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Books read, early June

Ben Aaronovitch, False Value. There are a lot of Douglas Adams references in this latest volume of the series, but it’s not a Douglas Adams pastiche. Which is good; hardly anyone can “do” Douglas Adams well. What’s not as overt is that this is doing a lot of the kind of light satire of the tech industry (British version) that Charlie Stross does in his Laundry novels. That, as much as I like the Rivers of London, Charlie Stross does better in his Laundry novels. So I really hope that this is a one-off within the series; it was fun to read but not one of the better entries in the series, to my mind.

Elif Batuman, The Idiot. This book languished on my library list for years because the title–even knowing it was probably a Dostoevsky reference (it was)–was just not appealing. As in Dostoevsky, this is not “idiot” in its general usage but more in the sense of “naive, innocent.” It’s the story of the first year of college and the summer after, for a girl who is not particularly driven, not particularly directed. It’s very well-written, and I enjoyed reading it, but if you want coherent plot this is not your book.

Elizabeth Bear, Machine. Discussed elsewhere.

Molly Brooks, Sanity and Tallulah. This is a middle-grade comic about two little girls who live on a space station, one of whom is disaster-prone and one of whom merely needs lectures on consulting ethics boards before experimenting on live subjects. And receives them. This was so much fun. I immediately put it on my list to give to my younger niece for her birthday.

Agatha Christie, Poirot Investigates. Kindle. A series of Poirot short stories, reasonably light, about as successful as mystery shorts usually are (which, for me, is not very), occasional brief forays into ethnic slurs and stereotypes as one expects from Christie but not a dominant theme of this work.

George Eliot, Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Kindle. This is Eliot’s last, experimental book; it’s a series of character impressions in the titular character’s persona. It’s quite funny in spots, very modern. It’s by no means the first Eliot I’d recommend, but it will cause an Eliot completist no pain. Except…once you get to the last chapter, where “Theophrastus Such” is trying to defend Jewish people from the antisemitism of the time…yeah, unless you have a specific interest in watching what it looks like when someone thinks they’re helping and are not helping, you can skip that part, the book is over when it ends and it’s not going anywhere wonderful.

Hao Jingfang, Vagabonds. This is the kind of book I used to see a lot, where the characters earnestly explain Mars and Earth to each other and navigate the cultural conflict between the two planets with a lot of talking that illuminates ideas about the present-day world. Most of the examples of it that I read as a teenager were written by Americans, so having a Chinese version is an interesting lens on the same subgenre. I enjoyed this a lot and would like more of Hao Jingfang’s work to be translated, even if there were elements (internalized sexism, for example) that I didn’t like as much.

C.B. Lee, Not Your Sidekick. This is a classic superhero origin story. If you know these stories, you’ll know the beats in this one. However, it will be a lot of fun for some readers to get to experience those beats with in an Asian-American and queer context, and it won’t do anyone else any harm either.

Ken Liu, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories. I ended this volume mad at the modernists, because if I say, “Ken Liu is a sentimentalist,” everyone will think that’s meant to be a bad thing. But he is: the stories in this volume are very emotion-focused speculative fiction. The heart comes first here.

Noel Malcolm, Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits, and Spies in the Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean World. I often say “does what it says on the tin,” and this does not. It is not, in fact, a general accounting of those categories. It’s the story of one Albanian family, around the time of the Battle of Lepanto. Which is an interesting thing to do! but not perhaps what you might think you were getting from the title.

Eliza Nellums, All That’s Bright and Gone. This is an adult novel told from the perspective of a 6-year-old girl whose mother has just had a major schizophrenic break, as she tries to figure out what happened to her older brother and in fact what’s going on in her family at large. This is the first book in ages where I’ve read the last few pages first to make sure certain traumatic plot points are not the case, and they are not. Enough trauma happens to this kid as it is; I was not up for reading a first-person fictional account of a 6-year-old being assaulted, and lo, that was not in this book. The ending is human and hopeful, but it is a harrowing ride at some points along the way.

Danny Lavery writing as Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Witty pop culturally focused essays, many of which are about his transition, not all. A very fast read.

Priya Sharma, Ormeshadow. Emotionally dark fantasy, rather than vampirely dark fantasy. Family drama, mostly, until the very end.

Nisi Shawl, ed., New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. I particularly enjoyed stories by Tobias Buckell and Indrapramit Das, but honestly this was just a fun volume in general.

Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference. An interesting look at how distributive justice is necessary but not sufficient for comprehensive justice. If you’re up for social justice theory, this is a good addition to that reading list.

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