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Books read, late September

Stephanie Burgis, The Raven Heir. This is a new series from Steph, and it’s lovely. It’s a family story, a magic story, a forest story, all the things I like best all at once, and the end made me cry a bit in the best way.

Gardner Dozois, Modern Classics of Fantasy. Kindle. Well. This sure is a collection of fantasy stories published in the mid-90s. I was reading quite a lot of fantasy by then, and the genre Dozois is outlining is completely unrecognizable to me. It’s also comprised entirely of white people, the overwhelming majority of them men; meanwhile I was reading…a…variety of people? It was particularly jarring because I wanted this collection for a Suzy McKee Charnas story that’s not readily available elsewhere. That story, at least, was quite good. Some of the others were quite good. A lot of the remaining ones were sexist gaze Silver Age blather, and I know times have changed and to some extent Dozois changed with them, but he felt he had to include two stories each from Avram Davidson and Fritz Leiber while ignoring, lordy, just about everything Terri Windling ever edited, there’s a Bruce Sterling story in here, he talked complete nonsense about what T.H. White tropes had become “universal” in other Arthurian fiction at the time–and I know it was nonsense because I did a gigantic survey paper about contemporary Arthurian fiction two years before this book came out. I spent most of this book just wondering how it is that I managed to come of age reading fantasy that was a completely different field than this one wanted to engage with and promote and use his clout in the field to attempt to set as canon.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana. Reread. Just as I was about to start talking about this, a discussion of it broke out in a private forum I’m on. I still do like it, but I feel its age particularly in the shape of roles the women take–what kind of heroism is possible to the women characters. There definitely is some, but it’s a constrained heroism for reasons that seem assumed rather than built into the world particularly, and the focus is chosen rather than necessary. Still, the moments where no one else can hear the name of the obliterated homeland, where they strain to make out what word the Tiganan characters are saying…those stayed with me, ever since the first time I’ve read it, and that’s the core of the book I keep returning to.

L.M. Montgomery, Further Chronicles of Avonlea. Reread. This is another random collection of Montgomery stories. This one seems to be highlighting the places where our values do not align very well–if you believe these stories, the central problem of family life is that people are too proud, and I don’t really believe that’s true. Ah well, at least I’ve reclaimed the shelf space, and there are other Montgomeries I still do love.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Son of the Storm. This is a fascinating book, because structurally it is so very secondary world fantasy, and worldbuilding-wise it is extremely Africa-influenced. So if you wonder what that looks like…this is definitely the book.

Naomi Oreskes, Why Trust Science? A concise and thoughtful take on what science has to offer as a system of apprehending the world. This series about modern thought is set up to offer challenges to the main body of the book by other thinkers and then gives the author a chance to rebut those challenges, and Oreskes’s work in that regard is magisterial, a joy to behold.

Lucy Pick, Pilgrimage. Historical fiction that weaves a tale from a figure along the periphery of actual history: a blind minor noblewoman from what would now be Belgium in the 12th century, swept along on what becomes a pilgrimage into Spain. Her comfort and skill in her own world are repeatedly upended, and her resourcefulness (and her dog’s resourcefulness!) in dealing with new circumstances are beautifully drawn but not superhuman. Because this is based on an actual historical life, there are places where I could not predict what would happen next because they’re shaped by real human chance rather than narrative convenience. Interesting.

Mary Roach, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Refreshingly, Roach decided to turn her wry and anecdotal eye not on weapons of destruction but on the peripheral technologies of warfare and its fallout. This is not a book for the fainthearted–there are descriptions of genital reconstruction surgery here, there are discussions of intestinal distress in field conditions–but the focus is not on killing but on survival.

DaVaun Sanders, B. Sharise Moore, et al, Fiyah Issue 18. Kindle. For me the standout story here was Marika Bailey’s “The White Road or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River,” but once again Fiyah does an excellent job of bringing a variety of new-to-me authors to my attention.

Lisa Sanders, Diagnosis and Every Patient Tells a Story. In some ways these two volumes are opposite views of the same author. The first is a series of 2-6 page essays, sort of a “best of” her column in New York Times Magazine about diagnosis. Each is a self-contained medical mystery, and as with many very short mysteries they can be a bit unsatisfying because there isn’t room for much other than exposition and solution. Frankly I recommend it as bathroom reading. The latter volume is where Sanders has the chance to talk about diagnostic medicine at length, conceptually and holistically but most importantly in its human context–to talk about where she feels its stories fit in the human story. It’s a much better book.

Greg van Eekhout, Weird Kid. A shapeshifting kid investigates strange happenings in his town, gradually becoming part of them. Mayhem ensues. Fun times.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, et al, Lumberjanes: A Summer to Remember. This series is clearly wrapping up, and this was a bit of a nostalgia tour rather than…the actual plot wrap-up. For which I’m getting more and more impatient. I am also getting pickier about the art as we near the end. Ah well.

Anders Winroth, The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, and Missionaries in the Remaking of Northern Europe. Okay so this was great. This actually looked at why Scandinavians converted to Christianity when they did, taking into account that Adam of Bremen was not an unbiased observer about…the topic of how great and holy Adam of Bremen’s bosses were. You can believe in sincere conversions while still noticing that things like when and how the French fortified their bridges had a serious effect on Viking raids vs. merchant connections in the world, and having an author like Winroth who is willing to treat the Scandinavians of that time as active rather than passive participants in their own conversion made all the difference in the world. I was very excited about this book.

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