Books: 2018-09

So this was September, huh? The year is closing in on its end, and there's not much news to tell y'all. My reading list is still steadily growing. Part of that is due to me finding /r/fantasy and /r/printsf for new recommendations, part is finding authors whom I adore (Lois McMaster Bujold!) on Goodreads and going through their recommendations etc. Other than that, September was fairly quiet. I organised another conference, so that made reading a lot a bit harder. I seem to have caught autumn blues in the last few weeks, but what can you do except read until it's gone?

Reading list length: 374

Iron Council

I think The Iron Council was weaker than The Scar (which is the previous volume in the Bas-Lag/New Crobuzon trilogy), but I enjoyed it nearly as much, because I'm a sucker for revolutions. Also, it's noticeable just how skilled China Miéville is at talking about cities – each of the stories in the series describes at least one fundamentally foreign, weird city with a mix of cultures and races among the inhabitants, and thanks to the sublte worldbuilding and depth, I feel invested and interested in every one of them.

I'm now done with the trilogy, and I'm very happy I read it. I'll explore other works by China Miéville next!

All Systems Red

I feel a bit like it's hard to judge All Systems Red (part of the Murderbot Diaries) on account of it being so short – it's fast-paced and engaging though, and I felt at least a bit invested in the story. But after reading it, I was more interested in reading the next part and finding out more about the world and the protagonist – the whole book felt a bit like it just provided a backdrop for the further series. As the series is generally well-liked though, I trust that things will pick up from here.

The Skull Throne

With The Skull Throne, the Demon Cycle is back where I love it: Character development including plenty of queer relationships (explicit working polyamory among them), people with relationship troubles, stubborn politicians, clever politicians, and the previously known and loved characters smack in the middle of it. The action is mostly split between two groups, with one dominating the first half and the other the second, which didn't always feel smooth – but both action and character development is well-rounded, and the established world building is expanded where necessary. Definitely a step up from the previous two books! I'm very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Fifth Season

There was nothing about The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin that I didn't like. It's a bit short, maybe, but we have two more volumes to balance that.

It is stunning scifi/fantasy. It contains a world with a huge (and very relevant) history. It has intricate and important environmental mechanics. It has different cultures, and those have different ticks and traditions grown from aforementioned history and environments. And these are the things that are the backdrop the reader is expected to pick up.

It's the backdrop to detailed, flawed, real characters. People who live in a hard world and make do in very different ways. And the author didn't take the easy way out, there are no "Not a Mary Sue But You Have To Love Me" people in there, either. The flaws of the main cast are sometimes grating, but always understandable.

And the writing is plain good, too – both the style and the pacing and the changes of both between narrative strands are truly well-done. Sometimes it allows the reader to be half a step ahead of the narrative, but only just, and never for long.

So, yes, this is a brilliant book, you should read it, and I can't wait to read the other two volumes. And in addition for all the things I've recounted here, be prepared to wonderful, not over-the-top, authentic queer characters. I don't think I've ever seen this level of thoughtful, practical, low-key inclusion of queerness in a book of anything approaching this quality.

Nemesis Games

Wow, Nemesis Games was way better than the previous volume of the Expanse series. I enjoyed it tremendously. As a change of pace, we follow four people on their separate ways (although their stories are connected, of course), and learn more about each of them. Where at first this seems to be a calmer book to allow for more characterisation (of our beloved main cast, and a good characterisation at that), things take off towards the middle of the book, and then they just don't stop accelerating. I'm really looking forward to how both the world and the main cast will continue after this.

Words of Radiance

I'm seriously impressed – Words of Radiance doesn't come with the usual drop or lull second volumes tend to bring. It advances the plot and the worldbuilding and the character development within Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series at a great pace. While we got the backstory of one major POV character, Kaladin, in the first volume, we get more backstory to the other major POV character, Shallan. The worldbuilding tells us more about the past of the various nations and their lore, but also on day-to-day life in different roles, and how gender roles play out and came to be. All of this is well-written (though the prose is more of a functional carrier of the content), and well-paced, and absolutely worth reading. Good thing there is another volume of The Stormlight Archive waiting for me.

First Lord's Fury

First Lord's Fury is the last volume in the very very excellent Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher, and it leads the six-book story to a terrifying finale. I enjoyed it a lot - we get a lot of well-thought action, and character development that builds on the established development of the previous books and avoids common tropes. The plot and the ending were both very satisfying to me. I'd have enjoyed having somebody new, like Kitai, as a POV character, for example.
I think this is the first time among the six books that I thought the book was a bit weaker than its predecessor, which is a big compliment for the series. After finishing First Lord's Fury I immediately felt the need to re-read the entire series – it's just that good.


Barrayar was another truly brilliant entry in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. On just a few pages, we the reader is overrun with witty, wonderful characters, who face absurdly horrible problems, and deal with them in very human ways. It strikes a perfect balance between bantering charm and deep thoughts and feelings amid fast-paced action. Having read other parts of the Vorkosigan Saga improves the book even further by having more context, but it works well even on its own. I'm so thankful that this is not a short series and that I have more ahead of me – Cordelia is a POV character that's even cooler than Miles himself.

Empire Star

My second book by Samuel Delany, my second book by him that I positively adore. Thoroughly impressive, I don't think I've highlighted this much in any book in the past year, and it's a really short book at that. Describing it wouldn't do it justice, and so soon after reading it, I can't even try.

Short Stories

  • All the Troubles of the World by Isaac Asimov was heart-breaking and well-paced. I was kind of sick of reading of dystopic futures with evil, flawed humans and evil, flawed AI everywhere, and this story is a nice break from all that.
  • Sweatheart is a well-written very short story by Abbey Mei Otis that is first sweet and then chilling in the path the story takes – nothing too special either, just a perfectly fine scifi short.
  • Children of Thorns, Children of Water sadly doesn't make much sense if you aren't familiar with Aliette de Bodard's Dominion of the Fallen series, and comes off hurried and confused (but with potential in the worldbuilding!)
  • The Last Christmas is a fun premise, but way too short to build it up properly, and so it ends up all over the place. Still: It's pretty short, and a nice read, so if you want to see how an engineer deals with suddenly being Santa, go check it out.
  • Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand is a short story that has garnered a lot of award nominations. It wasn't to my taste at all, but if you enjoy horror and weirdness (imagine a horror short story somebody wanted to sound like Neil Gaiman), this is a very short read that may be for you.
  • With The Daughter of Odren, a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, I've now finished the Earthsea Cycle. This novella is very bittersweet – predictable only in parts, only because it recalls fairytales, but still very human and very real. A good ending to my Earthsea experience.

Do not recommend

  • Look to Windward by Iain Banks tells the story of a reluctant counter-Culture agent and wasn't really my cup of tea. While I appreciated that we get to see more of the regular, day-to-day life of people in the Culture universe, and that we also get the outside perspective on the Culture, too little happened and the story crawled along. A bit after the halfway mark, things got a bit more exciting, but overall it wasn't one of the better Culture installments, I'd say.
  • I felt both bored and annoyed at The Dark Forest (sequel to Liu Cixin's The Three Body Problem). The plot was convoluted and wandering, but not all that bad – but the people in it continued to be cardboard cutouts of one motivation, and maybe one emotion or one habit, if you were lucky. Also, the vanishingly few female characters had even less of a personality (and were mostly partners-of-somebody with little page time and even less impact). One female character was literally introduced directly as the protagonist's fantasy and then fridged to provide motivation for him.

    The exploration of future development of humanity was the thing I enjoyed most, I think. Other than that, most developments and actions felt super random, like they were completely contrived just to further the plot, no matter if they made sense or not. I won't continue with this series.
  • Battle Royale was basically a badly written Hunger Games in a fictional contemporary totalitarian Asian state. The writing was impressively bad, and the characters too. Truly do not recommend.
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella in Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle and didn't work for me at all. It's very lyrical, with beautiful, lyrical prose for its own sake, but it didn't touch me.
  • Six Wakes is a scifi murder mystery in space: Cloning is real, but may only be used to prolong one's own life. A generation starship is staffed with six clones who will re-clone until the ship reaches its destiantion. But suddenly all six find themselves murdered and re-awaken without any memory of the last 25 years of the journey. As plots go, this is pretty good – sadly the writing was uneven and I'm not a mystery person, so despite the fairly coherent worldbuilding and the simple-but-plausible characters, I wasn't drawn in too much. If you like space and mysteries though, I can definitely recommend it.