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Books read, late April

Light fortnight for books, looking even lighter because of the stuff I’ve been reading in manuscript.

C.J. Cherryh, Foreigner. Reread. I had forgotten how this began, with two vignettes of people we will never seen again. I honestly don’t think those vignettes improve anything about the series. I had also started to forget how directed the early volumes seemed compared to the leisurely stroll that the later volumes have become. Atevi culture is far less developed, but plot, oh, plot. I sigh for you, plot. Even with insufficient Jago.

Andrew Levy, The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves. An interesting read, and not a long one. Levy is particularly on-point and acerbic about the places that the example of Robert Carter blows up modern-day pieties about some of the other founders.

George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, editors, Old Mars. This is a particularly bad example of what happens when you just call up the people you’re usually pals with and ask them for stories without regard to whether the results are well-suited for the anthology at hand. The result is a limp and uninspired collection of stories that would have confused the heck out of me if I had been more naive in the genre and thought that there was any reason to believe them to be the best pre-Voyager-style Mars stories available to Martin and Dozois instead of just editorial laziness. Possibly it’s just coincidence that the two best stories of the collection are by some of the youngest writers, “James S. A. Corey” and Chris Roberson. Possibly the Martin/Dozois usual suspects were really excited about the concept and it just failed to come through in their stories; that can happen. (And then it’s the editor’s job to deal with that honestly….) But in general: what a yawn, what a waste of pages.

Mizuki Shigeru, Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939. This is a comics representation of Japanese history of this period. (I would say “graphic novel” due to the size, but it’s nonfiction, so…terminology, ack.) It’s a very strange combination of things to do. It’s Japanese history interspersed with personal anecdotes from the same period of the author’s life. The perspective on what a Japanese person of that generation found important and noteworthy (doughnuts; I would never have guessed doughnuts) can be fascinating, but I really didn’t feel like the history was very successfully integrated into the comics format. A lot of it was very heavily reliant upon the text in the footnotes, with flipping back and forth required every few pages, not for “additional information” but to make basic sense of what had just appeared on the page.

Steven Posch and Magenta Griffith, The Prodea Cookbook: Good Food and Traditions from Paganistan’s Oldest Coven. Discussed elsewhere.

Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam. I like trains, and I like Discworld, but this Discworld Book About Trains was kind of…well, it was fine. It was a fine enough book, I guess. It was entertaining while I was reading it, I just don’t expect to want to reread it all that often. It felt a bit formulaic-ly Moist, and it felt a bit like he was trying to Say Some Things. I don’t regret reading it, but I also wasn’t sorry to be done.

William W. Warren, History of the Ojibway People. An interesting case. Warren was a young man in the 19th century who had an Ojibway mother and a white father, and all those influences were extremely clear. He used the word “savage” un-self-consciously, as though he had learned what it meant by watching what the people around him applied it to rather than by reading the dictionary definition, which was a very curious thing in some of his contexts–he very clearly does not use it to mean anything unpleasant or negative, and yet there it is, savage, right there on the page, hard to get around. Warren’s own story was a tragic one: he kept trying to resolve conflicts between the two sides of his own heritage and wore out his health, dying very young. In the meantime, he left us this and other attempts to explain his people to each other. Not at all unbiased; nothing is. Very interesting stuff, though. And the people who put out this volume are immensely valuable, because they footnote it with things like, “So-and-so says that this is not true, he has this family’s clan wrong.” They…went and asked more Ojibway people about stuff on which they were authorities and made notes about what they said. Oh best of book editors, oh very very best. We need more footnotes that basically say, “1. Nope,” when the author cannot be reached to fix things and yet they are questions of fact on which we have better information. (Note: sometimes Ojibway is also spelled Ojibwe or Ojibwa. Putting things into alphabets they were not originally in is hard. I have gone with Ojibway here because that is what William Warren himself preferred.)

Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold, editors, Bordertown. Reread. Slightly disorienting to reread, because I remember buying it and reading it in finals week when I was a freshman in college, and oh, it was so very hot, no air conditioning in the dorms, and I needed everything to be magical, I needed the escape so very much. Now I found the stories a very direct split: I liked “Danceland” and “Mockery,” and the other two left me pretty lukewarm with my now-brain, but it was very easy to just slip into my then-brain and read them on that horrible college mattress again with the barest hope of a breeze in the window.

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