Better late than never: Nine new reviews and a short discussion of the future of this series.
This month, dear reader, it was a lot. The alotness was such that I finished my last book around October 25th, and then didn't read until mid-November. If you know me or follow this blog, you'll recognise this as out of the ordinary. The cause was a combination of project related stress (concurrent deadlines on pretalx commissions) and a general state of stress and exasperation. Look at the stat that traditionally starts these articles:
Reading list length: 475
This is not a feasible reading list – and the reality contains even more books, because my reading list has only one book per author at any given time. This started to stress me out, even while I wrote the pretty cool goodreads-to-sqlite tool which displays my raw reading interests on data.rixx.de/books.
I'm planning on reducing the length of this list, both by reading and by chucking books off of it. Since this blog series may get a bit harder to write, I'm not sure if I'm going to continue it. November is half-way over, so there won't be much to tell here anyways, and in December I'm traditionally busy with CCC.
If you have strong opinions either way, please let me know, but this may be the last post in my book post series for the foreseeable future. You should be able to get the same information out of my GoodReads RSS feed, if that's your kind of thing.
Sorry to be a bummer – but I have read some good books, so here are reviews!
Books I liked
Three Parts Dead
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone was just straight up enjoyable Fantasy. We get magic, and gods, and … magic lawyers? Dabbling in magic means dabbling in contracts, so our protagonist has clients (or, well, her employer does), and there is a lot of quibbling going on – of the kind that can cost you your mind, or your life. And the God of Fire (and therefore steam) has an engine room and priests that are more techies than anything else – except that their maintenance and debugging cycles include prayers and worship as well as fixing pipes and monitoring heat output. Yessss.
This book is really well-written. The pacing is on point, the characters are relatable, the language is carefully chosen to not break immersion too much in spite of the somewhat unconventional setup. The resolution is maybe a bit predictable, but not going off tropes, but going off the excellent foreshadowing. This is in line with some of the worldbuilding being a bit on the nose – but at the same time, it's a good world, a good plot, and good action, so there's no real reason to complain. Looking forward to reading the next part of the series.
Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships
Many if not most books on relationships out there are not good. Sometimes the author had a spot of luck and generalises. Sometimes it's just stuffed with common knowledge, or advice meant to make people feel in control. Of course, most of them are also horribly gendered, and subscribe to differences between men and women at ridiculous levels, and/or assume relationships to be heterosexual.
Rewriting the Rules by Meg-John Barker was way better than that. I found it well-structured, and coming from excellent principles. It moves through a set of topics, starting from dealing with oneself, going through different points of relationships with others, such as starting out, having sex, separating, dealing with conflict, and ends on a couple of very good practical observations. All chapters discuss cultural rules we may apply without thinking (about gender, sex, behaviour in general, partnerships vs friendships, etc.), and how they can be harmful and beneficial. This discussion is both very practical and very differentiated, which makes for a nice change compared with most other books of this type. I'd recommend it without hesitation for people looking to read and think a bit about relationships and friendships.
The Door Into Fire
I loved The Door Into Fire by Diane Duane a whole lot. It's incredibly character-focused fantasy, to the point of reminding me strongly of Lois McMaster Bujold for its strong characters and Ursula Le Guin for its sensitive, almost lyrical descriptions of magic and nature and the relationship between everything. It's set in a fascinating world that clearly follows a set of rules of magic and mythology (gods! Excellent gods, and all kinds of other beings), but the rules are sufficiently mysterious to feel consistent, yet not clinical. I'm writing this review more than a month after reading the book, and the characters are still very vivid in my mind, which is probably the highest praise I can pay the book.
Also, because this may impact some of my readers' decision to read the book: This world feels wonderfully archaic in many ways, but it is also very emancipated and queer. The protagonist is in a same-sex relationship, and there are open relationships, discussions of how children are brought up, and all female characters have very much characters, opinions, and arcs of their own. The story is not such that I think this needs to be a selling point – it is really good! – but sometimes you just want to read queer-friendly Fantasy, which is a bit thin on the ground.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K.Jemisin is solid Fantasy, with cool mythology, a decent protagonist and good other characters, and absolutely nothing wrong with it – it just didn't really come to life for me. Huge bonus points for a very cool ending, though! Not sure I'll continue the series, though, to be honest.
As a side note, coming into this from Broken Earth, it's fascinating to see some similarities, but also a huge improvement in the writing. (That's not to say that this book is bad, it's perfectly good and at the upper end of regular Fantasy, it's just that Broken Earth goes above and beyond.)
Gifts by Ursula Le Guin is one of the books that I will be able to remember clearly for its atmosphere for a long time, but I didn't actually particularly like it. It's good Fantasy, with a ton of character building and world building. The atmosphere is oppressive at times. Wish I could say more, but the slow pace of the book would turn most things into spoilers. I think I'll switch to Le Guin's nonfiction at this point.
The Student Prince
The Student Prince is very well-written Merlin (the TV show) fanfiction. You don't need to know the show to enjoy it: It transplants the characters of Merlin, Arthur, Morgana, Lancelot et al into pre-Brexit UK, where they go to college and deal with school and magic. Also national security. Also LGBT issues. I liked it a lot. It's available at AO3.
- Trouble with Time is a nice enough short story by Arthur C. Clarke. My impression is good idea, okay-ish execution, nothing special.
- Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones by Samuel R. Delany is a short story that's won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards back in the day, and rightfully so. The story is a good example of why I seem to like every Delany book I come across: brilliant, lyrical and association heavy style. In Space. Very human and tongue-in-cheek.
Children of Time
With Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time I've finally come upon a book that most of my friends liked or loved, and that I couldn't get into, for … complex reasons.
Children of Time tells two stories. On the one hand, a future where humanity is nearly extinct, due to their own … you know. Look at our planet. All of that. Bad decisions. Ego. Depleting the planet. Depleting other planets. Infighting. Lots and lots of politics. The last of humanity lives through a deep nuclear winter, then begins to reassemble the traces of the previous technological culture, and finally sets out in big ships because it becomes clear that Earth won't be habitable to humans ever again. This story arc follows the ship, and its characters. None of them are terribly likable. The protagonist is a cowardly "Classicist" who studied pre-war Earth, joined with a cynic Engineer, a megalomaniac commander, a god-playing scientist, and the head of security with ambitions of grandeur. Can you spot the characters below the stereotypes?
On the other, we get a story about the last human experiement. On the planet in question, a megalomaniac scientist wanted to "uplift" monkeys, by magically (sorry, genetically) advancing evolution. Sadly the monkeys died a gruesome death, and the virus/genome/magic entered the local spiders instead, and also ants, some sea creatures, etc. We follow the rise of the spider civilisation over thousands of years, in short episodes. This part of the story was very good. They are weird, alien creatures following their own cultural logic and laws. Brilliant scifi, wonderfully written. It's hard to make this millennia spanning episodic style work, but it works very very well.
So why did I not like the book in the end? It's a couple of things, really. The spider arc was good, the human arc was predictable, and flat, and … somewhat repulsive, really. Part of that is my mood at the time of reading, but I found the book horribly depressing. It shows, over and over and fucking over, the worst of humanity, with honestly nearly no redeeming features. The destructiveness of our actions, the lack of collaboration and foresight, the sheer self- centeredness … it was a bit much for me. Couple that with the fact that the ending was a bit cheap and also extremely foreshadowed (or just predictable) from the half-way point on, and the book left me with more bad feelings than good, despite its extremely brilliant half.
My friends usually have very good taste in books, so please don't take my opinion as a recommendation against the book.