Well, here we are with another three week mega roundup! I have been travelling for work, which was great fun but ate two weekends in which reviewing was totally impossible. It’s also hardcore affected my reading time, and I spent two weeks doing very little reading at all on most days. I have been able to maintain focus on the A to Z reading challenge, although it’s some of the longer things that have gone unread or been pushed off. I got to 22/26 in the end, however, and pushed a few things off the TBR list despite the challenges.
Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien. Oh wow, this was a good book. I already wrote quite a lot about it for the File 770 book rec thread (that was a fun place to go back to!) but for here – it’s a fantasy world inspired by east Asia (China, Taiwan and Japan all put in recognisable appearances) where Peasprout Chen, a girl from the huge, authoritarian nation of Shin, is sent to an academy for wu liu, or skating martial arts, on the island country of Pearl. As the name suggests, Pearl’s city is entirely constructed of a pale substance known as “the pearl”, which is warm and architecturally sound but which can be “ice skated” on. There’s a ton going on here, from magical school dynamics to political shenanigans, all of which left me very ready for the sequel.
There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers. This is the first in Wagers’ Farian War trilogy, which ramps the events of the previous trilogy up to 11 by throwing Indrana and its neighbours into the midst of a long-running intergalactic war between the Farian species – who Empress Hailimi Bristol has encountered fairly often over her journeys – and the much more mysterious Shen. What I appreciate about Wagers’ space opera is that they people the Indranan empire and its neighbours with lots of interesting, kickass characters, but unapologetically leave a lot of room for emotional beats and processing – without the story itself ever becoming a romance. Not that there is anything wrong with it potentially being a romance! It’s just that I’d expect the emotional stuff and hurt/comfort from books focusing on a romantic pairing, but There Before the Chaos and its predecessors deliver in all sorts of platonic relationships instead. On a related note. I also appreciate that this series doesn’t have a central romance in part because it’s only been a year since Hail’s last partner was killed, and she’s still very openly coping with grief from that. Thumbs up to books that give their characters space to be human (the ones that are supposed to be, anyway).
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. I read this for the Lady Vaults book club. I wish I’d discovered this book sooner – it addresses so many of my problems with feminist SF of the era without assuming there are easy answers.
Y: The Last Man Vol 3: One Small Step by Brian K. Vaghan and Pia Guerra. Honestly, I haven’t thought very much about this series for a long time, but when it came to finding “Y”s for the readathon it was the only thing that sprang to mind that would be available in the library. This is early Brian K. Vaughan (who also writes Saga and Paper Girls), and… its a mixed bag. The premise is that some kind of unknown virus has killed every man on earth, leading to immense environmental and political catastrophes as half the population – the half who were disproportionately involved in, for example, manning nuclear power plants – suddenly disappear and women are left to pick up the pieces. There’s a lot to like about where this set-up leaves particular characters initially, but unfortunately what ends up happening is a focus on the titular Last Man, a rich white kid called Yorick (yeah… and his sister’s called Hero and everything) who is determined to be the most obtuse version of the “hapless responsibility free manchild” trope possible. In Volume 3, we get a showdown between the US and some Israeli soldiers (Israel, of course, being one of very few places in the world with compulsory military service for women as well as men) over the landing of a trio of astronauts, two of whom are men and whose landing might tip the balance significantly. Unfortunately, alongside Yorick there’s also quite a lot of heterosexist bullshit. I’m once again in no hurry to continue this series, to be honest.
Precursor by C.J. Cherryh. Ah, the Foreigner series. Having made my way through the first trilogy, this fourth book kicks off a new stage in this now 20(?) book saga about humans and aliens trying to live together on a distant planet following a long-ago disaster on a human spaceship. The series centres around Bren Cameron, a “paidhi” – the sole human ambassador and translator allowed to work with the alien atevi on their land. This arrangement was set up hundreds of years ago after both species found out the hard way that their respective hard-wired social instincts didn’t allow them to co-inhabit without the risk of war, and Bren is just the latest in a long line of humans trying to get to grips with living among 250 cm tall, mathematically obsessed humanoids whose intricate social dos and don’ts are completely unintuitive. I had a rocky start with this series and only kept going because I think it’s likely to turn up on a Hugo ballot at some point – by this point, Bren’s quirks are growing on me and he’s a significantly more confident character than in Foreigner, which I like, but the whole series is built out of an odd combination of slow political negotiation thriller and occasional actual-action thriller which I’m still not entirely sold on.
Monstress Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda. This has been sat on my shelves for quite some time while I work up the combination of courage and engagement necessary to dive in. We pick up with Maika Halfwolf, her demon friend/possessor Zinn, Kippa and Ren as they reach the arcanic city of Pontus, which is under attack from forces both human and demonic as they try to repair the shield technology that could save them. This being Monstress, everything goes beautifully, horribly wrong, and Maika faces down more enemies and perhaps starts to maybe grow the very first inklings of a conscience. I may get hopelessly lost at points (there are a lot of characters, some of whom look quite similar and who only appear once every few issues!) but I continue to love this series.
The Mighty Women of Science by Claire Forrest and Fiona Gordon. A cute comic/A to Z roundup of notable women in science, past and present. Obviously I’m not really the target audience for this, but it’s really well done, and the inclusion of women working today means that the creators have (presumably) gone out and actually interviewed planetary scientists and volcanologists and the like – and an all-girl robotics team! – to really enhance the “see it, be it” element of the book.
Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett. Officially the first 2019 book I have read 🙂 I’m not sure what to make of this one, to be honest – you’ll be getting my full thoughts at the beginning of next year.
A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy by Alex White. OK, here’s one I did really like, and that I’ll be reviewing next week!
Not So Stories ed. David Thomas Moore. I’m reviewing this the week after next.
Chalk by Paul Cornell. I guess I got exactly what I expected out of this one, which I picked up from the library as a backup for “C” in the reading challenge and ended up reading on 1 December so it didn’t even really count for that. It’s a story of childhood abuse and bullying in rural 1980s England, and it reminded me of Susan Hill’s “I’m the King of the Castle”, the similarly grim child bullying story we read for GCSE English back in the day. Chalk is more supernatural and generally has more going on than Hill (and would not be suitable for a class of 14-15 year olds to all read together, mostly because of the repeated references to penises and sex, although I wouldn’t keep it away from individual, sensible readers of that age), but fundamentally it’s a pretty awful story that I’m not sure why I subjected myself to.
FIYAH issue 8: Pilgrimage. Hey, I said I was going to do monthly short fiction roundups at the end of every month, didn’t I? What happened to that? Well, this issue is a good one, more later.
Fireside Fiction, November and December. See above!
Bonus movie review: A Wrinkle in Time. Here’s what I watched on the plane on the way out! This movie has intrigued me, although obviously I’ve heard very mixed things. What I found was something that felt a bit like Jupiter Ascending but with better individual components – a story that is unapologetically a wish-fulfilment fantasy for girls and young women, and which takes Meg’s emotional journey extremely seriously. When this is rounded out with engagement from the Mrses (er… is that the right terminology?), it makes for beautiful and powerful scenes, although I like the fact that Meg also has a mother who is doing her best too, so these fantasy women aren’t replacements, just new perspectives. What works less well is fitting these components into a story of good and evil, and one which relies on very unsympathetic actions from Meg’s father and (surprisingly non-irritating) younger brother. Ultimately, the story being carried is quite simple and it isn’t quite integrated either into the wonder of the pure fantasy moments, or the emotional journey Meg is going on. As a side note, I’m not big on the “school bully really has her own issues going on, and needs your empathy” plot point. Watch, but watch just for pretty and awwws without expecting to be blown away by a coherent plot.
Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – I pre-ordered this a couple of months ago on audiobook, and it’s so exciting that it’s here! The two last shorter thigns I’ve read in this series have switched me on to the audio versions (as well as some reviews by someone I follow on goodreads), and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith does a great job of bringing Peter to life. I’ve been doing quite well at keeping audiobooks going alongside my reading recently, and I’m getting through this one at a fairly good pace too.
Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns – I only listened to the first few minutes of this on audiobook (before Lies Sleeping arrived), and while I’m excited for it, I’m probably shelving it again for now as I listen to the above.
Hild by Nicola Griffith – I’m putting this up here even though I’ve only read the first two pages and was weighing up between this and Winterkill, because By the Gods it is about time I sat down and bloody read Hild by Nicola Griffith. It’s one of several books that’s been sitting on my physical TBR for getting on 6 months now (this is weird to me because until recently my physical TBR was VERY selective) and where my primary barrier to reading it is length.
Have I mentioned how much I love my new library? Because, I am so in love with the new library. It’s close and convenient and the sci fi and fantasy stock is great! Unfortunately I have not had the chance to befriend a librarian yet in order to influence the direction
Books I have got from the library in the last three weeks include:
- Chalk by Paul Cornell
- Lumberjanes volume 6 (serious regrets over not picking up Volume 7 as well, as it has now been BORROWED by ANOTHER PATRON, the nerve)
- The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente (you see? Someone in this library system is definitely buying The Good Stuff)
- Skulduggery Pleasant: Midnight by Derek Landy
- A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
- The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb
- Star Wars: Canto Bight by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant and John Jackson Miller
I’ve also picked up a few other things:
- Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – came from my audible subscription.
- Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron. Another audiobook purchase. I’ve had my eye on this series for a very long time!
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. A Kindle sale pickup, that’s probably going to sit in the unread folder for years…
- Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirlees. Another Kindle sale pickup that I might read slightly sooner?
- The Hugo Longlist Anthology, Volume 4, edited by David Steffen. This is a particularly exciting edition of the Longlist anthology for me, because I read barely any 2017 short fiction and every single thing in here is new to me.
I guess that joining the Librarything Santathing also counts as buying books this year! I’m quite excited to see what comes out of it, as last year I got a strong selection that I wouldn’t otherwise have picked out for myself, as well as some fab recommendations. And of course I’ve already been able to throw a ridiculous number of my own Opinions out into the Librarything ecosystem, which I’m sure is… really great fun for everyone else.