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Books read, early November

Richard N. Frye, The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion. Mostly Turkmenistan and the bits just around it. If you’re trying to fill in early Turkmen history, here’s a start but not a lot of detail/depth.

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty. Near-future SF with designer drugs and a lot of discussion about neurology and religion/atheism. The “party” aspect of the title is not very present in the book–there’s a lot more running around trying to control one’s mental health under the influence of unknown newly engineered substances and also not get killed by various groups.

Ilyon, Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea. Brief tales, good background in an area that’s difficult to find in English. One of the worst copy-editing jobs I’ve ever encountered, though.

Carolyn Johnston, Voices of Cherokee Women. Quite often I say of the works of nonfiction I discuss here, “Does what it says on the tin.” This is the opposite. It is substantially not the voices of Cherokee women. It is mostly the voices of white men, sometimes the voices of white women, and only a small percentage the voices of Cherokee women. Nor are the passages quoted from white people about the Cherokee people particularly well-focused on the women’s roles or experiences. My friends who bought me this as a present were doing a very good thing, because I would have loved a book that actually was Cherokee women’s perspective. This is not it. It’s disjointed, and there’s no particular reason you should read it.

Laurie R. King, With Child. Another mystery in the Kate Martinelli series. I wouldn’t start here–a lot of the emotional resonance is dependent upon already knowing who these characters are and how they relate to each other, and it’s very much a characterization book rather than a pure mystery. A good installment in that series, though.

Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem. Discussed elsewhere.

Judith Mackrell, Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation. There were all sorts of chewy little details in this book–things that make utter sense in context once you come to them, but are just not the way history is usually presented in our current context. For example, in the introductory section about WWI, there was a bit where two young women shared a comforting needle of morphine on the night when a young man they cared about was shipped out to the trenches in France. Not the standard view of the young ladies in their victory bodices, and another piece of the lead-in to how the Roaring Twenties became the Roaring Twenties. There were some weird quirks in this book, though–for example, Mackrell’s refusal to call Emerald Cunard “Emerald,” insisting on “Maud” when very few people know her by that name and it was not the one she chose–and it fell apart in the last section, when Mackrell seemed to have forgotten that she herself had deliberately chosen to write a book about flappers. It wasn’t that she randomly selected six women of a particular age range and–oh my, who could have guessed–ended up with Zelda Fitzgerald and Tallulah Bankhead among them. It’s that she deliberately picked these women. And they’re interesting women! But then going on to generalize about the achievements of women in this age range when women in the age range she covered included serious scientists, musicians, politicians, writers, and on and on–just not as much in the flapper set–was a step too far.

Carla Speed McNeil, Finder: Third World. I think my favorite Finder yet. Funny and weird and wry and full of world-buildingness. A perfectly cromulent place to start, although it won’t give you everything; what Finder will?

Paul Thomas Murphy, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy. Detailed accounts of each of the assassination attempts on Queen Victoria plus the state of her monarchy around them. An interesting angle, and while it looked like a fat tome, it was a very quick read for its size.

Greg Rucka, Lazarus Two. Another chunk of story in this post-apocalyptic graphic novel series. Definitely does not stand on its own. Go back and start with one if you want engineered warriors in major social inequality. Which you might. It sounds like you.

Brian Staveley, The Emperor’s Blades. Errrrgh. So frustrating. Two thirds of the point-of-view characters–far, far more by page count–were doing absolutely standard-issue fantasy novel things. Pseudo-Buddhist monk training in one case (although in Staveley’s favor, he does not have delusions about Buddhism being a religion of peace); military training in the other. Mostly quite, quite obvious. And the third POV was their sister the finance minister, and she got hardly any page count. She was the interesting one! She was the one who was not cut from the same cloth as dozens of others! Sigh, SIGH. I like a big fat fantasy novel from time to time, and this one was readable for that (especially if you are a sucker for training sequences, which…I am not really…but a lot of fantasy readers are), but there was the hint that it could have been so much more. Maybe the sequel will be? Maybe?

Peter Watts, Beyond the Rift. Significant overlap with earlier Peter Watts short story collection, but still enough new stuff to be worth the time.

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