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Books read, late May

Alana Joli Abbott and Julia Rios, eds., Bridge to Elsewhere. A quite wide variety of stories with some version of spaceship involved. There was a really great section in the middle with all my favorite stories at once: Malka Older’s “Cumulative Ethical Guidelines for Midrange Interstellar Storytellers,” John Chu’s “Whose Spaceship Is It Anyway?”, and Valerie Valdes’s “Team Building Exercise,” all in a row, whoosh.

Gal Beckerman, The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas. Interesting meditations on some of the less flashy individuals who prefigured quite famous historical movements, how they got to the ideas that underpinned those movements. I particularly appreciated that Beckerman did not limit himself to historical movements he approved of, because radicalism is not inherently positive and sometimes watching how ideas develop in directions we don’t actually like is still very useful.

Kwame Dawes, Nebraska. Absolutely gorgeous poetry coming at its titular subject from the absolute opposite direction from mine, which is fascinating to watch–Dawes is from Ghana and Jamaica, so for him Nebraska is a place where winter happens in astonishing and intense ways, and for me, it. Uh. Really, really is not.

Marion Deeds, Comeuppance Served Cold. A heist/revenge novella in a 1920s endowed with magic. Has closure but allows room for sequels.

B.K. Fisher, Ceive. A post-apocalyptic novella in verse inspired by Noah’s Ark, Early English poetry, and about a million other things. The poems don’t really stand on their own, but they’re very immersive together.

Christopher Fry, A Phoenix Too Frequent. Reread. I can see why this was not his breakthrough play. It has some of the themes of choosing to live that pop up in The Lady’s Not For Burning (and in fact they make a rather uncomfortable back-to-back reread for that reason), but the three characters are less vivid, less appealing, less filled out, and the language was not yet to the “!!!” every few pages stage that The Lady’s Not For Burning had. Well, none of us gets there all at once.

John Gowdy, Ultrasocial: The Evolution of Human Nature and the Quest for a Sustainable Future. I was vastly disappointed with this book. It did not have particularly many insights from ants and termites, despite its premise, it just talked about them on a very shallow level–I don’t think Gowdy knows particularly much about ants at all, I had to go order another book to satisfy my ant-related curiosity–and then reiterated a lot of things we already know about sustainability after the initial insights about ultrasocial species. Which he repeated often, without much variation. I can’t really see whose mind this will change or expand about anything in particular.

Kristen Green, The Devil’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail. This book is very careful about the agency of enslaved people, particularly enslaved women. Its focus is less what it says on the tin and more on how the trade in human lives affected those actual human lives in highly varied ways toward the end of the period in question. Green is going for nuance, nuance, nuance, and also for as much as she can find about the voices of those whose voicelessness is all too often assumed.

Kevin Hearne, Ink and Sigil. Urban fantasy romp with fountain pens and ink as a major magical component. For some of you this will be a reasonable premise in a fun urban fantasy and for others the hearts and stars have just appeared around your eyes.

Kelly Jones, Happily For Now. Did you need a retelling of Cold Comfort Farm as a contemporary middle grade novel? I didn’t know I did until I read this, and it worked astonishingly well. A little didactic, but if you’re up for that, you don’t have to have read the original or Thomas Hardy to enjoy this. Thomas Hardy has nothing to do with it, thank God.

Juliet Kemp, ed. Unlikely Wonders. Kindle. A promotional reprint anthology with some things I already liked and some new material, varied and good fun.

Rae Mariz, Weird Fishes. Discussed elsewhere.

Casey McQuiston, I Kissed Shara Wheeler. This is not a queer contemporary YA retelling of Emma, but the characters certainly have reason to think about Emma during the machinations the title character puts them through, and they do. The interlocking friendships and social circles in this small Southern town right before high school graduation were really well done–I am not the target audience for this book, and I absolutely enjoyed it anyway.

Jane Pek, The Verifiers. A somewhat gentle thriller whose main character analyzes data for dating websites, and whose plot is all tangled up with that job. There’s also a bunch of immigrant family dynamic stuff here. I found it really gripping and fun.

Ben Rawlence, The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth. Boreal forests and their ebb and flow, interlocks well with the Vitebsky discussed below as far as reindeer habitat and tundra maintenance and climate change.

Cat Sebastian, Hither, Page. A gay romance murder mystery that is doing things with the immediate human aftermath of WWII that I am more used to having done with the immediate aftermath of WWI, so that’s cool. Small village, vivid characters, unexpected deaths. Very cozy.

Solmaz Sharif, Customs. Both senses of the word. Poetry from an Iranian-American poet who has a lot to say about the immigrant experience and passing back and forth into the US as someone of her particular heritage.

Mary Shelley, Mathilda. Kindle. Look, there are advantages and disadvantages to the way that I like to read quite old fiction without any idea of what’s in it, and one of the disadvantages is: you can come upon a novelette about father-daughter incest without knowing that’s what it is. And this is entirely a novelette about father-daughter incest, there is no part of it that is not. It’s very high-contrast, it is the height of Romantic melodramatic chiaroscuro. But the plot is rather linear and oh gosh. Well. “What did she do other than Frankenstein,” I wondered, and downloaded a bunch of things to surprise and delight me. Or in this case just surprise.

E. Catherine Tobler, Sonya Taaffe, David Gilmore, et al, eds., The Deadlands Issue 13. Kindle. Consistently haunting, as always a good read.

Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People: Living With Animals and Spirits in Siberia. Fewer spirits than it says on the tin, but if you want east-central Siberian reindeer people anthropology/cultural studies during massive social shifts and global warming, this is the good stuff. I do. Obviously.

Nghi Vo, Siren Queen. Fantasy set in the making of early movies, with a Chinese-American heroine, thoughts about what roles people are given room to portray and who the real monsters are, immediately went on my gift list for more than one person, not quite like anything else, in a good way.

Hannah Whitten, For the Wolf. High fantasy with strong sibling relationships, very active forest component, fairy tale resonances that are not allowed to take over the plot. I enjoyed this and will look forward to the sequel.

Neon Yang, The Genesis of Misery. Discussed elsewhere.

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