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Books read, late January

Diane Ackerman, Jaguar of Sweet Laughter. Reread. The colonialism fairy has visited the early poems in this volume, and there is more self-directed sexism than I could see when I first read Ackerman nearly twenty years ago. But I could also–easily–find in this volume the poems that are the reason I came to like her, the reason I bought so many of her works in the first place–“When You Take Me From This Good Rich Soil,” of course, and “Nuclear Winter” and “At Belingshausen, the Russian Base, Antarctica.” Poems that stick around doing the things they meant to do after nearly twenty years, so that I’m glad I returned looking for them.

Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Blades. Sequels are hard. This one feels like a particularly difficult tonal shift, from the shattered mirror dead god experience of City of Stairs to a very human set of consequences. It’s an interesting book, an engrossing book, but not ultimately one that succeeds as well for me as its predecessor. I think it depends on the reader which will be more favored. I think it relies on knowledge of the previous volume for impact, but I can’t swear to it.

John Bowker, ed., Orthogonal SF: The War at Home. Kindle. A quirky and fascinating new entry on the SF magazine scene. I felt that the positive standout stories were “#Anon and the Antlers” by Michael J. DeLuca and “A Citizen’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven” by Josh Pearce, and Alana I. Capria’s “Gelatin Molds” was really really not my thing…but it was not my thing in a way that committed whole-heartedly to what it was doing. It was not trying half-assedly to be something else. None of the stories were mealy-mouthed. Two stories out of five that make me go “oh hell yeah”–and zero stories that I can’t remember, zero stories that make me go “wait, which one was that?”–not at all bad for a start.

Chaz Brenchley, Sister Anthony Comes Down. Kindle. Short piece in the same universe as the Crater School and bearing immediately upon it but not, for the most part, sharing its style. However, it’s the kind of bonus you get with the Patreon, and it is not in serial form, so I took advantage of its self-contained nature to jump in and be able to jump out again.

Marie Brennan, Chains and Memory. Kindle. Discussed elsewhere.

Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint. A murder mystery very much in the puzzle novel style: practically entirely composed of “how will they prove it.” Translated from the Japanese, with cultural assumptions intact. So okay then.

Gwyneth Jones, Midnight Lamp. Reread. There is no point to even trying with this series without starting at the beginning, with Bold As Love. By now they are deep into the weeds, far far into consequences and follow-on effects. Fiorinda is putting herself back together after having saved the world once. So are Ax and Sage. California Adventures! And so on. I like how this book doesn’t escalate directly. Sequels that manage not to do that and still find interesting things to say are better.

L.M. Montgomery, Rainbow Valley. Kindle. Reread. When I was sick in ’15 I read the first six Green Gables books. When faced with a fairly loud setting and a need to read on my Kindle, I reached for this familiar volume, which has a balance of kids’ antics and adults’ love lives as most Montgomery does. It was one of my favorites when I was little, and I still like it reasonably well. Note that there will be moments of unthinking racism against persons not present, as part of the fabric of the culture depicted, and some of the parenting practices from the kinder and more progressive parents are still pretty barbaric.

Emma Newman, Planetfall. A fascinating science fiction psychological study of an individual and a community dealing with colonization and background aliens while completely failing to cope with a mental health issue that is central to the book. I found the ending not at all satisfying. “Wow!” I kept saying to myself. “This is really compassionate and understanding, I wonder how she’s going to stick the landing?” Uh…better luck next time? Seriously, the rest of the reading experience is worth following Newman’s career and trying again, but the ending…did not quite make it, for me, and I will be happy to talk on email with those who either have already read it or find the details important enough that they want spoilers.

George O’Connor, Olympians: Apollo, The Brilliant One. Discussed elsewhere.

Benjamin Parzybok, Sherwood Nation. Drought and crisis and how people come to the end of their rope, what they do when they get there. Particularly interesting to read fairly close to Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which are very different water/drought books set in the Pacific coast states. Parzybok’s scenes of family life in externally imposed crisis are particularly poignant and believable, and having “Maid Marian” and her crew to cheer for keeps it from getting to be too grindingly much. Also the very last page works in so very many ways that I am kind of fidgety to talk to people who have read the whole thing about what I like about it.

Mary Rickert, The Memory Garden. Beautiful domestic fantasy with lots of old women as protagonists and supporting characters. I have no idea why this book hasn’t come up when we were discussing Lifelode and The Dubious Hills as domestic fantasy, even though the setting is this world instead of secondary world. Full of garden life and ad hoc families and the way that people cope and then shape their lives around their coping.

Ysabeau S. Wilce, Prophecies, Libels, and Dreams: Stories of Califa. These are in the Flora Segunda universe but not nearly as middle-grade-skewed as the Flora books, which is an interesting balance. The prose voice also varies in how much it’s off into the twee land of Flora–for all that it took me a couple of tries to really get into the voice of those books, I found I missed it a bit in the more restrained stories, even though I saw why Wilce made the choices she did for each. Writing adult stories in the world of your children’s books is just the sort of fun interesting totally non-commercial thing I think more people should do, so I want to call this particularly to the attention of Flora’s fans.

Kai Ashante Wilson, The Devil in America. Reread. I remembered liking something by the author, so I picked up this beautiful little bound version from the free table at ConFusion. Turns out that what I remember liking is this. Well, still, now I have a beautiful little bound version, and that’s no bad thing. Racism, bargains, cost.

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