Posted on Leave a comment

Different Kinds of Defiance, by Renan Bernardo

Review copy provided by the author, who is an online pal.

The ten stories in this collection have a range of science fiction conceits, from an obsolete robot to the pollination of future farming. They’re unified by the warmth and determination of their characters, by their unflinching look at the way the world is going and what we will need to build a better way out of what we’ve got right now. Because there are different kinds of defiance here, but there are also different kinds of hope. Different kinds of optimism. This is not the “in the future everything will be shiny and happy” kind of optimism. It’s the “in the future, here are some ways people might work darn hard to make lives worth living on the human scale” kind of optimism.

You know. The genuine kind.

There’s a lot of Bernardo’s home nation of Brazil here, and Bernardo lingers on just enough telling details to give these short pieces depth of place, not enough to ever slow the pacing. There’s also quite a variety even within the explicitly Brazilian stories–it’s a big country with lots of room for science fiction in it. I can’t wait to see more from Bernardo and others.

Some of these were brand new to me, others old favorites (“old”–within the last few years favorites, okay), but it’s lovely to have them collected in one place to return to again and again. Recommended.

Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, late February

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. Kindle, reread. I hadn’t reread this in decades, and it made me laugh as it was supposed to do (though it did not particularly make me cheer in the places it was supposed to, goals having changed). I had forgotten, however, that this book contains one of my Jane Austen identification characters, by which I mean Sir John, because: Sir John is always and basically only concerned with other people’s dogs. “We met Willoughby,” the Dashwood sisters tell him, and he immediately perks up and asks, “did he have his dog with him?” and starts describing the dog. Well done that man, one of the few people in literature to understand the proper focus of a conversation. Later, when he is angry at Willoughby: “and to think I offered him a puppy just yesterday morning!” Indeed, sir! You have moved me to indignation alongside you! And so on through the book. He is sharply observed, but also oh dear, he is me. Unfortunately no one else in the book is him, so I don’t know enough about his dogs, who I expect are quite nice also, if anything nicer. I wonder if this is what fanfiction is for, but I have too much else to do. Various people marry each other, but in only one case are we explicitly assured that their dogs are nice after, and he doesn’t deserve it. Ah well.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Demon Daughter. Kindle. The latest Penric and Desdemona novella, featuring a young Roknari girl adjusting to an equally young demon under the theology of this world. This continues the standing tradition of the Roknari being basically objectively wrong about the nature of demons and the Bastard God, so if that’s something that bothers you in this worldbuilding, there’s a lot of focus on it. It also has the protagonist family being quite nice to a child in need, so–it really depends on your focus and needs of this novella.

Adrian Cooper, ed., Arboreal: A Collection of New Woodland Writing. All fairly brief essays, all tree- or forest-focused, nothing particularly deep unfortunately, and the authors I’d read before were not at their particular best here. Fine but not outstanding.

Christine Coulson, One Woman Show. A “novel” (probably not by length, no, probably novelette or novella) told as placards at an art exhibition–the entire life of an unhappy wealthy woman, birth to death. Coulson was clever here but not particularly compassionate to any of the characters–basically none of them had any redeeming traits. Which is a choice she can make, and you can judge for yourself whether the cleverness of the conceit will be worth the time for you.

Genoveva Dimova, Foul Days. Discussed elsewhere.

Rose Fox (now going by Asher Rose Fox) and Daniel José Older, eds., Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Reread. Picked up for a memorial reread on the passing of one of the authors (S. Lynn), who was the dear friend of a dear friend though I did not know her at all, and the entire rest of the volume was engaging enough that I just kept going with the whole thing. At a decade on it was interesting to see that some of the new and unfamiliar authors had become household names at least in this very nerdy household. As with any anthology not every story could be a favorite but there were enough that qualified in that category that I had a hard time putting it down even though it was my designated “short bits” book.

Antonia Fraser, Lady Caroline Lamb: A Free Spirit. Fraser seems to be particularly taken with defending Lady Caroline on the grounds that the people who were most upset with her did most of the same things she did, and if she was appalling, so were they. For this she makes a pretty good case. She also makes a somewhat reasonable case that Lady Caroline’s mental health needs were not well-served by the medical care available at her time, although this occasionally strays into specific diagnoses in ways that I don’t find entirely well-judged for the level of historical distance we have. This is a very short book and probably should not be your first introduction to Whig society of this period (early 19th century).

Barbara Hambly, The Nubian’s Curse. The latest Benjamin January mystery, and the title refers to a statue from an ancient kingdom rather than getting cutesy about a semi-modern person. Probably not the best place to start with the series but a reasonable enough place to continue.

Florian Illies, Love in a Time of Hate: Art and Passion in the Shadow of War. Episodic flashes of how notable figures in various of the arts got by in Europe in the 1930s. Interesting, sad, engaging.

Catherine E. Karkov, Art and the Formation of Early Modern England. Kindle. A brief Kindle monograph on influences on the art of this period and how it, in turn, influenced its world. Not of great depth but with interesting bits about, for example, stone-carving and enamel-working.

Mark Monmonier, How to Lie With Maps. I was not the audience for this book. I’m frankly having a hard time imagining the audience for this book, which is an audience who is interested enough to read an entire book on map inaccuracy but not interested enough to have thought for even one moment about the topic before. It was so basic, and despite the catchy title it did not spend a great deal of time on things like gerrymandering. I kept waiting for the chapters where it leveled up. There were no such chapters.

Christopher Priest, The Prestige. Reread. I picked this up for a memorial reread after he passed away recently, and what a relief it was to find it still basically where I left it: the prose so readable, the characters as flawed as they ever were but handled so well by the author in their differing settings and voices, the stagecraft vivid and fun/horrifying to contemplate.

Ron Shelton, The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham. This is an example of how I will read whatever is lying about because another family member has it, but honestly it was fast and interesting, and I like Bull Durham a lot. What was particularly interesting were the places where Shelton was talking about scenes that were cut that…would not have added to the movie and he did not seem clear on why but I, with 25 years of experience as a short story writer, could totally have told him why. We don’t always understand our own work, this is why we get other eyes on it, I’m glad he got other eyes on his, I’m glad I have other eyes on mine. And I’m totally glad the studio person who wanted Anthony Michael Hall as Nuke LaLoosh lost out, because what tomfoolery is this.

Francis Spufford, Cahokia Jazz. On the one hand, I think it’s amazing that someone tried to write an alternate history this sweeping, of an America where smallpox did not actually kill off most of the Native American population, where there is a vast and thriving Native culture in the early 20th century, where St. Louis does not exist but the city of Cahokia, with strong Native traditions, does. On the other hand the farther back the divergence point with our history the more convergence becomes a statement of inevitability. And having a divergence back in the 16th or 17th century that…still leads to a powerful KKK and a non-identical but quite similar Birth of a Nation? is making a statement about how powerful and how inevitable those things are that I don’t like and don’t agree with. Also frankly it really rubbed me the wrong way to have a British man coming in and writing about the KKK racism of the German-Americans in his fictional Missouri when I know a great deal about the history of German-Americans in actual Missouri and how it was German 48ers who kept it Bloody Missouri instead of entirely rolling over and showing belly for the enslavers so excuse me if I don’t find it a compelling vision that oh it’s those Germans who are racist, certainly not the Americans of similar ethnic background to Mr. Spufford himself who were the actual founders of the KKK, sir, own your shit. (In case you think I’m being defensive, I am not myself of German ethnicity. I just find it awfully convenient when someone comes in and points so hard at Them when there’s a whole lot of his Us behaving badly to be had.) And the ending: I will give you three guesses as to what kind of ending someone who decided that his compelling vision of a future full of Native Americans featured a dominant KKK would give us for his Native hero. Heroic ending, certainly, but: happy or tragic, no spoiler here, you just guess though, you just give it one guess whether he wanted to imagine something good for a large, strong Native man in a strong Native culture…or not. I wanted so much better here. His prose is compelling. I have liked his other work. But the vision here is flawed in ways that I don’t think he was even trying to understand. I don’t think he knows what he doesn’t know here.

Noel Streatfeild, The Silent Speaker. Kindle. Very clear, very large content warning: this is a book about a suicide. There is a dinner party in chapter one, in chapter two one of the people at the dinner party kills themself, and the entire rest of the book is the other characters trying to figure out why that person did it. This book was published in 1961, the last of Streatfeild’s adult novels, and its mid-century status turns out to be very important to the plot as well as to its worldview. It’s actually not one of the preachier Streatfeilds–the people who are ready to blame themselves are generally wrong and given authorial compassion as well as compassion from some of the other characters–but because of the subject matter I would put this in the “only if you are quite interested in her work in general” list; it’s very much not for everyone for reasons that I would hope would be tolerably obvious.

Martha Wells, The Book of Ile-Rien (containing The Element of Fire and The Death of the Necromancer). Discussed elsewhere.

Posted on Leave a comment

Foul Days, by Genoveva Dimova

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Sometimes when I’ve been doing a lot of revisions and bouncing off a string of bad library books, I grump around the house asking if I even like books. The house is stuffed with books. I like books better than basically any other material object. Of course I like books. Sometimes I need the right book to remind me. And Foul Days was one of those books.

Kosara is a witch in the walled city of Chernograd. The rest of the world wants its monsters behind the walls, where the witches and warlocks of Chernograd know how to ward them off, hunt them, or at least mitigate their damage–and Kosara has a lot of experience with all of that. She’s even had very personal run-ins with the Zmey, the terrifying human-like force known as the Tsar of Monsters. But this year in the monster-ridden Foul Days that start a new year, her luck has run out–and she’s cornered in the worst situation a witch can get herself into. With new allies looking suspicious–and the old ones even worse–Kosara has to get her shadow back and beat the Zmey in order for herself and her city to survive intact.

Foul Days is infused on every page with a wry and loving blend of Dimova’s Bulgarian background and her own considerable imagination. The characters, down to the smallest house spirits, relate in a way that feels real and vivid. The entwining of Kosara’s magical and personal obstacles feels real. It was exactly the right thing to snap me out of a reading slump, and I can’t wait for the promised sequel.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Book of Ile-Rien, by Martha Wells

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a re-issue in omnibus form of two books I have read separately, years ago. They are united by a common setting–sort of. The country of Ile-Rien is separated by several hundred years in the two books, and it is allowed to evolve between them, to have history and technology and all sorts of things, so that The Element of Fire is a court fantasy and The Death of the Necromancer is very gaslamp. One character is the ancestor of another, and his actions matter but only as a sort of subplot; the magic has similar roots in the same way that we have lots of pieces of technology from hundreds of years ago–kettles, needles and thread, all sorts of things–but also new ones.

So having it reissued in omnibus has a few advantages: one, there’s a reissue at all; two, it’s all in one place; three, the book will stay open nicely if you set it on the table to read while you’re eating. I did this experiment for you, friends, because I value science. However, if you want to get it and read one and then stop for a bit before you read the other, it’s really not all one story, you won’t have to do all 700+ pages at once.

The Element of Fire is the court fantasy. It’s full of fey/Fayre/fairies, the Unseelie court having a representative in the half-fey princess Kade Carrion and her generally quite relatable machinations in the court of her brother king Roland. The captain of the Queen’s Guard, the Dowager Queen and the new queen, all have roles to play in this, and there is court intrigue to the gills. I think Martha may have gotten a friend to sit on it so she could zip it with all the court intrigue she stuffed in there. I love court intrigue. I forgot how much I liked this one.

The Death of the Necromancer is more thieves and miscreants chasing around the city’s underworld trying to figure out in time who is causing the chaos for whom and whether it’s themselves (sometimes yes), and who they can trust enough to add to the team and who is just not going to be worth it. There are horrible, horrible things done to corpses, there are people who are willing to destroy each other for revenge, there is a really good grandmother. It goes on as the beginning of The Element of Fire starts but does not go on.

I found these held up really well and were so satisfying all these years later, and I’m delighted people will have another go at them.

Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, early February

Benjamin Breen, Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science. This was really interesting but there were places where I feel like it suffered from Breen wanting Mead to be able to have accomplished things that were beyond the scope of her power. I think he made an incredibly clear case that Timothy Leary was a toxic force in the study of psychedelics on the human consciousness–that seems nearly irrefutable–and his points about the context of what we now call psychedelia before the 1960s were very interesting. But when he leaned into the idea that Mead could have, by championing therapeutic use of psychedelics, changed the course of attitudes, he seems to be ignoring her context as a woman, a mother, and a closeted bisexual person–and I think ignoring the people who tried to change those attitudes and were ignored in multiple directions. It’s a tempting counterfactual, what if Margaret Mead instead of Timothy Leary. It just…doesn’t hold up for more than a short story. Still, gosh the early 20th was full of people mucking around with each other’s brains, wow.

Anne de Courcy, Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944 and Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris. I really like de Courcy’s work in general, and I went and got these two from the library because they were the two the library had that I hadn’t read yet. They were disappointing. I think there is an important line a biographer walks where enthusiasm for the subject cannot be permitted to cross the line into making excuses for the subject, and de Courcy repeatedly crosses it here. This is particularly clear because I picked up these books due to enthusiasm for the biographer rather than the subject. She claims that Chanel’s Riviera is not a biography of Chanel but of this particular snapshot of place and time, which means several things in practice: one, it means that the balance of how much the book is about Chanel and how much it’s about other people is always very weird, and two, it means that there is a lot of telling what’s interesting about Chanel that de Courcy doesn’t feel she has to do. The problem is that I…don’t actually already agree that Chanel was amazing and wonderful and extraordinary. So that when de Courcy falls back on these adjectives, which she did in basically every sentence in which she had to refer to Chanel’s Antisemitism, I have not already been convinced that her style of dress was uniquely worth it. Some of de Courcy’s arguments were just jaw-dropping, like: well, she collaborated, but you see she was used to having a man in her bed. Oh okay. Oh sure well then. It was…not her most coherent work. Magnificent Rebel was not a lot better, arguing for the importance of some relationships over others not with particular focus on Cunard’s life as a whole but more because de Courcy felt like it–sometimes with Paris as the heart of the argument, often not. She wanted to focus on how Cunard promoted the work of Black writers but often made excuses for places where Cunard actively abused those Black writers on a professional and a personal level. There were interesting points here but far too much handwaving for my taste. Earlier work better. Sigh.

Camille T. Dungy, Trophic Cascade. I seem to be working my way backwards through Dungy’s life and oeuvre. The child I first met as an opinionated tween in Soil is a fetus and infant in these poems, and this combined with change in genre is fascinating. Seeing what she was talking about people asking her about writing about nature and race and parenthood, having that back story going in, doesn’t take away a single bit of its power.

Davinia Evans, Shadow Baron. This is in some sense a reread, but the version I’d read before was the manuscript form, and this is the finished version, and it did not disappoint. Lots of ramification from the first book, more magic, more adventure, the world going even deeper, so much fun, recommended.

Marco Fontani, Mariagrazia Costa, and Mary Virginia Orna, The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table’s Shadow Side. These authors very earnestly wanted to be the next Primo Levi, writing a book about the things that were mistakenly identified as elements. Their writing is not limpid and lovely, it is workhorse prose–and the history of mistakenly thinking that you’ve isolated a new element is less exciting than the history of correctly thinking you have. Only a few of these stories were the wacky errors of science tales I was hoping for. Mostly it was, yes, here’s another time someone was wrong, yes, and another. Also there was a lot of weirdly earnest biographical information about who loved their spouse or child and what they died of, which is in some ways sweet but not particularly vivid. Read this if you’re interested in the information it contains, not if you’re interested in reading per se; it would be just as nice beamed directly into your brain.

E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread. Kindle. This is Forster’s first book, and it has some really lovely parts, well-observed and sometimes witty and sometimes affecting. If you have a friend who loves Italy to the point of viewing it as the solution to all mortal ills, you may laugh out loud at several parts. However. The very ending of this book, and this is a spoiler and I am not sorry for it, the book is over a hundred years old and this is intense, features one of the most gratuitous infant deaths I have ever encountered in fiction. “Yeah, and then this asshole screwed up and the baby died.” It was heavy-handed, it was awful, and I want to warn about it in the strongest of terms, because in some ways Forster is clear about its effects and then in other ways I’m like…no…I don’t think that’s all, there, Morgan. I cannot say it was worth it. No. Really not.

Nicola Griffith, Spear. Reread. Two different book clubs I’m in or near were reading this, and it was no hardship whatsoever to sink back into Peredur’s story, rich as it is in its own angles and deeds and decisions.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven. Reread. Also a book club choice, and I hoped I would like it better than the last time I read it, which was my senior year of high school. I think I respected it more, which is not really the same thing; Le Guin wanted to tell a story where not-doing is the correct choice for good reasons, and I get that, but there were lots of places where I felt like the results still jarred. I would also note that it’s good that she had a chance to grow out of some of these choices–explicitly treating whiteness as the racially unmarked case in ways that I feel sure she would not and did not do later in her career, for example. This is going to remain not my favorite Le Guin, and that’s okay.

Premee Mohamed, The Butcher of the Forest. Discussed elsewhere.

Marieke Nijkamp and Sylvia Bi, Ink Girls. A middle-grade comic of defying censorship and a community coming together to demand justice, in case you know anybody who’s feeling like something like that right now.

Saghïmbay Orozbaq uulu, The Memorial Feast for Kökötöy Khan: A Kirghiz Epic Poem in the Manas Tradition. One of my friends heard I was on an epic kick and sent this one along for comparison, and I’m grateful, because some of it is very similar to other epics I’ve read–comparing this Muslim epic to Roland in terms of how the religious out-group is treated was fascinating, so many parallels–and some of it is very, very different. The scene of how the wrestling champion gets into his tight pants is clearly done in formula terms, for example, and yet is not one I’ve seen elsewhere. There is significantly explicit sexual content here as well as quite a lot of violence, so if you’re thinking “cultural epic” means “read it to the wee kiddies for bedtime,” well, make sure you share premodern nomadic standards for the wee kiddies’ bedtime before you do.

S. E. Porter, Projections. Discussed elsewhere.

Melissa Scott, Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Silence in Solitude, and The Empress of Earth. Rereads. This is a trilogy, and I read it in an omnibus volume. It’s got a plucky young pilot overcoming sexism to fly spaceships and later join the previously all-male magi and find the lost road to Earth. I found it readable while I was reading it, but once I was away from each volume some of the emotional motivations seemed very opaque: Silence has now fallen in love with her convenience spouses? Why? One of them does not seem very lovable to me, nor does she seem to have had the chance to have found lovable traits not shown on the page. And their choice of habitation for the very ending…seems like it would make all of them miserable, absolutely miserable, and seemed completely unmotivated. So it was a case of enjoying the experience and then turning it over and not really enjoying the aftermath as much, not because anything became offensive so much as because the length constraints of the time didn’t permit Scott the space to go into as much of the characters’ psychology as I think would have been beneficial–because these were from the era of very short space opera.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Little Nugget. Kindle. This is entirely forgettable Wodehouse. The title refers to an unpleasant spoiled rich boy, assumptions about whom are entirely period, the protagonist agrees to kidnap him for reasons that never hold up very well, and in general if you are on an airplane and this is on your e-reader, fine, but I see no reason to seek it out.

Posted on Leave a comment

Projections, by S. E. Porter

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is an absolutely beautifully done book in a darker vein than I would usually pursue, and if it had not been sent me as an ARC I probably would not have read it. The protagonist is brutally murdered on the first page, and she spends her afterlife screaming in horror and rage. Screaming. Throughout. Also doing other things, but the scream reverberates through the book very successfully.

Angus was sure that Catherine was his true love, his destiny. The two of them belonged together–and they were supposed to be doing magic. Grand, glorious magic! Magic in a city of magic, far from the ordinary world of mid-19th century America in which they grew up! And if Catherine didn’t see it that way–if she wanted to choose her own love, her own destiny, her own home and her own focus within it–why, he would make her see it that way. Using whatever tools he had to hand. Hence the murder on page one. Hence the ripping of her screaming ghost into the magical city, there to exist for hundreds of years while he attempts over and over again to project pieces of himself into the mundane world to find the girls most like her and convince them to love him–or else.

Catherine’s journey toward agency and even triumph is not fast or linear. It’s well-done, but it’s not an easy book to read. Flashbacks to her living years underscore rather than relieve the horror of her afterlife, and the moments of hope and sweetness are present but small, contained–fleeting?–not entirely fleeting. But let us say that Porter does not give her heroine a victory that anyone could accuse of being too easily earned. If you’ve ever grown frustrated with the magicians of grand destiny and their high-handed ways, this one might be for you.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Butcher of the Forest, by Premee Mohamed

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is an online pal.

Look, even those of us who aren’t Premee’s friends online have learned by now that you do not pick up a Premee Mohamed novella in hopes of the teddy bears having their picnic. There is…outdoor eating? in this one? That’s as close as you’re going to get. Oh: and the children’s nice dog is safely left home, tied up in the kennel. The dog is Sir Not Appearing In This Dark Fantasy, you’re welcome.

Because nobody else is really having a nice day in this book. Nobody else is having the day they hoped for.

Veris Thorne is the only person ever to come out of the North Forest alive, with the child she meant to save from it. Only she has ever braved its magic and won. So when the tyrant’s two children go missing, it’s Veris who’s sent after them–under threat of the destruction of her entire village. It’s Veris who must dodge and feint and bargain with the powers of magic–and get two clueless privileged children to obey her in every particular–or she will lose everything she loves. That is, everything she loves that the tyrant has not taken already.

“Maybe I’ll start this tonight and finish it tomorrow,” I said to myself late last evening. “Maybe I’ll just read a little, and the rest in the morning. It’s been a long week, and I don’t have to read it all now.” Ha. HA. Well, the good news is that it is a novella, so when you make a bad choice like that, it won’t cost you too much sleep. Entirely engrossing.

Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, late January

Robyn Arianrhod, Seduced by Logic: Émilie du Châtelet, Mary Somerville, and the Newtonian Revolution. Not really evenly distributed, with more weight given to our own dear Marquise, which…no shade on Mary Somerville there, but who could blame her. This is a work biography, this is focused on the work and the ideas in their lives, and I like it that way, but if you’re not interested in how they thought about physics and helped others to think about physics in context, it won’t be the book for you.

Gwenda Bond, The Frame-Up. Discussed elsewhere.

A.S. Byatt, The Matisse Stories. Reread. I carefully marked “NO” on a little PostIt note on the last story last time around, and I trusted my past self, I don’t do things like that without very solid reasons, so it was a short and stormy volume, full of contained and vivid stories that did not take me long.

George Eliot, Middlemarch. Reread. The opposite, of course, of short and stormy. I was going to reread this just a bit at a time for an approaching book club discussion of it. Ha. The minute I started rereading Middlemarch, the wit of the voice, the engagement with the characters, drew me in, and I didn’t want to be reading anything else–or in fact doing much of anything else until I was all the way through to that amazing last line. So keenly observed, so great, knowing where it was going only enhanced the “OH FRED NO” moments.

Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves. A rather strange book, focusing on the extremely strong signal radio stations that sprung up along the Mexican border, taking advantage of the difference in regulations to reach American listeners with a variety of ideas and products. Fowler and Crawford have some quirks of their own and were particularly thrilled, from the looks of it, to have a chance to interview Wolfman Jack personally. I learned a lot here about an area of history I otherwise didn’t know much about. But gosh how weird.

Kate Heartfield, The Valkyrie. The Ring of the Nibelung retold in an engaging fantasy novel, very much the southern (German) part of Valkyrie stories but they’re theirs too. Engaging and fun, recommended.

Coco Irvine, Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age. This extremely short volume is a bit of “how the other half lived” For me: Summit Ave. is a quite wealthy street in St. Paul, and Coco Irvine was living a fairly privileged life pretty much parallel to my own great-grandmother’s across the river in Minneapolis in a very tiny apartment with her immigrant family. Interesting to watch the social history unfold but also to see similarities as well as differences across the class lines. So very very short.

Kelly Link, The Book of Love. Discussed elsewhere.

Jo Miles, Warped State. The first in a space opera series featuring labor activism, which I hoped from that summary would be my jam and it absolutely was, whew and hurray, glad there’s more already out there and still coming. I don’t think I’ve read anybody thinking about the difficulties of union organization with multiple sentient species in quite the way Jo has, and there’s so much more room here, more like this please.

Naomi Mitchison, Small Talk…Memories of an Edwardian Childhood. Another short memoir focused on an early 20th century young woman, but Mitchison’s prose voice is much smoother and more assured, and she knew a great many interesting people even as a small child due to being one of those Haldanes. Niels Bohr gave her a jug for her dollhouse, for heaven’s sake. It’s still not the first or even fourth thing I’d recommend someone read by Naomi Mitchison, but its appeal is somewhat more general to people interested in the early 20th than the Irvine memoir.

Malka Older, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles. Discussed elsewhere.

Anna Marie Roos, Martin Lister and His Remarkable Daughters. Early scientific illustration as a family affair, interesting and detailed for such a short work.

Noel Streatfeild, Judith, Shepherdess of Sheep, and The Whicharts. Kindle. Wow, so: three very different books here. All three of these are her adult work, but Judith is Streatfeild in a very familiar mode to those who have read all of her children’s books: this is the “you damn kids need to learn to stand on your own two feet, and it’s the fault of those who raised you that you aren’t doing it already.” As an adult book there’s room for a different set of problems–adults presuming sexual precocity from teenagers and treating them badly because of it, for example–but generally it’s preachy as heck. Shepherdess of Sheep is an attempt to explore the care of young children in a family where one child is developmentally disabled in a way that was not well-understood at the time (and is not actually all that wonderfully understood now, to be fair), but while the protagonist spends most of the book fighting the ableism of those around her (including the man she loves), she ends up succumbing to it in the worst possible way. Of the three books, The Whicharts is the only one I’ll probably even consider rereading or recommending to anyone else, and it is a weird, weird book. This is the grown-up book that was rewritten to be Ballet Shoes, basically, and there are places where it is word for word the same book and places where it is absolutely not. When one major character died, it was the strangest feeling, because it was like losing someone I’d known since childhood…and also not, because she is very much not the same person. (The pronoun is not a spoiler; as with Ballet Shoes, the overwhelming majority of the major characters are female.) If you’re someone who loved Petrova best, this book is proof that so did Noel Streatfeild. If you loved the glamour of stage life…perhaps stick with the children’s books, she is not interested in giving you glamour here. Pauline is the most different–so incredibly different–Posy is just the same but not really a person, but yes, Posy is not really a person in Ballet Shoes either–wow, what a weird book, wow, to have Ballet Shoes but with directors groping teenage actresses who are the illegitimate daughters of WWI officers, wow, okay, wow. So weird.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles, by Malka Older

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Mossa and Pleiti are back.

And unfortunately for them, their fellow citizens of the floating settlements above Jupiter–and its moons–are disappearing again. It’s up to Mossa to find them, or at least to figure out where they’ve gone, and university politics have reached enough of an unappealing fever pitch that Pleiti is all too glad to spend the time helping her instead. Even if it means going to Io, where everything is–gasp–stuck to the ground, and modes of transport are–oh horrors–not on rails but free form at the operator’s discretion. Who knows what might happen in a place like that. (Well, Mossa knows. She’s from there.)

I’m on the fence about whether I think this would work as well for people who hadn’t read The Mimicking of Known Successes. There’s a lot of characterization and worldbuilding in that volume that carries through into this one, and at such a short length there’s not really room to do everything again at full length. On the other hand, if you’re ready to pick up details by incluing I think it’s all there. On the other other hand, the first one is still in print and is quite short. So if you want to go get the feel for this detective relationship above Jupiter and where their bumps and uncertainties–with the world and with each other–are coming from, it’s not a huge time commitment. But if you haven’t reread the first one since it came out, Older will definitely remind you who’s who and what’s what as you go. I feel like the series is only getting better as it goes on, so to me it’s worth the time to read both.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Frame-Up, by Gwenda Bond

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a heist novel with a bit of magic in it. I want to distinguish this, because if you are hoping for a fantasy novel with a heist in it, you will be disappointed. This is not a book that intends to go deep into its magic theory, spending pages upon pages on how the magic works, who gets it and why, how they develop it, how they apply it, any of that. No. This is a book that looked at heist movies and said, I want a one of those. But with some magic.

Want that? You’ve got it. It’s got the bit where you find out the job, the bit where you get the team together, the bit where it’s all a little wobbly. It’s got a cute dog, a love triangle, a fancy gala, a really sketchy customer, and a terribly fraught emotional backstory to complicate the whole thing. It’s got the supply run and picking out the dress for the gala and the point where you think it can’t work but it has and the point where you’re sure it has worked and it hasn’t. It has all the things you want in a heist. Also the cute dog is not harmed in the making of this book.

But notice that those things were not the magic training sequence, the wise wizard mentor, the cool spell, or any of the other genre furniture for fantasy. Okay? Because this is a heist book, with some fantasy elements. Dani Poissant and her border collie Sunflower are absolutely here for your art theft needs. (I really, really like Sunflower.)