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Books read, late September

I spent late September having influenza! Boy was that…about as much fun as you’ve heard influenza is! And much of what I could do in that time was read. So read I did! Yay reading! Note: this is a particularly bad time to make comments about how you wish you had that much time for reading, as I had to cancel several other things I was excited about in order to lie in bed, feel terrible, and read. Still yay reading! But…not really to be envied. Even though some of these books are great.

Roma Agrawal, Built: The Hidden Structures Behind Our Structures. This is definitely a “pop structural engineering” level book; for all Agrawal outs herself as a nerd, she’s aiming at the general audience. But if you’re looking for little nuggets of trivia and interest about materials and building, from the most basic structures up to the most modern skyscrapers, this is your jam.

Gavin Chappell, translator, Sagas of Ancient Kings; Sorli’s Yarn: The Saga of Hedin and Hogni; The Saga of Asmund, Bane of Champions; The Saga of Fridthjof the Bold; The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek; The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and His Champions; The Saga of Hromund Gripsson; The Saga of Thorstein Vikingsson; The Sagas of Ketil Trout and Grim Hairy-cheek. Kindle. Oh so many legendary sagas. Oh so many. So many people turning into wolves, swans, and who knows what else. They’re actually pretty perfect to read in bulk with a fever because fever logic and saga logic live next door to each other: and then he ate live coals and turned into a troll, sure, yes, why not.

Nicky Drayden, Escaping Exodus. Discussed elsewhere.

Jennifer Giesbrecht, The Monster of Elendhaven. This novella is darker than my usual fare, but sure-handed and beautifully done. The classes and regions of the worldbuilding, the individual relationships in the magic, the decay and the illness and the murder murder murder….

Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack and Zita the Space Girl. This is a team-up capstone to these two series, and I think it works best if you’ve read the books in both, because a lot of it involves revisiting characters and places from previous episodes in a dash to the finish.

Kat Howard, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone. There are some truly beautiful stories in here, including a college Arthurian that is just exactly my jam. Highly, highly recommended.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Peculiar Ground. This book was mis-shelved by a used bookstore that thought it was fantasy; its speculative content is extremely minimal. Mostly it is a literary novel about walls and boundaries, ranging from the Restoration to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I enjoyed the experience of reading it but once I’ve had a chance to think it over, some of the thematic implications are kind of gross, but not gross enough to ruin the entire thing–especially not gross enough to ruin the rare chance at Restoration garden design fiction.

Kelly Jones, Sauerkraut. This is a really fun kids’ book about a haunted fermenting crock and a kid who likes to make stuff! and his family and their various interests! it is great! it is by the chicken book person! I am basically made of exclamation marks when I talk about this book!

Margaret Killjoy, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion. Kindle. A novella that does not outstay its welcome: it gets in, tells its story of magic in a small town commune of squatters and punks, and gets out again. This is what the pacing of novellas is supposed to do. Its characterization is precise and clear, its plotting doesn’t linger purposelessly, and its details are very well drawn.

Karen Lord, Unraveling. Karen Lord is always doing something different from anybody else, and this is no exception. It’s a labyrinthine fantasy of solving a serial murder related to immortals and their influence on humans, and it pays attention to that influence in ways that don’t fall apart when you keep thinking.

Rose Macaulay, Mystery at Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings. Kindle. Alas, I was bound to come upon one of Macaulay’s works that didn’t hold up for me, and this was it: this is a satire of the Leage of Nations in ways that just feel off and nasty now, some of them racist, some of them merely crass. The central plot feels cheap and shabby, with the resolution an unsatisfying echo of some of the things she manages in better works. Not recommended unless you, like me, have become passionately dedicated to Macaulay and want to be able to talk knowledgeably about what she wrote in all its available details.

Donald McCaig, Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men: Searching Through Scotland for a Border Collie. I cannot fathom the reviewer on the cover of this who thinks it will make you want a border collie. I love border collies, but it is very clear about them as working dogs, and you almost certainly do not want one. But if you want to read about nice dogs and the very weird people who have them, doing trials and things, this is a good book about that, it doesn’t last too long, the dog the writer has at the beginning is still around getting pettins at the end and also there is a new dog, so it is not one of those And Then My Dog Died horrors. Dogs! Sometimes one wants a book, and this is one.

Gretchen McCulloch, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. This was a fast, fun read that described a lot of things that you have probably experienced, or else will be interested to learn about and catch up on, if you like language and its fluidity. I DMed Gretchen excitedly about a particular example in the middle. If you don’t know Gretchen even in the internet way that I do, you probably shouldn’t do that, but you may well have the urge, because it’s that kind of book.

Naomi Mitchison, The Blood of the Martyrs. This is a lovely and loving book about attempting to establish a group based on love and trust in the face of a totalitarian regime. In this case it happens to be an early Christian group in Rome in the reign of Nero, and they fare about as well as you’d expect, but Mitchison wrote it in the late ’30s and was thinking rather more historically broadly than just Nero.

Rebecca Roanhorse, Storm of Locusts. Roanhorse continues to be some of the most thriller-paced fantasy I have ever encountered. Her worldbuilding is unlike any other going on right now in the genre, a radically altered future with drastically changed magic. The new characters in this volume made it fun and a fast read for me, and I enjoyed zipping right through.

Karl Schroeder, Stealing Worlds. It took me a little bit to get into the characters on this one, but I’m very sympathetic to what Karl was doing with the ending, and it’s worth getting there, I think, even if you’re a hard-sell on blockchain fiction, which I am.

Vivian Shaw, Grave Importance. Now okay, yes, I did read this with influenza, so that might have made me more likely to cry, but the ending made me cry in such a good way. It is taking urban fantasy and monster tropes and making them into such a work of hope and love. All the times when people say that genre gives you structure to make your art work within: this is what they mean. This. This capped the series so beautifully and so movingly, and it works best with the full weight of the series behind it, so go, go read, I loved this.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, For Love of Distant Shores. I am so pleased that this is what Tchaikovsky has decided to do with his vast and sweeping fantasy setting. So not only did he write a ten-book series that had a beginning, a middle, and–get this–an ending–when he was done, he did not go do another just like it again to try to get the same result. No! Instead he is using this canvas he’s made to tell different kinds of stories! My analogy for this book is that if the big giant fantasy series is like the description of WWII, this set of novelette-ish length things is like the Indiana Jones stories, if Short Round got to be the protagonist. They’re fun, they’re a completely different tone, they’re exploring corners of the world in ways that Tchaikovsky is good at. Do approve.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 6 and Uncanny Magazine Issue 30. At least that’s how my Kindle metadata lists it! But! We know that Uncanny Magazine Issue 30 was actually Disabled People Destroy Fantasy and that it was actually edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Katharine Duckett, and Lisa M. Bradley, according to the cover. It was a varied and lovely issue, with my favorite part coming with A. T. Greenblatt’s essay about disabled protagonists, but I also found solidarity with Karlo Yeager Rodríguez’s “This Is Not My Adventure,” a story of grief that went some places I needed to go. I realized, looking at my Kindle, that for some reason Issue 6 was the only issue I’d missed in the past, though I’d read a lot of the individual stories, and while it’s not that long ago in real terms, in short fiction terms it feels like the magazine and the field has built a lot on what was going on then, on this issue and others around it, so it was interesting to look back as things grow and build so quickly.

Valerie Valdes, Chilling Effect. Discussed elsewhere.

Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. What a difficult and compassionate book. I knew I would be in good hands when van der Kolk related learning from a mentor whom he asked, would you call this patient schizophrenic or schizoaffective? and got told gently: I would call this patient [name]. While he’s willing to talk about diagnoses and use them where appropriate, his focus is always on human experience, and it’s a stronger book thereby.

Greg van Eekhout, Cog. Discussed elsewhere.

Jane Yolen, Dragonfield, and Other Stories. Kindle. The first of these stories is the same story as the graphic novel of Jane’s I read at the beginning of September, so that was disorienting. And then there were a couple of stories that were among the best short fiction I’ve ever read of hers, so…yeah, worth the price of admission, I should say, even with the different angle/same narrative at the beginning.

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