roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

A few years back, some friends and acquaintances ran a podcast about lesbian romance novels called The LadyLike Book Club (delightful tagline: "Hello, lesbians and friends of lesbians"). It's dead for the time being, but I enjoyed it a lot — their enthusiasm is infectious even if you're not already invested in the genre, and they're all just very funny, charming people in general. If you do the podcast thing, their archives are totally worth a listen.

Anyway, I read a handful of the books they covered, so I figured I'd post them in a batch.

Oddly, these were the first category romance novels I'd ever read; I'd always meant to follow up on some of Candy's recommendations, but had never gotten around to it.

Books I Stopped Reading: Colette Moody — Parties in Congress

Dec 21, 2013

Episode link

I couldn't get past the prose and style — the dialogue was just wrong, and I couldn't deal. (The plot and setting had problems too, but if I'd been having more fun on a paragraph-to-paragraph level I could have gotten over those.)

Books I Stopped Reading: Alison Moon — Lunatic Fringe

May 2014

Episode link

This was another one where the prose just ejected me. Which was a bummer, because I was getting interested in the characters and plot! But it just wasn't fun to read.

But where Parties in Congress just clunked, this had a more depressing kind of badness: it was overwritten in that distinctive way where you can see the outline of a really tight novel through the haze. A committed editor could probably have improved this book 400% without breaking anything. Sadface.

K.E. Lane — And Playing the Role of Herself

June 15, 2013

Episode link

I don't actually remember a whole lot about this one, but I do remember enjoying it. There was a bizarre out-of-nowhere twist near the end that I wasn't into, but when it was just the characters interacting it was a lot of fun.

Rebecca S. Buck — The Locket and the Flintlock

July 5, 2013

Episode link

This was excellent! Just really well put-together. The conflicts made sense, there was intense chemistry between the leads, the historical texture was superb (I learned some things about the Luddites?!), and the prose was solid. Also, as they say repeatedly in the episode, this is the one that most closely fit the stereotypical model of a capital-R, capital-N ~Romance Novel:~ Regency England, elaborate costuming, dashing robbers, the whole shebang.

D. Jordan Redhawk — Broken Trails

Sept 16, 2013

Episode link

If you're going to read just one of these, this is the pick (although Locket is a very close runner-up).

There's a thing this book does, which made it really satisfying to read but which I'm having a hard time describing. (And especially describing in a way that doesn't sound awful.) Like, basically: the external conflict is that the protagonist signs up for the Iditarod (a nightmarish, icy ultramarathon with dogs), then spends a year training for it, then does it. But Redhawk does one of the best jobs I've seen at depicting routines in an enjoyable way, and using them to show the protagonist's gradual leveling-up (and occasional setbacks).

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Re-read: Rosemary Kirstein — The Lost Steersman (The Steerswoman, book 3)

Nov. 5

Ruth was reading the Steerswoman books while we were on vacation, and I was SUPER PUMPED to talk about them with her! And she finished this volume and made a sound I have never heard her make before, hahahahahahaha! Anyway, I had to immediately re-read it.

As much as I love The Language of Power, I have to admit book 3 is objectively the best. It's SUCH a tour-de-force, and ARRRGH, I can't even explain WHY without spoiling half the effect!

Well. If you read it and come find me later, I'll tell you what I really think about it. Until then, go buy the ebook reprints! They're all cheap as hell, and there's nothing else like them in science fiction right now. The state of the art has not caught up with Rosemary Kirstein.

Bonus Level: Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Oct 1

Halfway through playing this, I was overcome with a weird feeling of familiarity, and for a while I couldn't figure out why. I never played any of the original pen+paper or SNES/Genesis Shadowrun games... and yes, it's just Borderland But Also Cyberpunk: The Video Game, but this was an intense fuckin' sensation, not Hey, Rememember Thing.

Some days later, I got it: Dragonfall is actually the game I thought Final Fantasy VII was going to be, during the first eight hours or so before I left Midgard. The color palette and the moody Sector 7 style music are dead-on, which is probably why that familiar feeling was so intense, but also the gray morality, the omnipresent subway trains, the corporate sabotage, and the uneasy found family who don't necessarily have any reason to trust you.

OBVIOUSLY I FUCKING LOVED IT. I like tactical RPGs in general, and while this is deep in unfamiliar Western PC RPG Land (I grew up in Japanese Console RPG Land), the subconscious FF7 resemblance got me past the hump of figuring out how the systems work, and the gameplay was simplified enough that my poor console-weenie brain handled it just fine. (Once I turned off the single-click no-confirmation combat interface, WHY is that the default, whyyyy.)

Anyway, good times. I liked this a lot, and I bought the followup (Hong Kong) in the Thanksgiving Steam sale, so we'll see how that is.

Bonus Level: Undertale

Oct 11

This is the most ambitious deconstruction of the classic JRPG form I've ever seen. It mercilessly disassembles every mechanism the genre has at its disposal, and stitches them back together into an unnerving and revelatory and FUN emotional/intellectual tour-de-force.

And I'm not gonna say much more about it, because the game is constructed as a dialogue with your expectations and reflexes, and if you're a person who would enjoy it, the best thing a reviewer can do is get out of your way.

The music is amazing. The combat is incredibly fun, and consistently surprising and innovative. The plot is satisfying on so many levels it's hard to even know where to start. The writing is superb, funny and poignant and crushing by turns. This is possibly the best (and certainly the most interesting) game of 2015. If you care about the narrative potential of video games, scrounge up $10 and play Undertale.

William Gibson — The Peripheral (re-read) and Zero History (re-read)

Nov. 12, Nov. 16

I'm just going to let prior reviews stand, for these. They're still faves, which is why I re-read them on vacation in a foreign land.

William Gibson - All Tomorrow's Parties

Dec. 7

Idoru was kind of a mess, and this sequel was also kind of a mess. They're enjoyable! But the machinery of the story doesn't quite work right.

In the Bridge trilogy, I think Gibson was trying to be more rigorous and near-future with the inputs of his books, but he was also aiming for highly bizarre outputs, and I think maybe the intervening processes weren't up to the task, and in trying to smooth out and unify the whole, those outputs ended up mostly just incomprehensible and uninteresting.

It's funny to read these after reading the Bigend books and The Peripheral, because you can sort of see the learning process that made those later stories so much better.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Joan Opyr — Shaken and Stirred

July 16

Okay, I picked this up at the Title Wave on spec because the cover was kind of unbelievable. Somehow, and for some reason, the publisher (a small-timer out of Michigan focused on contemporary lesbian fiction) had gotten the printer to cover it with, uh... I don't know the proper term for it, but, alpine flower guide / field first-aid manual cover stock. The really plasticky, resilient stuff with a grid of little nubbins on it to give it a more matte feel except they're too big for matte so it just feels like plastic with a grid of nubbins? Y... you know??? Okay, I'm gonna just assume you know — who the hell puts that shit on a novel?! I HAD TO FIND OUT.

Well, it turned out to be a pretty good read. I give it three-ish stars, because I feel like the ending didn't really come together, but I enjoyed the middle of the book quite a bit. A witty and wistful story about a gal going home to bury her shitheel grandpa, which closes with a romance ending that really could have used some additional reinforcement.

Jillian Tamaki — SuperMutant Magic Academy

July 19. Comics.

This ruled, go get it.

I was mildly bummed that I hadn't known about Tamaki's webcomic until it was done, but also excited about getting a big airdrop of cool stuff all at once.

The tone is very different from her novelistic work. It's insistently a comedy, but it veers between comedic modes very fluidly. The Everlasting Boy interludes tend toward this violent, gonzo physical/metaphysical absurdity; the stuff with the core cast (Marsha, Wendy, Gemma, Frances, Cheddar) moves in and out of Peanuts-esque wry melancholy, situational gags, Gunshow-esque left turns, and more. The out-of-continuity strips with one-off characters are... I dunno what you'd even call this, but I love it.

My original plan for this review was to close with a gag about The Magicians, but I couldn't quite make it work, so never mind.

Hugo Pratt — Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea

Aug 22 (comics)

So, Corto Maltese is this ancient Eurocomics property, which my memory is a little hazy on the details of; I think he outlived his maker like a louche, chain-smoking Mickey Mouse and you still get new animated features dropping once in a while, but I'm not positive.

I think this book was his first outing, and damn it shows. It's rough as hell, it wanders all over the place, it insistently refuses to cohere. It was only translated recently, and as far as I can tell the English availability of the rest of the comics is spotty at best.

Anyway, this volume included way more than its fair share of high colonialist bullshit, and the story's not solid enough that I could recommend it to anyone. I'd be interested to see a later adventure and find out how much it improves, because god damn is Corto himself enjoyable to look at. What a fuckin beautiful character design.

Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin — The Rise of Aurora West

August 22. Comics.

This was weird and intriguing. I'm not entirely sure it's for me, but... there's something in there that I can't let go of.

Jeff Vandermeer - Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance (the Southern Reach trilogy)

Aug 24, 25, 26

This was creepy as hell and I enjoyed it a lot. More to the point, it managed to achieve a satisfying resolution without ruining the mysteries and incomprehensibilities that drive the story, which is what I always worry about when getting into this sort of thing. (I get paranoid whenever I catch a whiff of that old Lost scent, you know?)

Top-notch weird horror. If you're into this sort of thing at all, this is the real deal.

Bonus Level: Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

Aug. something (video game; ipad version)

An old favorite of mine from back in the Playstation 1 days; it was remastered and retranslated for the PSP some years back, and they later ported that port to iOS.

Back in the ’90s, FFT was notorious for its shit translation; it was arguably the pinnacle of a certain form of incomprehensible Engrish in video games. If you never experienced it for yourself, it's worth checking out some of the greatest hits of dialogue from that monster, just to see how far we've come.

But by the end of the PS1 era, at least some parts of Square had corrected course, because Vagrant Story was pretty much the high-water mark of ja->en translations for that whole console generation. They were aiming for this sort of retro-Elizabethan gruffness, vaguely Shakespearean diction but with the sub-frame lopped off and the tailpipes wrapped in insulating tape, and — improbably — it worked great. So when it came time to rehabilitate FFT, the translators turned to Vagrant Story and its late-PS2-era successor Final Fantasy XII for guidance.

And the result is excellent. I actually kind of respect this game for its story, now!

The original script was functional (albeit comical) for its first three chapters, but chapter four was basically unreadable; I don't think I knew anyone who really understood what was going on with the Zodiac Braves, Saint Ajora, or even the late-stage political machinations.

But now that the incidental confusion has been brushed away, the remaining confusion improves the story. I originally thought there was supposed to be a single Church cover-up about Ajora and the braves, but in the new translation, it's clear that there have been multiple revisions of history, every one of them performed in ignorance of some incredibly crucial information lost in the last pass. The result is that history in Ivalice is complete garbage by now, and even people who think they've found the master key to the real truth have no idea what's going on. The (allegedly bombshell) secret scriptures Simon gives to Ramza seem to imply the opposite of what you're actually encountering, and even the Lucavi seem confused about some of what the Auracite can do.

I like that a lot better than my original interpretation of what was happening. It casts the Church in a much more interesting light, and it adds a certain melancholy to the proceedings; even whoever recovers the Durai papers won't be able to figure out what the hell Ramza and company were actually up to, much less whatever the fuck went down back in the airship era.

roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Kekkaishi.Yoshimori - Coffee milk)

Kip Manley — The City of Roses episode 23 and 24

Feb 8, Feb 16

The first "season" of City of Roses ruled. It also -- for all the loose ends and lingering mysteries and uncertainties -- ended in a fairly decisive way, so I was really curious about how a second series was going to work.

And it looks like the answer is "by mutating significantly," which, good. Jo is still Jo, but her new responsibilities have changed her quite a bit and are in the process of changing her even further. Ysabel is changed as well, but maybe less so, and that adds a bit of friction, but Jo is generally closer to her level these days too, which offsets that.

Structurally, too, it's the beginning of a very different story; one where our heroines start from a position of power and an intrusive threat is gathering just barely off-stage. And the flavor of that threat is very different -- more lurid and less elliptical, which makes it an interesting foil now that Jo has reached something of an accommodation with the elliptical forces of the court; an insult to The Way Things Are Done Around Here.

Anyway, I enjoyed these first two chapters a lot.

Ginn Hale — The Rifter (The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, and His Sacred Bones)

May 21, June 2

This dark portal fantasy was a page-turner; well-written, with compelling conflicts and characters and a freaky-ass cosmology. And also some themes that I tend to like a lot: other-lives and wrong-memories type of stuff, sort of adjacent to reincarnation plots but not quite overlapping.

I read it pretty compulsively, and enjoyed it a lot. I have a lot of lingering discomfort with the implications of the final act — I have to wonder whether the eventual villain was actually that much worse than John. Setting the sadism and bitterness aside, I mean, and talking about methods and results across the whole story. Like, when you tally up the body counts and the suffering. Sure, John is trying to rebuild and repair after the big one, but isn't that sort of what (spoiler)'s also trying to do? And would their plan have actually worked? Because if so, that's a much harder call to make.

I guess John has a solid shot at permanently breaking the cycle of Rifters, whereas success in (spoiler)'s plan would have sabotaged one loop but potentially left the cycle open. But maybe not! The Fai'daum were apparently making solid progress in the other timeline, right? If they'd been successful, then... maybe there never would have been another chance to summon a Rifter, and with a lower body count to boot. And couldn't you ignore the ecological damage of opening the gate one last time, because a successful intervention would reset the flow of events to stop John's initial crossing?

I dunno. It was all murky enough that the ending left me feeling a bit queasy. But it was a really good story!

Also, this is the second thing I've read from Blind Eye, and they've both been really solid. (The other was Smoketown.) Have any of you read other books they've put out? Anything I should take a look at?

Ann Leckie — Ancillary Sword

June 23

A very different animal from Ancillary Justice; different enough that it seems like the previous story was paused completely, and we're taking a, like, murder mystery vacation with Breq.

Still, even though it breaks up the unity and clarity of direction I was hoping for from this series, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I mean, it's a story about a rogue (but severely limited) inhuman intelligence rolling into town with a crew of very nervous underlings and stirring up shit with every established social hierarchy she can get her fingers into; any way you slice it, that is solid material for a novel's worth of intrigue.

So it's a side-story to the main story I signed on for. A very good side-story, but, yeah: I'm hoping Ancillary Mercy will be a more thorough development of the chaos Breq kicked off in the first book.

Jessica Reisman — Brilliance (short)

July 30

A short story set in the same universe as The Z Radiant. It had flashes of what made TZR so intensely enjoyable for me, the sense of place and themes of chosen family and the sense of a whole universe moving at cyclone speeds just beyond the shelter of the eaves on a rainy night, but I really think the effect works better at novel length.

Free online.

roadrunnertwice: Yehuda biking in the rain. (YehudaMoon.Yehuda - Rain)

Nicola Griffith — Slow River

June 28

It was really hot out, I didn't have the juice for anything but sitting around and reading, and I wanted some near-future non-dudely sci-fi with a lot of grime in it. And sewage treatment definitely counts as grime. (So does child abuse, so be ready for that.)

I liked this a lot. It was well-written, lurid, and unusual. And also extraordinarily '90s, but in a subtle and actually really kind of refreshing way! Hard eco-fi is coming back, mark my words.

TANGENT. What are we all thinking about the term "feminist SF" these days? Me, I'm reluctant to bring it out unless a work is about gender in some significant way, largely because I get annoyed when I see it applied to fiction that has nothing in particular to say about gender but which happens to be written by someone with allegedly feminist beliefs. Is that sensible? Bogus? ...Well, I think the real answer is "no one cares about Nick's imaginary shelving system," but I was pondering it anyway, because I originally started writing this snippet by saying I wanted some near-future feminist sci-fi with grime, and on further consideration I wasn't sure whether I'd class Slow River as feminist SF or not! It's about a lot of stuff, but is it specifically a feminist book? I... don't think so? But maybe? Also, it won a Lambda award and who the hell do you think you are.

So I punted and changed that first sentence, because actually I hadn't particularly been looking for deep gender thoughts in the first place and mostly just wanted something with low dudeliness values. Solving classification problems by moving specificity to somewhere else in the system.

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki — This One Summer

Comics. June 13

This comic reads like a repressed or forgotten memory suddenly re-emerging in full fidelity — lifelike weight and detail, rendered alien and dreamlike and more than a little menacing by its discontinuity with what must have come before and after.

I don't mean that as metaphorically as you probably think I do; something about the forcefulness of Jillian Tamaki's observation and rendering, especially involving her... I dunno, sense of air and height — honestly made me feel like my memory was being interfered with. Left me kind of queasy. Could just be me, though; total recall void where prohibited, events remembered for you wholesale are not packaged for individual retail sale.

Anyway, it's really good. Disconcerting. It's supposed to be kind of alienating, because a lot of what it's about is that point at the start of adolescence where your sense of self starts to dissolve and — if you're lucky — you start to sense the danger that it might re-cohere into something you don't actually like. It's also about a bunch of really gnarly gender stuff, and has a merciless tendency to linger on moments of embarrassment or cruelty.

It's not a downer of a book; it's also about the small moments that make up a friendship or a family, and about the weird flow of time on vacation. Stuff like that. But at its core, it's dark and weird, and, like I said before, threateningly familiar.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Carla Speed McNeil — The Rescuers (re-read)

Comics. June 25.

Ruth just read this (I pushed a bunch of Finder on her after she enjoyed Dicebox), and talking with her made me really want to re-read it.

I can't remember what I said about it when I first read it, but this is very possibly the best book in the Finder series.

It might also be the worst jumping-on point. The whole point of Finder is that it's demanding and builds aggressively on prior context, but The Rescuers is on another level entirely. A new reader can understand what's going on if they pay attention, but I think the heart of the story is about how inevitable every shitty turn of events was. And that's the sort of thing you puzzle out afterwards, filling in blank after blank with what you remember from before.

The Rescuers is a tragedy, or maybe more like three to seven tragedies. It's about some events surrounding a botched kidnapping based loosely on the Lindbergh Baby case. There's no particular catharsis, and the story ends with a literal disintegration of the narrative: one endless page crumbling into ever smaller panels, fractally mimicking the failures of communication and connection that made any real resolution impossible.

It's bitter and cynical as hell, and unfailingly humane and generous as it breaks almost every character. Good fuckin' shit, easily the best dead baby comic of the aughts.

roadrunnertwice: Sigourney Weaver with a trucker 'stache. (Sigourney Weaver with a trucker 'stache)

Imogen Binnie — Nevada

May 8

This was very good and I'm still thinking about it. It's bold and weird; a short, intensely uncomfortable book with an abrupt and inconclusive ending. (Well, sort of inconclusive. You can see where it's going.)

I got this from Brook, and her take was that the central tragedy is Maria's self-confusion and hubris, and how badly she fucked things up with James. Brook figures James is definitely trans, and could have gotten on track to figure out their gender stuff, but that Maria handled things so incompetently that she set them back, maybe decades back. Me, I felt like I was seeing the edges of a deeper, broader pessimism that I'm having trouble articulating. Like maybe the book is about doubting that self-knowledge is transferable at all, and that the project of categories is so fundamentally flawed that finding better categories just gives you new and inventive ways to cause harm.

Well, I'm painting it like a downer, and like I said I'm still thinking about it, but I enjoyed reading it all the same.

Ann Leckie — Ancillary Justice

May 9

This was pretty much as good as everyone says it is. Liked it a lot, looking forward to the sequel.

I feel like I've talked enough about it IRL that I don't have a lot more to say in a review? Lemme see what I've got.

  • The Macguffin in the book's climax is a bizarrely random music history joke, so Leckie clearly has my number.
  • The faceted POV stuff in the Justice of Toren scenes was really well done. Tricky shit.
  • A lot of the most interesting stuff about the world comes out between the cracks of the larger stuff. Likewise with the stuff about gender; the big noisy thing is how the Radch's language doesn't mark gender in any way, and there's a narrative conceit that the story is translated from Radchii into a language that does mark gender, so Breq decides she doesn't give a fuck and just tags everyone as "she." But there's a lot of interesting nuance to unpack once you get used to that. For example, Breq isn't fully human; she's an artificial mind constructed by the Radch. Could she be worse at guessing gender than an average citizen, and might that be a purposeful part of her construction? Dunno; I haven't decided.
  • I like some of the little touches that mark Breq as not quite human. Like, she doesn't get bored.

T.A. Pratt — Spell Games (Marla Mason 4)

June 7

I like these books quite a lot, and it's hard to put an exact finger on why. The prose is all right, I guess, and they're reasonably inventive for that "-and-the-kitchen-sink" brand of urban fantasy. Usually it's the characters that elevate a book like this, if it's gonna be elevated, but I think they're also hovering somewhere around "good enough" — there's a decent mix of types, but no one has a huge amount of interiority, and they mostly maintain a cartoonish sort of resolution, with bold lines and bright colors.

But after a few confused attempts to explain these to friends, I think I have it: the Marla Mason books win because they follow through on their swing. Consequences happen, are not what you expect, and persist. Shit happens, and it's highly entertaining.

T. A. Pratt — Broken Mirrors (Marla Mason 5)

June 8

And there aren't really any redshirts in the series; if Pratt needs a sacrifice, he'll prefer to burn an interesting character who's been around for three books. Or four or five of those, in this case.

This book marks a decent almost-end for the story. There are more of them, which I'll probably read at some point, but they're clearly Season Two; this closes off Season One, and I was pretty satisfied with the outcome.

roadrunnertwice: Akira from _Galboy_ with roses bought on a whim. (Galboy.Akira - Unsteady romantic)

Terry Pratchett — Small Gods (re-read)

Mar 19

It was excellent when I was 20, and it's excellent still. A triumph of handling big ideas in a comedic mode, and also a triumph of handling big ideas in a fantastical mode, never mind the general hardness of the fantasy+comedy row w/r/t any kind of hoeing, much less hoeing at this level and with this material.

Matthew Bogart — The Chairs' Hiatus (comics)

Mar 31

I was drinking beer and texting Ruth about this comic (along with photos, which, y'all can just check out the free online version for visuals), and I think I'll just let two of those texts make up the meat of the review here.

This book has good confidence in its shots. The sort of panel sequence that's secure enough in the usage of the tools at hand that it's easy to read and yet you feel smarter for reading it.

A lack of redundancy, a burly parsimony.

John Green — The Fault in Our Stars

April 12

I found a copy at the Wave, and Ruth encouraged me to move it way up in the stack.

This book has a delicious sour-sweet clarity. It would have been so easy to corrupt a story like this with sentimentality and crud (and I've seen that so many times), and Green managed to keep not doing that right out through the end.

Daniel Suarez — Daemon and Freedom

May 4

Via my sister, who recommended these with caveats.

A two-part technothriller about a mad genius who causes a cyberapocalypse so he can posthumously restructure society. The characters are embarrassing paper dolls, the prose is slack at best, and it gets quite didactic in the back half.

But guess what, I was in the mood for something that didn't ask for a lot of emotional or aesthetic investment, with a relatively interesting plot and not much else. So I enjoyed this just fine!

Also, as far as cyberapocalypse thrillers go, it was actually very clever, showing a much better understanding of current technology than the norm. And, up to a point, a better than normal understanding of social technology. (e.g., your hacking skills don't have to be magical if you can afford to hire insider saboteurs at a generous wage and can punish defection with violence.)

It lost me a bit in the second book. The ongoing cleverness of the central conceit got sacrificed for the political program and the plot, and the centralization necessary to make the daemon's second-stage faction-based social systems work kind of put the lie to the decentralization that helped it survive and consolidate in the first book. And about said political program: once I realized it basically boiled down to "Reddit and WoW save the world," I was kind of out.

But man, how seductive is the idea of being able to just straight-up execute a corporation? I won't lie, I was into that.

roadrunnertwice: DTWOF's Lois in drag. Dialogue: "Dude, just rub a little Castrol 30 weight into it. Works for me." (DTWOF.Lois - Castrol)

Martha Wells — Stories of the Raksura vol. 1

Feb 13

Yay, more Raksura funtimes!

Okay, these novellas don't really stand alone, and are basically deep cuts / fanservice for people who dug the three Raksura novels. But that's me, so... cool. By the way, have I mentioned you should totally read The Cloud Roads?

José Luis Borges — several stories, including Tlön, Pierre Menard, and Forking Paths

Feb 7

I'd forgotten how creepy "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" actually is. Especially this time, when I realized that the character who kicks off the story about a parasitic fictional world subsuming the real one is Adolfo Bioy Casares. ???!!!!!!!

Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith — Stranger

Jan 27

Isaac and I have this ongoing conversation about apocalypticism and post-apocalypticism in fiction. I'm usually wary and kind of grumpy about it, and he loves it and thought I was being ridiculous, so we had to go around the table a few times until I could explain that allergy coherently.

Isaac's points are all legit: stakes are important in adventure stories, and a hostile environment is a solid way to raise the stakes. The memories of a world in collapse offer interesting perspective on the pre-collapse world, revealing its underlying bizarreness in ways that a contemporary setting can't. Stuff like that. I love that shit too! But there are basically two reasons I'm always initially leery about post-apocalyptic stories.

First, it's the vehicle of choice for annoying gun fantasies. Society collapsed so NOW, FINALLY, we can have an Important Story about Armed Men, who were totally right about human nature! Don't want. (I'm not even gonna say this is the most common failure state of the genre, just that it takes up enough space that I start out skeptical.)

Second: this is a bit more nebulous, but I think the more complete a fictional dystopia is, the more likely I am to find a sermon instead of a story. In this, I think hyper-regimented control societies (very popular in YA and middle grade since the '90s at least) and 100% anarchic post-apocalypses are two sides of the same coin. These worlds have a tendency to be badly, cartoonishly incomplete, because their inhabitants have to act really unnaturally to maintain them in the required state.

I guess both of those point in the same direction: I demand that any post-apocalyptic world have a lot of interesting stuff to do for people who aren't badass warriors roaming the wastes. Like, you can still have all the main characters be down for wasteland funtimes! But the setting needs to include regular people doing what regular people do — banding together, building stuff, worrying about trivialities, having feuds, having ambitions, fucking up.

You must presuppose that the lives of people doing something other than shoot motherfuckers are interesting and have value.

Uh, anyway! Stranger passes that test with flying colors. The walled town of Las Anclas was an awesome setting, I liked the ensemble cast and their multitude of conflicting ambitions, King Voske's empire-building made an excellent threat, and I will totally read the sequel.

Martha Wells — The Wheel of the Infinite (re-read)

Mar 1

I'd forgotten most of what happened in this one, and I ran across the ebook while copying everything to my kindle, so I gave it a quick re-read.

I’d forgotten how weird the denouement was! I was remembering it as a plot I've seen before from Wells (undead spirits from another world ruin everything), and it definitely starts going there, but then it takes a hard left turn into a problem arguably even worse than vampires from the ghost dimension? Rad.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Eh, it's been a while. Let's drop a book post.

Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber — Superior Foes of Spider Man, vol. 1

Jan 3, 2015

Okay, I was ready for this to be one of those comedy "villain" stories with a highly telegraphed heel-face turn so that everyone's misdeeds are pre-tinted with a sepia oh-but-they're-really-just-lovable-scamps filter. Which could have been fine, because there're right and wrong ways to do that, and it all ends up depending on tone.

But no! The protagonist is truly a total shitbird, and once I caught on to that (sure, it said so at the beginning or something but I didn't buy it) I enjoyed the book even more. Fred's saccharine folksy narration starts out aggravating, but once it becomes clear how sociopathic and incompetent it is, it's actually kind of great.

The writing is solid, and the art is fabulous, and they work very well together, with a fine eye for visual comedy. And a predilection for word balloons containing inappropriate non-word objects, which in my opinion never gets old.

William Gibson - Pattern Recognition (re-read)

Jan 12

I hadn't read this for a good long while, so I picked it back up during Second Christmas.

I'd forgotten how physically uncomfortable the part about catfishing Taki was! And I'd forgotten how his subplot actually got a satisfying ending when I thought it was going to just stay gross and bummersville, yaaay. I'd also forgotten that Cayce gets together with someone at the end of the book?!

All told, I actually think this is my least favorite of that trilogy, although it seems to be the most popular. But "least favorite of the Bigend trilogy" still makes for a great book.

William Gibson - Spook Country (re-read)

Jan 14

...and then since I had my momentum up I went ahead and re-read Spook Country. I don't think I need to add anything about this, I reviewed it really recently anyway. In some ways this is my fave in the series, and in other ways Zero History is. ZH suffers from lack of Tito. It was cool and refreshing to jettison the techno-psychojustifications and just have him be an actual mystic, a post-communist warrior monk.

Jessica Reisman - The Z Radiant (re-read)

Feb 6

I reviewed this pretty recently, and don't have much to add. It's still really good, yo!!!

Andrea K. Höst — Touchstone trilogy: Stray, Lab Rat One, and Caszandra

Jan 31, Feb 2, Feb 3

(First book is free, both on Smashwords (all formats) and on Kindle.)

This was the shit! Junk-food reading almost perfectly tailored to my tastes. I read it compulsively.

The setup is that a random Australian teen walks through a random dimensional gate and ends up on an alien planet... in the middle of shitty nowhere. In the woods. But then after (barely) surviving for a few weeks, she gets rescued by some humans from a third planet, and the plot starts in earnest.

There's a lot to love in here! Well-written characters, ancient civilizations, semi-alien cultures, archaeology, planet-wrecking calamities, psychic powers, secret militaries, freaky-ass monsters, teen drama, reality TV, and Mysterious Shit that actually culminates in a pretty impressive payoff. Special bonus points for the depiction of that third planet, Tare: it's not a dystopia, but it definitely sucks in a lot of ways, and Höst did a good job keeping it mysterious and cool while showing what a mixed bag it is.

(Although, the way the Setari are organized seems like a repurposed concept for a video game. But I give Höst a pass for it, because A: everything is really well integrated into the world, and B: that game would have been badass.)

Bonus Level: Transistor

Feb 8 (video game)

That ending is pretty much bullshit. And while the final battle was an awesome setpiece, I think it was incompletely set up.

But right up until then, I loved this, and I think I'd still recommend it (with those caveats). The environments were beautiful and awesome, the gameplay was fun, the narration was well done. And I liked the main character a lot. Design-wise, I consider her a good example of a female lead who's beautiful but really not sexualized. And although she's a silent protagonist, we see a lot of personality in her movements, the way she ignores suggestions and refuses to turn back, the stuff she types into the terminals.

The plot was really interesting, too: higher-level application constructs in a virtual universe accidentally gaining access to lower-level functionality and getting overwhelmed by it? And hence the omnipotence of the "Transistor," at the lowest of levels? That is a cool approach to a my-virtual-universe-is-crumbling type of story, and weirdly it felt a lot more... rigorous? than various other attempts I've seen?

The gameplay was knuckle-biting once in a while, with optional limiters to make it tougher if you start to get ahead of the curve. (And some formal challenges that sort of teach you how to break the game. When my most convenient functions got overloaded during a perf test, I had to fall back on help() and learned that I’d missed its potential by not enhancing it — turns out a properly kitted-out Super Friend can do ~750 backstab damage in a turn, or have a blast radius, etc.)

Isaac's theory was that the characters have forgotten they're in an MMO, and getting killed by the Transistor boots you back out of that MMO, with the farm in the ending being the real world. I disagree; I think the farm is a sentimental depiction of a dubious afterlife, cf. the numerous references to being "sent to the country" in the unlockable flavor text and its resemblance therein to the traditional "we sent Marfy to live on a farm in the country" dodge when the family dog gets put to sleep.

My theory of the game is that we never even get a glimpse of the "real" world. Royce and his cadre got access to a lower level of reality, and it was so unlike normal application-space that they experienced the beings down there as, like, eldritch horrors. But it's still a construct, and I don't think they ever breached down into an uncomputed universe. And I don't think the sentient beings in application space originate outside the computed universe, or at least they don't each directly correspond to a person in the real world. What's outside the simulation is a mystery.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

Okay: I've seen a bunch of suggestions (often with infographic) for how to read the Discworld books, and I disagree with the whole pile of them. Please don't read Discworld in a linear or parallel-linear order!

Look, Pratchett has always known you'd be picking his books at random from the spinner rack/secondhand store/library shelf. (Though arguably that's less true than it's ever been.) He purposefully wrote to welcome newcomers, and a moderately good reader of either fantasy or humor can start from pretty much any book and get up to speed on the fly without much effort. He'll fill you in on what you need to know, and the later books (by and large) don't spoil the experience of the earlier books. There's almost no wrong way you could contrive to read these.

Well, there is one wrong way: read the weakest (and least representative) books first, i.e. start from "the beginning" (s). I cringe for real every time someone says to start with Color of Magic.

So forget that! Here are the two best ways to read Discworld:

  • Start with the books your friends enjoyed the most, so y'all can jam about them afterwards. Then do whatever.
  • Start with solid, representative, mid-series books from the various sub-groupings of Discworld books. Then do whatever.

The Modified Thriftstore Order of Discworld

Well, if you're taking that second path, you might like the names of some solid, representative, mid-series books. I can do that!

In the lists below, I think all the books in the #1 slots are really good and would work well as starters. Read one at random, then read another one at random.

Going Postal and Night Watch are my favorite Discworld books (along with Small Gods), but they actually do benefit from a bit of context, so hit those after you've read a couple Watch books.

After that, follow your nose or just grab whatever's checked in at the library!


  1. Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, and/or Carpe Jugulum, in any order.
  2. The Tiffany Aching books, in published order. (They're about a young person growing up, so their continuity is stronger than normal for Discworld.)
  3. Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters, if you're really feeling it.


  1. Feet of Clay and/or Men at Arms, because they're solid, they're representative, and they're the two whose outcomes tend to get referenced constantly in later books.
  2. Night Watch is the best Watch book, but it works best after you've read one or two other ones.
  3. Remaining Watch books in any order, although Snuff would probably be weird if you read it before Thud.


  1. Monstrous Regiment and Small Gods are good overall starters.
  2. Going Postal is GREAT, and it's best after you've read one or two Watch books.
  3. The Truth, Moving Pictures, Making Money (don't read before Postal), and Unseen Academicals are all nice breaks from the Watch or Witches books, once you've read a few of each.
  4. TBH, I consider the Rincewind books to be deep cuts — they have a different sensibility from most of the other books, a combination of fatalistic misery and straight-up unhinged wackiness. I know a ton of people would disagree with me, but I say leave them 'til you've already done some exploring.
  5. The Death books are also deep cuts.
roadrunnertwice: Sigourney Weaver with a trucker 'stache. (Sigourney Weaver with a trucker 'stache)

There's at least one more post to write to catch the last of the 2013ers, and I might finish a comic tomorrow, but other than that I think we're set.

William Gibson — The Peripheral

Nov 1, 2014

OH MAN. NEW FUCKIN' BILL GIBSON. And it's a good one. I went and saw duder at Powell's a day or two after this came out, and burned through the book in a few days.

This was a big shift after the Blue Ant trilogy. In fact, it's far more science fictional than I think he's ever been. But he's using what he learned from the Blue Ant books to really good effect. I kind of don't want to say any more than that, because this is that rare book where it actually improves the experience tremendously to go in with no spoilers or expectations.

William Gibson — Idoru

Nov 30, 2014

I'd never read the Bridge trilogy, but I think Nigel was telling me they hold up really well, so I gave this a shot. I liked it, but not nearly as well as the Blue Ant books. But you know, it's Gibson, so I was reading it more or less compulsively until it was done.

Melina Marschetta — Finnikin of the Rock

Sept. 1, 2014

YA fantasy about a kingdom in exile, after a cataclysmic assassination / coup / invasion / genocide / curse quintuple-feature. (It was not a good month for the kingdom of Lumatere.) I found this via somebody's review, probably [personal profile] coffeeandink or [personal profile] rushthatspeaks.

This was very good! An angry and needle-sharp book, which moves quickly and makes old maneuvers seem unexpected and dangerous.

Books I Stopped Reading: Melina Marschetta — Froi of the Exiles

Oct 2014

This, on the other hand, I was just not feeling, and I eventually put it down. It's a well-written book trying to do some interesting things, telling a difficult story about what happens after the restoration, and I'll probably come back to it some day. But I really wasn't in the right headspace for it.

Kip Manley — The City of Roses vol. 2: The Dazzle of Day

Apr 29, 2014

Okay look. I've been reading this story since, uh... literally 2004 (because I know I printed out the first three chapters on University College Cork's library laser printer and, after reading them twice, abandoned them on a shelf for someone else to find). I'm extremely fond of the author and his whole family. I might not be the one to go to for a clear-eyed assessment of this long-running serial's final chapters.

So I'll keep this short:

  • I think he stuck the landing. This was good, damn good.
  • If you're curious, you can start reading the series on the web. Actually the whole thing's online.
  • After reading it this long, the central constellation of characters is practically iconic or mythic to me now. (I think the cyclic repetitions of an episodic format lend themselves to a mythic or epic quality, actually, but I don't want to guess too much at how deliberate that is. Insert something here about television being a new semi-oral epic tradition; insert other thing about literary formats self-consciously descended from post-90s long-form television.)
  • The prose, as I think I've mentioned before, is probably not for everyone, but I love it.
  • I think it manages to do something new and interesting with the most classic of urban fantasy setups. "Elves in the city" is a tough row to hoe these days, but by going back to first principles yet staying in dialogue with what came before, Kip made something actually pretty fresh.

Tobias Buckell — Arctic Rising

Nov. 21, 2014

I started reading this in tandem with Crystal Rain, the first book in Buckell's earlier series. Vive la difference, though — these books almost seem to be written by completely different authors. Arctic Rising was a pop action thriller, running on fairly standard pop action thriller prose/structure/POV/rhythm; real unassuming pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain kind of stuff. No shyness about telling the reader exactly what people are thinking and exactly what the implications were of whatever just happened. Crystal Rain took more time to set a mood, messed around with POV a lot more, left more to be decoded.

And Crystal Rain seemed more like my kind of book, TBH, but I got sidetracked and this ended up being the one I actually finished this year.

It was all right! The writing may have adhered to thriller standards, but the freed-up cognitive effort all got funneled into social and geopolitical extrapolation. It was intriguing, and it was what I was in the mood for.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

I wonder if I can finish these 2013/2014 book posts by the new year? PROBABLY NOT, but let's keep it rolling, and I'll do another one tonight.

Bryan Lee O'Malley — Seconds

Comics. Jul 19, 2014

This was really good. I don't have much more to say about it, it just pretty much nailed everything it was trying to do. It was cute and creepy and moody and funny. Do the thing, read the comic.

O'Malley's cartooning ability has continued to mature, to a point where I have a hard time even describing some of the stuff he's doing with time and space and perceptual shifts. He is working on a very advanced level and making it look easy. Also, his assistants and colorist have done a lot to boost the page-for-page budget for beauty and detail; this book looks phenomenal.

Lloyd Alexander — The Book of Three

Apr ???, 2014

I somehow missed reading the Chronicles of Prydain when I was a sprout; I know I picked up The Black Cauldron at some point (it was the paperback with art from the Disney movie on it) and I know I bounced off it, but I don't... fully... remember why. I think not having read the first book made the beginning of the second too much to catch up with, and I think I probably wasn't in tune with the sense of situational humor, especially the whole thing with the pig. I don't remember how old I was.

ANYWAY THOUGH, this was GREAT. Pretty much the ideal blend of straightforwardness and sophistication for kid lit, and enough distinctive detail in the world and characters to stand far out from the pack.

Lloyd Alexander — The Black Cauldron

May 7, 2014


William Gibson — Zero History

Apr 14, 2014

I liked this even better than Spook Country. A techno-thriller about pants was a strong contender for my favorite book of the year.

UGH, now I want to re-read this whole trilogy again. Yeah, I'm doing it. Getting out Pattern Recognition right now.

Robin Hobb — Assassin's Apprentice

Summer??, 2014

At Isaac's recommendation.

I eventually liked this! At first I was turned off by the dolorous tone of the narration, but after a while that faded into the background. The events of the story were super engaging, and I kind of liked the young version of Fitz.

I've heard mixed opinions on whether I'll enjoy the other two books in this trilogy as much, but I'm totally willing to give 'em a shot and am interested in what happens next.

roadrunnertwice: Crow perched on a trail signpost. (Crow on signposts)

Tenea D. Johnson -- Smoketown

June 7, 2014

This book was odd as hell! Not least on the genre front:

  • It takes place in a futuristic city in the eastern US, post major climate change, where sensory/emotional simulations are the entertainment of choice, which is arguably mundane SF.
  • But there's an intense enough sense of place and preoccupation with place to push it into urban SF (by parallel with the late-80s/early-90s iteration of “urban fantasy”).
  • Also, the city is traumatized in the wake of a plague and lives in fear of birds, with importation banned and a killing forcefield walling in the sky, which maybe qualifies it as a soft eco-dystopia with a strong strain of post-9/11 American soul-searching. (I realize those aren’t consensus genres, but shut up, stay with me here.)
  • Except that the main character has godlike magical powers of no knowable origin and can create animals from drawings, so that's DEFINITELY urban fantasy in probably a post-’00s-urban-fantasy mode.
  • And at one point years ago (INCOMING SPOILER, but it doesn't ruin the book), in a trance of grief, she created a real live human woman in straight-up YHWH flesh-from-clay style, and you can't call THAT genre anything other than “Actual O.G. Frankenstein.”
  • And for completeness we should mention that it's also lesbian SF and African American SF.

I loved it. This book is fuckin’ wild and maybe a bit of a mess, the sort of thing you'd write if you were worried no one would let you write another book and you figured you had to get it all out in one go. But it has awesome energy and a delicious sense of atmosphere, and I think I can honestly say I haven't seen anything like it. I will definitely keep an eye out for Tenea Johnson’s other stuff.

Francesca Forrest -- Pen Pal

Jul 5, 2014

I enjoyed this intensely. It's an epistolary novel about a girl who lives in a marginalized and fragile shore community on the Gulf Coast (think Beasts of the Southern Wild, kinda, sorta) and a woman held political prisoner above the fuming crater of an active volcano. In the first of several almost (but not quite) plausibly deniable magical events, they become pen pals, and then a lot of stuff happens.

This wasn't like anything else I've read this year, and it's extremely good. “Might have cried a bit” good, we're talking. Excellent prose, haunting voice. (And also it's only like $5 on Kindle.)

roadrunnertwice: Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便)、 minding the bakery. (Kiki - Welcome to the working week)

Richard Stark -- The Jugger

Nov. 15, 2014

There are probably a fair amount of Parker novels that are odd for a Parker novel (there's a bazillion of the things), but this is the oddest one I've read so far. There's no heist, about a quarter of the book is an extended flashback that has nothing to do with Parker, and he ends the book in a much worse position than he started in, after a clever getaway plan collapses for reasons he had no control over.

The grim joke about how the hole in the basement got used was pretty great. But overall, I'd say read some other Parker book instead.

Books I Stopped Reading: My True Love Gave to Me (Various)

Dec. 2014

An anthology of popular YA writers doing "holiday stories" seems like a bizarre artifact to me, but it probably shouldn't. That is a perfectly sensible thing to publish.

There were probably some other good stories in here, but look, I'm sorry, I just checked it out for the uncollected Kelly Link story, "The Fox and the Lady." (Which was excellent, and probably the only Tam Lin retelling/adaptation I've seen that just nailed it with no caveats needed. This is now the one I'll point to if anyone asks me what's up with Tam Lin. Not that this ever happens, but still.)

I meant to read some of the other stories, but then the book was due back at the library, so bye.

Jacqueline Woodson -- Brown Girl Dreaming

Dec. 8, 2014

I guess this just won a National Book Award! So there's an endorsement.

I enjoyed this autobiography quite a bit. In some ways it's a very straightforward book, and in other ways it's incredibly odd.

The whole thing is done as a series of poems, which I still think is a strange choice for what's essentially a continuous narrative work. (Or, uh... strange for a modern narrative work meant to be read and archived rather than sung and orally preserved.) I keep wondering why she did it that way; it works, to be sure, but it's weird. The best I've got for now is that it has something to do with memory being a fragmentary and disjointed experience.

Garth Nix -- Lirael and Abhorsen

Aug 24, 2014

After I finished re-reading Sabriel, I finally got around to its sequel, which has been waiting on my shelf since like '07. Lirael/Abhorsen is basically one book -- the series does that duology-published-as-trilogy thing, where Sabriel stands fine by itself and is followed by a more sprawling second story with a largely new cast and a significant time gap.

I'll probably read Sabriel again someday, but I doubt I'll come back to this one; it was decent enough, but I didn't love it.

Things I liked: this is a fantasy story partly centered around a believable loving family going through a believable rough patch. I feel like that's pretty unusual! And I eventually got quite into the rhythm of Lirael's magic unschooling plotline. It wasn't what I expected at all after Sabriel, but it was interesting and well done.

Things I wasn't really into: most of the sections involving Sameth and Nicholas Sayre. Bluh, it just wasn't any fun to read. And the villain sucked! Kerrigor from Sabriel was twisted and unpredictable and fun, but the Destroyer just kind of plows forward like a shitty wind-up toy. And Chlorr and Hedge could have been interesting if they'd actually acted according to their personalities and ambitions, but since their will is just completely subsumed by the Destroyer, they suck too. So the overarching plot and conflict of the book is just kind of uninteresting. There's some cool stuff in the heroes' interactions and self-reflection, but the framework is bland.

Also... I didn't like how it explained everything that was left mysterious in Sabriel. There were a few payoffs that I thought were fantastic: I really enjoyed seeing the final regions of Death, for example. But a big part of the magic of Sabriel's wordbuilding was how much it left unsaid, and this book lacked any of that restraint.

roadrunnertwice: Tyr ransoming his hand to Loki's wolf. (Norse.JohnBauer - Tyr and Fenrir)

Having this one sitting in the queue un-posted is making me nervous, so may as well get it up here.

Lundy Bancroft -- Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Sept. 2013

I had to read this fast in the middle of an emergency last year (actually two completely unconnected emergencies), and it was incredibly helpful.

I won't publicly post about any of that yet, for a couple of reasons. (But feel free to contact me privately, especially if you think you know what I'm talking about.) Which is a bit of a bummer, because I wanted to talk about some relevant details about HOW this book was helpful, but fuck it, may as well at least post about generalities. It's important.

Here is my review: Everyone should read this book at their earliest convenience. Do it now while you have the luxury of time, because trying to catch up when shit's on fire totally sucks.

If we're on speaking terms and you need a copy of this book, I can get you one. I think there's also a ripped PDF of it floating around out there.

It's well-organized and easy to skim, so it's easy to get what you need out of it without having to read the whole thing. It's actually consciously designed for picking and choosing while reading in a hurry, and I recommend jumping around a bit and following your curiosity.

Bancroft knows his shit and this book in particular is pretty universally acclaimed. It seems to be the go-to resource for learning to identify and respond to abusive patterns of behavior.

What I found most useful about this book was its explanation of how seemingly unrelated behaviors link together into patterns, and how those patterns come out of an underlying mindset. It focuses on men abusing women, on account of the patriarchy being a real thing, but I can tell you from experience that Bancroft's info and insight is very applicable in other cases.

Please read this book.

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

Garth Nix — Sabriel (re-read)

Aug 17, 2014

This book is pretty great. It’s about a young necromancer trying to rescue her father and save the kingdom from a very nasty piece of exhumed ex-humanity. (This one’s been around for a while and there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it before.)

Anyway, it’s a lean and well-paced fantasy adventure, and Sabriel is a cool heroine — she’s a teenager, but she’s also a professional who’s been training for a decade to take over the family business (of destroying the unquiet dead), and she’s brave and tough without being brash or flamboyant. Actually, now that I think of it, Tokine from Kekkaishi resembles her a lot.

So as you can guess, the book does that thing where you establish the protag as a competent badass and then throw her against something that’s still way out of her league. (I am a sucker for that thing.)

The setting is awesome too: Sabriel and her dad hail from a magic-rich fantasy land, but she’s been going to school in a low-magic country that resembles early/mid-20th century England. You can cross between the worlds on foot, though the border’s militarized and trying it without the appropriate visa is a good way to get your ass shot.

The way the border works makes a certain internal sense, but is never fully explained, which is the case with much of the world here. It’s an excellent approach: systematic, but with a great deal of the system obscured, both to the reader and the characters. Careful choice of key names does a lot of heavy lifting, too. For example: “Charter Magic.” Consider for a moment how much info is packed in there: there has been some sort of agreement made, and accordingly Rules to be Followed. And when the name “Free Magic” arrives — a name that would normally be neutral or positive — the reader is instead like, “ruh-roh.”

Anyway, I’m not going to go much further with this, but this book does enough things right that it’s worth taking apart and understanding. It’s well-assembled.

(Well, mostly. The language is fine for the first long chunk, but once there’s another major character who sticks around for more than a scene or two, it settles into some frustratingly bad head-hop narration. People: please don’t do this with your close-in 3rd. It’s so bogus to read.)

William Gibson — Distrust That Particular Flavor

Sept 27, 2014

A mixed bag of odd old stuff. Some of these essays and magazine pieces and speeches were slight and no longer relevant, and some of them were straight-up fascinating. I enjoyed reading them all, though.

I liked the decision to disarrange everything out of any conceivable order.

John Darnielle — Wolf in White Van

Oct 14, 2014

This was a really good book, and I’m still chewing on pieces of it.

John Darnielle has made a bunch of my favorite records as The Mountain Goats, but he also used to write a zine called Last Plane to Jakarta, and his Twitter and Tumblr skills are excellent — he’s really good about approaching new media as they are, instead of how the last one was. And he’s a hell of a storyteller in general. So I was pretty excited about this from the get-go, without the usual “that singer you like is writing a book” trepidation.

Anyway: he’s not writing as The Mountain Goats here, but the M.O. is familiar. Sort of. Do you remember that thing he did with the Alpha cycle, that spiraling approach where he obliquely walls off possibilities one by one until you’re left with only the way things had to go?

Well, this isn’t that. But it sort of smells the same.

roadrunnertwice: DTWOF's Lois in drag. Dialogue: "Dude, just rub a little Castrol 30 weight into it. Works for me." (DTWOF.Lois - Castrol)
HEY, let's talk about Kelly Link stories you could make a legitimately good movie out of.

(I think this is a fun game mostly because her stories are so generally unfilmable. I mean my god, imagine taking a try at "Lull.")

Anyway, I nominate "Flying Lessons," "The Faery Handbag," and "Valley of the Girls." Those ones use the "tell" channel for flavor and depth, but confine most of the actual storytelling to the "show" channel, so they'd probably work.

("Valley" least of the bunch, but it's a Shakespearean tragedy at heart and those are eminently performable. You'd have to rearrange the skeleton a bit, but you could totally do it.)

Also, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" is fundamentally unfilmable but could make for a terrifying video game.

Has anyone else here spent much time thinking about "Flying Lessons?" Here's my thing about that story: It's dressed up to look like a genderswapped modern Orpheus story, but I think it's actually a Tam Lin story in disguise. Fight me.

Tam Lin is such a fuckin baffler of a phenomenon, by the way. Once I finally got what the appeal was, it seemed like it should be money in the bank, adaptation-wise. It works. But most of the takes I've ever seen are punishingly oblique, with a marked tendency to crawl up their own buttholes. (And the original has been rendered oblique just by the passage of time.) What's up with that? Has anyone seen an accessible modern version of the story? (Other than "Flying Lessons," which I really do want to wrangle about with someone.)
roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (HarryPotter.Hagrid - Two wheels good)
Still chewing through these two years worth of books to review.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl

May 26, 2014

This book can be read as a psychological thriller, and that reading is probably why it’s been so popular and is getting a movie. But after considering for a while, I think it’s actually an extremely dark comedy, which not a lot of people are prepared to find funny.

(Among other things, that comedic reading is my theory for why Nick Dunne, stupidest man in the world, is still alive at the start of the book and hasn’t died by walking into an open manhole or trying to fuck a cactus or something.)

Ursula Murray Husted – The Lions of Valletta

Comics. Sept. 23, 2013

This was cute! A short GN about stray cats, art history, Venice, and metaphysics.

Kate Bornstein – Gender Outlaw

Mar 21, 2014

A bit of remedial gender topics reading! With at least one immediately useful piece of theory, which was nice. This book is old as hell by now, so it’s an odd combination of historical record and things we, as a society, still haven’t gotten a good grip on.

I don’t yet have a good way to summarize the gender-related stuff that’s been on my mind lately, so I’ll just leave that be for now.

I literally found this in a free box on my block right when I was in the mood to read it.

Richard Stark – Butcher’s Moon

July 28, 2014

More Parker! Parker is great. You should read Parker. Especially if you’re in a bad mood and just want to see some assholes get theirs.

I’m reading these all out of order — this is the one that ended series one of the Parker books. I’ll have to re-read it once I’ve seen more from all the side characters that come in for encores. But even without prior context, I loved this.

Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb – The Midas Flesh

Comics. July… or August? 2014

I was lukewarm on this, and I think it was in large part because everyone except the main villain talked like T-Rex being very excited about something. The stylization of North’s dialogue works very well for something like Adventure Time, and I expect it will work for Squirrel Girl, but this book doesn’t benefit from it.

Plot-wise, it had some interesting ramifications on the central conceit. Art-wise, it was very very attractive! But the moment-to-moment experience of reading it didn’t satisfy. It needed more dramatic and emotional range.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Jessica Reisman – The Z Radiant

Sept 2013

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A treat of a character-driven planetary SF novel, with an intensely flavorful sense of place. I liked this a ton. I borrowed it from the library last year, and just bought the ebook for a re-read. You can read the first chapter here.

I’m pretty sure I found this via a recommendation from Martha Wells.

The plot is solid — revenge, human experimentation, psychic powers, family secrets, and a once-a-generation planetary trade festival for the backdrop — but the characters and their relationships and the setting and the feel of it all were what made the book for me. I liked life on Nentesh; it had a lovely and comfortable rhythm to it. You’ll see what I mean by the end of that first chapter — I love that sequence of Aren’s motorbike errand in the rain, his dazed arrival at Juven’s house, Juven helping him to bed in the quiet after the card game; such a perfect read for the start of a Northwest winter.

The language is good. Reisman has a deft touch with smell and texture, which is always nice. Occasional bouts of infodump, but not enough to rankle.

A bunch of the characters are bi or of ambiguous sexuality, which I appreciate. And I have a thought about this, but it isn’t fully baked yet. So, I’ve spent a bunch of time reading Dykes to Watch Out For and Bitter Girl, both of which are long-running cast-of-dozens comic strip soap operas populated almost entirely by lesbians, and I noticed something hard to pin down about them. My vague theory that when everyone in the core cast is (at least theoretically) fair game for any other member of the core cast, it fundamentally changes the function of romance and sex in the story. Changes it into something I think I like better. And getting a bunch of bisexuals into the mix moves a story closer to that. I can’t quite tell you HOW things change, but I did warn you this was half-baked.

Finally: I spend a lot of time thinking about Ninuel’s awesome psychic-construct dog whenever I remember this book.

Finally finally: Sir. THAT COVER. Not the ebook cover! That one’s fine. It’s a bit amateurish, but not risible; no real need to rag on it. But the original hardback is TRULY NEXT-LEVEL. I mean oh my god. Friends, I carried that around in public for a week.

(Unnecessary sidebar: I had never heard of the original publisher, Five Star, so I looked into them and was fascinated by their weird ecological niche. It looks — FROM WHAT I CAN TELL — like they publish high build-quality hardback fiction and then don’t even try to sell into trade bookstores, focusing totally on the library market. Is that even possible? Like, can you sustain an SF small press like that??? Well, apparently! Who knew. This thread at Absolute Write was enlightening; see especially Keltora’s reply about halfway down.)

Kelly Link – Pretty Monsters

Oct 7, 2014

I was stalled out in the book I was reading (Froi of the Exiles; I enjoyed Finnikin of the Rock a LOT, but just couldn’t get into this one), and wondering what I should switch to, and then Brenna tweeted about doing a Halloween re-read of Kelly Link and I was like yesssss. And it so happened that I had a stash of unread Link stories squirreled away!

Pretty Monsters has six new* stories and three reprints from Stranger Things and M4B. I’d already read “The Wizards of Perfil” and “The Wrong Grave,” and buried the other four to dig up come winter. I tend to do this with collections of short stories, and also with essays. Sometimes with chocolate, very rarely with dried fruit; I can control myself with essays, but dried fruit just tends to vanish when my attention wanders.

* (Well, uncollected. There’s only one “new” one.)

Anyway, I dunno what you want me to say about Kelly Link, dude. If you aren’t reading Kelly Link, you need to be. That’s pretty much the end of the review; the rest of this is going to be me just jamming with other people in the know.

  • I think “Wizards of Perfil” gets my vote for sleeper hit of this collection. I am like ANGRY at how many things it gets right.
  • “Constable of Abal” has very good texture in parts, but I think it flubs the ending a bit. It’s doing a similar “BUT ALL ALONG,…” twist as “Perfil,” but it’s leaning too heavily on said twist, whereas in Perfil half the point is that the twist is almost beside the point.
  • “Monster” made me laugh, but it’s definitely the kind of story you only get to do once.
  • “The Wrong Grave” is ROCK SOLID. I guess it could have used a bit of a trim at the end, but wow, that story is exactly the sort of thing you cannot get from any other writer today.
  • I’m still thinking about “Pretty Monsters.” Isaac thinks the meta-ness of the structure didn’t stitch the parts into a satisfying whole; I might agree, but I’m not sure yet. But certainly any given section of it was GREAT just in the experience of reading it. Would it have held up better as two separate but similar stories? Maybe. Dunno yet.
  • “The Surfer” pulled zero punches and I liked it a lot. It has more worldbuilding (which I use here to mean self-consistent and systematic divergences or extrapolations from contemporary consensus reality) than almost any of her stories (see p. much only “Valley of the Girls” for other contenders), but is essentially a pure character piece, where the pleasure is in seeing the past and present revealed, and you end with a feeling of “Okay, I’ve caught up! What next?”
  • And of course, “M4B,” “The Specialist’s Hat,” and “The Faery Handbag” are exactly as superb as they were last time around. (Isaac’s take on “M4B” is similar to his take on “Pretty Monsters,” and I totally disagree; I think the nested and then de-nested meta-structure actually adds emotional and thematic heft.)


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Nick Eff

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