thought rather than some of the more common sources for fantasy setting, wrestling with the divine and the chosen from a completely different angle.

H.A. Clarke, The Feast Makers. Third in its trilogy, “the triumphant conclusion of.” Sideways Pike and her friends are dealing with consequences upon consequences, and I would definitely not recommend starting here, you’ll be confused and besides the other two are in print. But I’m generally pretty happy with where it went, where they went.

Margaret Frazer, The Outlaw’s Tale and The Bishop’s Tale. Kindle. Two medieval mysteries with a detective nun protagonist. They’re structured as mysteries more than as novels, so I wanted more denouement than Frazer was interested in giving me, but they were still fun short reads, I’m still happy enough to go along with the rest of the series, the reign of Henry VI is not particularly one of “my” periods but it’s still an interesting set of thoughts about how someone would figure things out then and what they would consider important.

Marie Howe, New and Selected Poems. Worst-case scenario for a “new and selected” happened here: I did not like the direction of the new, only the “selected” (which I already knew). Howe’s poetic style is extremely forthright, which usually I am okay with, but for whatever reason she is going in a direction of forthright that doesn’t particularly do anything wonderful for me. Well, there’s the rest of what they selected from still there if I want to go back.

Jose Pablo Iriarte, Benny Ramirez and the Nearly Departed. A fun middle-grade fantasy about a young boy finding his own way in the shadow of his talented relatives–including his egotistical musician grandfather, who is hanging around being far more present after death than he ever was in life.

Gish Jen, Tiger Writing. Thoughts about culture, individualism and collective identity, and how it affects writing, interesting lectures turned into essays. Short and personal, to the point.

Elin Anna Labba, The Rocks Will Echo Our Sorrow: The Forced Displacement of the Northern S├ími. Also short and personal, featuring family photos and letters about the threads of the displacement in Labba’s own family, with searing and complicated stories making the human cost of these political decisions very clear.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night. Reread. This is a bit like reading James Clerk Maxwell on electromagnetics. There are some insights that are brilliant and original, there are some things that are wrong but you can see how she wasn’t to the point where she had the data to see it yet, and there were some bits of speculation, wondering if anyone would be able to do things that are now more or less taken for granted, and seeing someone that sharp come at it that soon is fascinating.

Darcie Little Badger, Sheine Lende. A prequel to the stronger Elatsoe, its structure is a bit loose for my taste, and the mammoths of the cover underrepresented, but it held onto me throughout all the same. Ghost dogs for the win.

Noel Streatfeild, Mothering Sunday. Kindle. Finally another adult Streatfeild that I actually enjoyed. A family (except its missing black sheep) descends upon their aging mother for a Mothering Sunday surprise, and she has to scramble to hide her secrets from their good intentions. People are allowed to be more complex here, as they are in the other good Streatfeilds–I wish there was some pattern I could figure out to which ones were like that, but it doesn’t seem to be when she published them or even, from the elements that appear in the books, that some of them were published far off from when they were written. Life stuff that’s opaque from here or mood, maybe, or editor, I don’t know.

Nghi Vo, The Brides of High Hill. The latest novella in its series, stands alone reasonably well but is not as strong as some of the others at doing really striking worldbuilding or characterization things without the rest of the series (that is–you could read it first but I think it’s much better if you don’t), asks very open questions about who the monsters are and how we know them when we find them.

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Books read, late April

Robert Jackson Bennett, The Tainted Cup. A fantasy murder mystery that succeeds for me in both genres. The subgenre of both is darker and nastier than most of the fantasy murder mysteries I’ve read before, I think to its success–this is not a story that would benefit from a twee tone. Its protagonist’s disabilities are handled smoothly, and the bodily variation, both natural and induced, in this setting is very much part of its appeal to me. I hope Bennett has the chance to write more of these.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Warrior’s Apprentice, The Vor Game, Borders of Infinity, Cetaganda, and Brothers in Arms. Rereads. For a project, and it’s interesting to take them from this distance, to see where the characters who have had a chance for full subplots and lives are brief hints in their first appearances. There’s a noticeable gear-shift in the middle of Brothers in Arms, a shift in what we’re doing here and why, toward more intensity, all to the good.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Water I Won’t Touch. Poems about healing from top surgery, poems about coming from a hardscrabble region and an abusive family, poems that reach for cool water in a polluted land. These were beautiful and harrowing, and I’m glad that my local librarians had them on a Poetry Month display for me to randomly pick up and experience.

Nino Cipri, Homesick. A collection of short stories, dark and witty and skillful. Cipri always has a different angle than anyone else has taken, and I’m glad these are all in one place to enjoy, even the ones I had already encountered elsewhere.

Aliette de Bodard, Navigational Entanglements. Discussed elsewhere.

Reginald Hill, Asking for the Moon. Reread. I was contemplating how the mystery worked at short lengths, and my recollection was that in this collection the answer was: not too well. Upon reread I felt the same, and I doubt I will want to return to it–the short form didn’t play to Hill’s strengths in reference and characterization, and these felt more like gimmicks than gems. I don’t really need to keep this one around, I have the novels in the series when I feel like returning to these characters.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Lord of Emperors. Reread. Not enough mosaics in this one per unit book about mosaicist, but still satisfying for what it is. Don’t read it first, read the other one first, it’s basically a two-volume novel. Once somebody mentioned all the women in Kay’s books wanting to sleep with his protagonists I can’t unsee it, but mostly to the point of it entertaining me rather than truly annoying me at this point.

B. Robert Kreiser, Miracles, Convulsions, and Ecclesiastical Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris. Do you want Jansenists? Because this is how you get Jansenists. Or rather: this is a lot of details about Jansenists. Interesting about that but not so outstandingly written that I’d recommend seeking it out if you’re not particularly interested either in early eighteenth century Paris or in Christian sectarian in-fighting as specific topics.

Jo Miles, Dissonant State. The second in its series of interplanetary fiction with multiple species trying to do labor organizing in the face of interstellar corporate skullduggery. Each volume focuses on a different main character but there’s continuity of cast from volume to volume. There’s no reason not to read the first one, it’s in print and you’ll get better context for this one, but this is an entirely cromulent middle book in a series I’m having such fun with. Gosh I love middle books. Gosh I’m looking forward to seeing how Miles wraps this up. They are really good at letting their characters make characteristic mistakes.

Michael Ondaatje, A Year of Last Things. Poetry, some of which touches on the end of a friend’s life. I didn’t end up aligning well with much of it, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Eleanor Parker, Winters in the World: A Journey Through the Anglo-Saxon Year. This is a nice little book. I think sometimes historians are aware that they’ve written a nice little book and sometimes not, and this is definitely in the “aware” camp: Parker has brought together references from lots of poetry of this era to think and talk about the seasons and festivals of the early English year. Fun, light, short.

Julia Phillips, Bear. Discussed elsewhere.

Duane W. Roller, Empire of the Black Sea: The Rise and Fall of the Mithridatic World. This is the kind of history I like least, the kind that is entirely focused on who was king and what battles they fought. Did I still read it? yes. Did I start tearing my hair and wishing for information about what kind of roofing they used on their houses, how the king’s advisors were selected, what instruments they played and who constructed them, whether they were professional specialists or amateurs who mostly made other things, etc……also yes. Still, if you want information about the Pontic kingdom of this era, here it is.

Sofia Samatar, The Practice, the Horizon, and the Chain. Class and academia and spaceship and limitation. Claustrophobic and fascinating.

Sheng Keyi, Death Fugue. This is the kind of dystopia you get written when the author has a lot to say very directly about specific things in the real world rather than general thoughts and philosophies. The aftermath of Tiananmen Square and the impact of that movement on a whole generation is clear and fascinating here–there are aspects that are classically dystopian and aspects that are very, very individual.

Jesse Q. Sutanto, The Good, the Bad, and the Aunties. From the afternotes this looks like it will be the last of its trilogy, and I think that’s just as well. Meddy has reached her honeymoon, her happily ever after visiting family in Jakarta with her new husband in tow. The criminal shenanigans that ensue are by this point more forced than successfully farcical, and if I thought it was going to keep on like this forever, I probably wouldn’t have read this one; as it stands, it’s a farewell tour with the four aunties, and I was willing to come along for the ride.

Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers. Kindle. I’m told this is the most famous one in this series, but I don’t prefer it; it focuses on people getting their comeuppance who don’t interest me as much, and basically every time Trollope tells me what I’m probably thinking, I’m not. There are still some funny bits, but if you were to ask me for a Trollope rec, this would not be it. Onward.

Kiersten White, Mister Magic. I was honestly not sure what I was getting when I picked this up at random: child stars all grown up? a children’s show that seemed to have disappeared? how many kids were on this show, anyway? Was this dark fantasy, psychological horror, what was the deal? But the writing was assured and personal enough that I kept reading. It’s not my wheelhouse–very much to the darker end–but the character relationships kept me going through the twists of trust, betrayal, magic, and warped community.