May was a very generic month. Did the working, did the volunteering, did the reading. Noticed that I am unhappy and figured out what to do about it, as you do. I didn't read as many books as I'd like, and none of them stood out too much.
Reading list length: 470
Sometimes, you find books that are good books, and you notice how they are good books, and you like the parts that make them good books, but you don't like them. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is such a book for me. It's not the characters – they are vivid, and real, and neither horrible nor brilliant people. It's not the plot – the story wanders a bit, and is mostly slice-of-apocalyptic-life, but it's a good story. It's not the writing – the language is precise and beautiful and conjures up images and feelings in your mind.
It's maybe just that reading this book while depressed is not a good idea. And don't get me wrong, it's not the post-apocalyptic parts that are bad. It's the parts that play in our world, where everything is still working, where no plague has yet devoured humanity. Those parts hooked me, the way a fish is hooked, and then caught, and then consequently gutted.
Beneath the Sugar Sky
While Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire was yet another pleasant entry in the Wayward Children series, it didn't grab me nearly as much as the previous novellas. Maybe it's just that I'm not into Candyland, or that of the troupe of children on the rescue mission I only really liked half (and felt for those two or three). The whole story just felt a bit flat, and I felt that the main character was more told than shown, and due to this and her tendency to inaction, she felt rather pale.
The (currently) last part of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is aptly called Exit Strategy. I liked it, just as I liked all the Murderbot Diaries. It's not quite slice-of-life, but it's got a protagonist that dearly wishes to live in a slice-of-life novella instead. Think Rincewind, only here it's filled with competence and charming snark, and touching not-quite-humanity (we're still talking about a hybrid life form with dominant artificial intelligence!). Murderbot acts with human levels of procrastination and self-deception, super-human hacking and combat skills, and adorable coming-of-age behaviour in this novella: It disovers that its humans are in danger and need saving (yes, yes, this is the complete plot).
Murderbot charms, and while it's a novella and I'm not sure the full book price is justified, I enjoyed reading it, I felt for the main character, and if the story wasn't terribly deep, or the language wasn't particularly overwhelming: so what.
Kings of the Wyld
Ever wanted to read a self-aware Expendables in a Fantasy world? Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames is for you. I wasn't a fan for the first half (it was solid, but kinda annoying, and Getting The Band Back Together isn't my kind of story), but it shaped up massively in the second half, and I really enjoyed the ending!
The first half of the book does a lot of work to establish the characters and the humor, and took its sweet time about it. It seemed as if the book was only ha-ha-funny, but the second half tugged on some serious heartstrings, and found a good compromise between humour and serious character building/experiences.
The Victorian Internet
My first non-fiction book in quite some time, The Victorian Internet is a nice introduction into the rise and fall of the electrical telegraph, and all its implications. Tom Standage shows us in an easy, meandering style how the world changed due to the telegraph, and how people changed (and/or didn't). While he's often very direct (or on the nose) about his theories, and some minor facts looked not quite well researched (Karlsruhe was never part of Prussia, thank you very much), I liked both the very human approach to history, and his final – if simplistic – comparison between telegraph an internet evolution.
Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff is the second part of The Nevernight Chronicle, and it felt underwhelming. I'll try to tell you why: In Godsgrave, we continue to follow Mia, who is now a trained assassin and still hell-bent on revenge. To make this generic plot less generic, we get snarky footnotes with background info dumps (hi, Bartimeus, I guess), and a same-sex relationship (of course fraught with deceit and passion), where more traditional fantasy would've had a hetero relationship. Aaaand, that's it.
Do you know the books where the ending is predictable by way of the protagonist's hopes and thoughts? Oh, she thinks she'll be successful – be prepared for sudden defeat. Oh, she despairs – soaring, bloody victory incoming. This is exactly like this, and it seriously lowered the stakes when reading. The GIANT CLIFFHANGER at the ending felt tired, and I'm honestly not sure I'll be strung along into the third part of the series. Red Sister by Mark Lawrence does all of this series, and better.
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is a hard book for me to rate. In the beginning it felt a bit lackluster, because it felt like very system-heavy Fantasy: Fantasy where the author cares more about the magic system than about the characters, or the worldbuilding, or anything else. After about a third of the book, it came close to hitting its stride, drawing me in and letting me feel with the thief-protagonist and her life and quandries. But then, towards the end, the book seemed to me to turn into a very heavy-handed metaphor on the dangers of artificial intelligence (and, to a lesser degree, computer science in general).
Maybe for people less involved with programming the analogies are less obvious or heavy handed. Maybe the half-machine people and the artificial intelligences talking about freedom, and choice, and which ways of changing reality are not as one-dimensional as it seemed to me. But despite liking many aspects of the world, it never really gripped me due to this.