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Books read, late December

Elizabeth Bear, One-Eyed Jack. This is the Promethean Age book without an “And” in the title. It’s full of the Matter of Vegas, and full of sidelong cultural references that clarify themselves if you don’t get them the first time. The cultural myths touched on here aren’t my personal myths, but they’re still well-handled.

Mary Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. Lots of stuff about Pompeii and what we know about it pre-lava. The factoid that will haunt my mental nostrils is that they had an amphitheater/coliseum that seated 20K people, and archaeologists have not yet found any trace of any latrines whatsoever, so–20K people using the stairs and corridors. Aughhhhh Rome.

Tobias S. Buckell, Mitigated Futures. Kindle. This is a very well-chosen title. The futures Buckell portrays in these stories are alarming in spots, but never overwhelming. There’s always a human note–not always hope, but at least one of its cousins–to temper the rough spots.

Sean B. Carroll, Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize. This is about Monod and Camus, at the beginning and at the end. In the middle it’s substantially about the French Resistance, to the point where I shelved it with WWII history when I was finished. Carroll is a biologist I saw at Nobel Conference this fall, so I was excited to have his latest book. Readable and interesting, and I was not particularly interested in Camus, going in.

Peter Dickinson, Inside Grandad. Kindle. I am so glad that Jo warned me what kind of book this is when she recommended it, so that I made sure I could read it when I was going to see Mark’s grandpa and could get a hug from him. This is the incredibly well-done story of a boy coping with his grandfather’s stroke. If you’re a person who has had a grandparent who was really, truly central to your life, this is a book that understands that down to the very finest details–and also understands what it’s like for that person to be old and dying. Some kinds of understanding are both needed and difficult, and this is one of them: I always want more grandparent books, but in this case I wouldn’t have wanted to read it without Grandpa Lyzenga or Uncle Phil around imminently, since Grandpa can’t be. So hard, so good.

Corinne Duyvis, Otherbound. A YA portal fantasy that goes into really gritty awful detail about the logistical down sides of some of the methods used in other portal fantasies. The fantasy world has not been an unmixed blessing for the protag, but neither is it an unmingled horror. I like logistics, and I cannot lie, although the ending was a little off for me.

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South. Kindle. This is a Victorian novel that refutes all sorts of ignorant nonsense about what kinds of things women were interested in and what kinds of things Victorian writers were interested in. It has a young woman figuring out her future, but it also has union organizers and factories for weaving cloth, it has all sorts of classes of person, it has the effects of technological change on philosophical outlook and practical daily life. It is really really good, and I have no idea why it’s not the sort of thing one gets assigned early and often in school. If I were conspiracy-minded…well, let us say that I like this book and find it very worthwhile and think more people should read it. Yes, let’s leave it there.

Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey. Biography of a writer in the middle of a large circle of interesting acquaintance. The cover helpfully points out that it is now a major motion picture, which I doubt extremely for any reasonable definition of major. (Perhaps it was made by someone who mustered out before they were promoted to Lt. Col.?) And it was also confusing, how this giant sprawly biography could become a movie. Then it became very clear when I found out the title of the movie: Carrington. It’s not a movie about Lytton Strachey per se. It’s a movie about Dora Carrington. Who is not in several hundred pages of this book. That does make things easier.

Benedict Jacka, Cursed. Very fast read, fun urban fantasy methodone for until deeper urban fantasies about male magicians in London come out with their next installation. This was filling in book two of the series when I had already read one and three, so it was probably slightly less interesting than it would have been, but still held my attention just fine. Will keep on with the series.

Ursula K. LeGuin, Very Far Away from Anywhere Else. A slender volume–probably too short for today–of mainstream YA, figuring out how to handle oneself and relate to others without actually being a “problem book.” Fluid and readable without standing out particularly.

Blair MacGregor, The Key. Kindle. A fantasy novelette or novella. I think Blair’s better stuff is at longer length, but it still kept me entertained throughout.

Dominica Malcolm, ed., Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction. Kindle. I enjoyed having this anthology in general, with its diversity of voice and setting, but I didn’t find that any one particular story jumped out at me for mention. I guess it was bound to happen sometime, but usually if I don’t feel like mentioning any stories it’s because I didn’t enjoy the anthology, and that’s not the case here.

Salla Simukka, As Red as Blood. First in a Finnish teen thriller/mystery series, with a protag who is wise beyond her years and many of her peers who are…not. Zippy fun, will look for the next one when we get it in English.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 1. Kindle. An oddity of how I reckon what I’ve read: entire issues of magazines don’t make the list unless they’re on the Kindle. In any case, I’m glad I took a look at it as a whole (I had read a few things that were linked before but not worried about catching everything; I knew I had an ebook), because it reminded me to tell people how much I liked Amelia Beamer’s Celia and the Conservation of Entropy. There were other good things, but that’s the one that really spoke my name.

Mark Twain, How to Tell a Story. Kindle. Another anomaly in how I count books read: if it’s a separate ebook, it gets counted. But this is just an essay. Entertaining enough, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from knowing that Mr. Clemens wrote an essay with that title.

Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Kindle. A short volume, very domestic as one might expect, but more given over to complaints about some kinds of houseguests than the title would indicate. She’s very readable and entertaining so far, even when she’s not writing about very much in particular.

Jo Walton, The Just City. Discussed elsewhere.

Richard Zimler, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon. Kindle. Zimler’s specialty is apparently murder mysteries while horrible things are going on. This one is set during anti-Jewish pogroms as the Jews are being removed from Portugal. Like the Warsaw Ghetto mystery he wrote, this is vivid and well-done and not for moments when you are low on cope, which is probably why it sat on my Kindle for months until I was cozily tucked into a family Christmas situation.