I’ve been sick this week, which has obviously been largely rubbish, but has had something of a silver lining in that the time I couldn’t spend Doing My Job and Functioning as a Human ended up being reading time instead. That means I’m actually, against all predictions, flying through the A to Z readathon, to the point where I’m weighing up changing some of my really lightweight choices into slightly beefier ones. City of Lies by Sam Hawke, for example, is calling to me for C even though it’s well over 500 pages long… but think how good it will look in my lovely hardback corner rather than on my TBR.
In other exciting news, our neighbourhood just got a new library and cinema complex, and it’s so very, very close to my house. It’s apparently been a very long time in the making but, as I only moved in 2 months ago, I feel like I’m getting to reap the benefits after a not-too-painful wait. I went in to pick up graphic novels for the readathon and ended up spending a good ten minutes just staring in happiness at the SFF shelves – so much that I want to read, and it’s so very close! That it doubles up as a cinema (and as a coffee house and general hangout) only makes it more special. I’m shocked that a space like this has been possible in Late Capitalism (well, not that shocked, as the cinema chain doesn’t pay its workers a London living wage) and looking forward to using it as much as I possibly can to justify that existence. Cities, man.
Betraying Big Brother by Leta Hong Fincher. (B for the readathon) Following on from Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, Leta Hong Fincher has knocked it out of the park once again with another readable, insightful book on gender in China, this time specifically the marginalised but growing feminist movement in the country. Taking as a starting point the arrest of the “Feminist Five” just before International Women’s Day in 2015, it traces the short but powerful history of feminism in China, which has basically coincided with the installation of Xi Jinping and the resurgence of an even more hypermasculine, patriarchal form of government and a general contraction of the civil society space in the country. Literally my only complaints about this book are 1. I find it a bit odd when authors have a “history” chapter towards the end of a book, and 2. I wanted it to be even longer. Seriously, this is first-rate stuff and required reading for anyone interested in feminism globally and the struggle against authoritarianism. 9 out of 10.
The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley. (E for the readathon) Finishing this means that I’m now officially out of Tor.com audiobooks from the two early collections. Naturally, the books I’ve had left are novellas that have perhaps developed less buzz around them than some of the other titles, or interested me less, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that this one didn’t knock my socks off. That said, it was a pretty interesting story, the tale of a post apocalyptic zombie ridden world which has been further torn apart by a quasi-religious civil war, and where technology has been mythologised and are now treated as religious artefacts. Most of this worldbuilding happens in the background, as our main character Abney escapes the ruins of his settlement – torn apart by the undead – with his mother and a “knight” called Quinn. I’m sorry there aren’t more of these collections available to nudge these more overlooked titles onto my radar, but it’s probably for the best that I can shelve both as “Finished” and free up some of my phone’s precious, precious memory… 6 out of 10.
Salvation’s Fire by Justina Robson: (S for the readathon) Full Review to come on Nerds of a Feather.
Uncanny Magazine Issue 25. Uncanny (U for the readathon) has sort of become ubiquitous for quality in the genre, and this is the kind of issue that shows you exactly why. There’s six short fiction stories in here – five original and one reprint – and each one is just outstanding in a different way. As I’ve noted on File 770, Naomi Kritzer’s The Thing About Ghost Stories has the edge for me out of the five (not that it’s a competition or anything!) because of how it weaves its character’s work as an academic collecting and categorising ghost stories, and her own story with her mother, who recently died after a period of living with Alzheimers. The speculative elements are light (though undeniable!) but so wonderfully woven into the whole. Also worthy of note is Isabel Yap’s story of a binukot woman, raised in total seclusion in order to be a “perfect bride”, and what happens when she and her almost-as-young attendant are faced with the prospect of her marriage (which may or may not involve a giant person-eating sea snake). The fiction is the biggest highlight here but there’s also some great other stuff in here too, like Diana M. Pho’s reflection on what fanfiction taught her about editing. I can’t imagine a single issue of a magazine being better: 10 out of 10.
Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. (G for the readathon) I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this, having seen a few other reviewers I respect bounce off it completely, but it ended up being a “light” read I didn’t realise I needed. Grimspace is the story of Sirantha Jax, prickly hardass interstellar jump navigator, who is broken out of prison by an equally rude and obnoxious pilot called March and his crew and thrown into a mission to break the monopoly “the Corp” has on interstellar travel through an alien breeding project. Grimspace takes itself exactly as seriously as a melodramatic action romance should, and its all delightfully silly and tropey while still being a compelling read. Special props for having Sirantha develop relationships with not one, not two, but three prickly, standoffish men through having to cuddle them for warmth in dire survivalist circumstances. 7 out of 10.
Lumberjanes Volume 4 and 5, by many wonderful and brilliant humans. Here’s what I went into the library for – Volume 4 is called Out of Time and therefore is my readathon O – and oh boy was I not disappointed by that decision. This is a continuation of the adventures of Riley, Mal, Molly, April and Jo – with honourable mentions for Jen and Barney, who get a pleasing amount of pagetime in Volume 4, taking them into the heart of a freak summer snowstorm and then into the heart of the mermaid Riot Grrl movement. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the misadventures in the snow that is by far the stronger issue of this pair, setting up a wonderful story with development for some of the older characters, especially camp leader Rosie and Jen. The mermaid issue is also a fun story, but it’s a bit shorter (the first quarter of the trade is a standalone about the girls’ first day at camp) and mostly centred around April, who is desperate to solve mermaid problems and hang out with mermaids at the expense of things that are important to the rest of her friends. That’s no bad thing, but it’s all just a bit shallower (no pun intended) and not helped by another switch in art style to a rounder, less visually interesting style. 9 out of 10 / 7 out of 10.
Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer. (K for the readathon) I suspect I am far from alone in being interested in this translated work, by an author who has a significant body of (award winning) work available in Spanish but little in English, as much for the fact that the translation is by Ursula K. Le Guin as for the content of the story itself. And I’m sure most readers coming for a Le Guin-like experience won’t leave disappointed: Kalpa Imperial is told in a lyrical storytelling style which is likely to appeal particularly to fans of her fantasy works. Unlike Earthsea and the Powers trilogy, however, Kalpa Imperial takes on an era-spanning historical chronicle, and while characters rise and fall to be the focus of individual chapters, this is not a work driven by individual growth but by the larger concerns of power within an empire. It’s a dense read that demands to be taken seriously (even when your brain starts setting the title to “Karma Chameleon”) and I feel very rewarded by the time I spent with it. 8 out of 10.
Between the Firmaments by JY Yang. This is the only “cheat” I had plugged in for the readathon, which I’m counting as J for the author’s name (not even their surname!) I’ve got no J titles at all on my TBR and I really wanted to make sure I read this one, despite having an even more pressing option for B. But hey, at the end of the day, readathons are supposed to facilitate reading, and this was by far the best option. Between the Firmaments is a novella (available to read for free online) about a god in hiding in a world where being a god is illegal, who suddenly discovers another god and begins a whirlwind relationship with them. It’s very queer and the worldbuilding is the outstanding quality one would expect from Yang, although I’m left feeling the plot and characters needed a little more room to breathe than this short novella had time for. 7 out of 10.
Awakenings (Anthology) ed. Ana Grilo and Thea James. I was saddened to hear that the Book Smugglers are closing their publishing line, in order to refocus on their online content (but fully supportive of the hard decision they have made, and hopeful that it all works out for the best for the humans involved). In that context, the Awakenings anthology is a bit of a swansong, collecting the year of short fiction published on the website – 6 stories altogether – which formed their 2018 “season”. I’ve been waiting for the full anthology even after my recommitment to short fiction a couple of months ago, so all the stories were new to me, and I was generally impressed by the quality on display here. Highlights were Reiko Scott’s “Phantom Limb”, a story of identity, choice and cybernetic enhancement; Michele Tracy Berger’s creepy and claustrophobic “Nussia”; and “When the Letter Comes”, one of the most satisfying and heartwarming “teen with a magical destiny” stories I’ve read. 9 out of 10.
After that interlude with The Emperor’s Railroad, I’m back with Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, for my audiobook, which is getting extremely interesting! I’m still a bit worried about whether and where to count it for the reading challenge – P is out, for reasons you’ll see below, and I just feel like I was too far in before the month started for it to be right to count it. But I’m still investing a good 7 hours this month into getting it read, so I may let myself file it under F.
I had two possible print options for P, and I’m going for the longer (both in terms of book length and how long it has been on my shelves for) option in Precursor, the fourth in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. I’m keen to keep ticking through this series because I’m certain it’s going to show up on the Hugo Best Series ballot at some point in the near future, and at 20+ books by now it would be a prohibitively large undertaking to get through it during voting. Things are getting sufficiently interesting in the first few chapters here, with mysterious political happenings on the human spaceship apparently (according to the blurb) about to coalesce into an external alien threat.
- Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett. This is an ARC that I’m very excited for – a novella in which Bennett takes US gun violence to a not-too-implausible near future extreme.
- Lumberjanes Volumes 4 and 5 As I said above, these came from the LIBRARY. What a place!
- Y: The Last Man, Volume 3. As I didn’t have anything on my shelves for Y in the readathon, I turned to the library catalogue and particularly to graphic novels to fill in the gaps. I read the bind-up of Volumes 1 and 2 of Y: The Last Man, and was just on the wrong side of being interested to continue when I’d have had to buy the rest of the series. However, now that I can access them all from THE LIBRARY, I’m hoping to keep going with this series. It’s had its smart moments and its immensely problematic moments so far, which is about what I’d expected from early Brian K. Vaughan.
The Nerds of a Feather feminist futures project continues, and there’s a trio of great entries up this week:
- Charles Payseur reflects on Wiscon
- I’ve got my review of Amazons!, the anthology by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, up and ready for your viewing pleasure.
- Joe has tackled The Gate to Women’s Country in all its problematic glory
And if that’s not enough links for you to follow, my review of The Monster Baru Cormorant also went up on Tuesday evening. That’s, like, the opposite of a feminist future, but may be of interest…
- A: Awakenings by the Book Smugglers – 9 out of 10
- B: Betraying Big Brother by Leta Hong Fincher – 9 out of 10
- E: The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley – 6 out of 10
- G: Grimspace by Ann Aguirre – 7 out of 10
- J: JY Yang (Author): Between the Firmaments – 7 out of 10.
- K: Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer – 8 out of 10.
- O: Out of Time (Lumberjanes Vol 4) by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen and Maarta Laiho – 8 out of 10.
- R: Resurrection (Skulduggery Pleasant #10) by Derek Landy – 6 out of 10
- S: Salvation’s Fire by Justina Robson – 7 out of 10
- U: Uncanny Magazine Issue 25 – 9 out of 10
- Z: Station Zero by Philip Reeve – 7 out of 10