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Books read, late July

Madeline Ashby, iD. Not at all a stand-alone sequel, much of the emotional punch relying on vN. Very robot-y, very concerned with humans and consent and sex and reproduction. Interesting stuff, but not as compelling as the first, to my mind.

Octavia Butler, Unexpected Stories. Kindle. I could not make myself save these, even though they are likely the last new Octavia Butler I will have, barring another miracle like this one. The thing about Octavia Butler stories is that she understood the difference between being in power and being in leadership, and how you could be in the latter without having very much if any of the former. Oh my golly, did she understand that. And she left us these stories about being one of the people that other people turn to, and if you are one of those people it’s like being able to have a conversation with your best auntie across the years, across the miles, across never meeting each other. One of the stories in this pair is a perfectly fine Octavia Butler story, but the other one is one of the stories she left to make it okay or at least a little better than it was, a message in the bottle story for the people who needed it, even though it wasn’t as polished as the later ones, even though she was still figuring out what she was doing with it. Like “The Evening and the Morning and the Night.” Like Fledgling. To let us known that she understood, she was there, she will always be there somehow. Thanks, Octavia. I never met you, but you’re there for me, and I’ll be there for them, I promise.

Well, that took a turn, didn’t it?

M.R. Carey, The Girl With All the Gifts. This is a zombie novel. I hate zombie novels. This is one. It is briskly written and obsessed with fungi. I like fungi quite a lot, really. I can be lured with mycology and Mike Carey. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s not really a zombie novel, because it is, in fact, really a zombie novel. If you don’t hate zombie novels, by all means, read this one. The ending falls apart a bit, but the titular character is almost worth the price of admission.

Corey Doctorow and Jen Wang, In Real Life. Discussed elsewhere.

Dung Kai-Cheung, Atlas: The Geography of an Imaginary City. This is influenced by Eco, Borges, Calvino–all that sort of thing, and those names get cited directly in the text. Dung wrote it in ’97, when Hong Kong was joining with China, and the conceit is that it is a very “imaginary cities” narrative, as though Hong Kong had disappeared and was being reconstructed or reimagined in the future, with other theoretical/speculative/fantastical discussions of maps and cartography. Short, light, whimsical, and an interesting cultural counterpoint to the European and South American perspectives I’ve had on this type of narrative.

Rose Fox and Daniel Jose Older, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Lots of gems, some that didn’t resonate with me quite so much, but the standout for me was Sofia Samatar’s. I’m getting used to saying that, really–I think many of us are–and expect to be repeating it a lot as the years go by.

Max Gladstone, Full Fathom Five. Discussed elsewhere.

Ben Hatke, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. Discussed elsewhere.

Robert W. Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. I wish that this book had spent more time on the civil structures that preceded colonialism (or even the civil structures that preceded Islam in Indonesia), but once it got past the de Tocquevillian throat-clearing, interesting to have a political history of Indonesia in the twentieth century and a counter-narrative to the “Islam vs. democracy” idea that crops up so often in the west–in Indonesia Islam was on all sides of every movement, so it was a great deal more complicated than that “vs.” would try to reduce it to.

Thorsten Henn, Colours of Iceland. A book of Icelandic photos. Inspirational.

Ann Bowman Jannetta, Epidemics and Mortality in Early Modern Japan. Analysis of who got killed by what when. Interesting stuff, particularly with the insight that the Tokugawa isolation nearly kept cholera out of Japan. Nearly. Oops. Ann Bowman Jannetta was strongly, strongly discouraged from this work when she turned up in Japan to do it, so I hope that there has been more of it since, because I, at least, found it fascinating.

Hilary McKay, Binny for Short. This is not one of the Casson family books, and I love it anyway. It has that brilliant McKay combination where one scene can be hilarious and emotionally wrenching at the same time, and she doesn’t pull punches in those scenes. For those unfamiliar with her books, it’s a mainstream British children’s novel, a book about family and friends, and it’s funny and wonderful and horrible and I love them, I love them so much. There are seals and dogs and awful aunts and loss and friendship and fierce, dedicated children experimenting with things that probably aren’t poisonous (but they can hope), and I love Hilary McKay. I do. So much.

Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. This is one of the most utterly readable pieces of nonfiction I’ve picked up in a long time. It is the fastest, chattiest nonfiction writing that does not make me suspicious about what the author is trying to put past me. The Taiping Rebellion is one of those crazy fascinating historical events, and this is a really good accounting of it. Highly recommended.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, and The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. Discussed elsewhere.

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