Okay, so first off, why are you bringing Bundy family fanfic into my home.
Where did you get that. Why is that even a thing. God dammit.
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Okay, so first off, why are you bringing Bundy family fanfic into my home.
Where did you get that. Why is that even a thing. God dammit.
January 4, 2016
Hahahahaha oh my god. This was great. I don't think I have anything non-dumb to say about it, though. It has a generous sprinkle of the ol’ Gatsby nature, so tune in if you like watching rich people swan-dive into dumpsters? It's tense and incredibly slick? It's out of sync with consensus chronology somehow? I DON'T KNOW. I just loved it.
Well, wait, I have this little fragment: it's God’s own perfect antidote to Pamela Dean's rendition of Tam Lin. (That's too obscure for a real book review [which luckily this isn't], but if you've read Dean's Tam you know exactly what I mean, even if you liked it in a way I couldn't.)
A li'l novel about being young and sucking.
A lot of this book is about struggling with anxiety and embarrassment, and kind of generally just being at a lower level of social development than everyone around you, and damn, for me that made it a tough read. But it's really well-constructed, it abjures easy outs, and it follows through on its swing. Good shit. 👌🏼
??? ??, ????
I distinctly remember reading this at an outdoor table at the La Bonita on Alberta Street during one of the last four summers, but apparently I never wrote it down. What the fuck.
Well, it's been long enough that I only have a vague impression of its content anymore. Also, I read it soon after Ta-Nehesi Coates'd done a periodic series of blog posts about Baldwin and his legacy, so I feel like what I'm most remembering is TNC's Baldwin rather than the undiluted substance.
It was a heady and confronting book, and quite short (two long essays), but that's almost all I remember of it — I retained the sensation, but I lost the précis. I'll have to revisit someday.
This compilation is incredibly silly!! AFAICT the brief was "Whatever you want as long as WOLFMEN, also try and be at least slightly anime."
Most of the stories are like 8 pages tops, which isn't enough time to do... really... anything... story/character-wise, but at least 2/3 of them were good fun with high-quality high-personality art. If you're not sure whether to give a shit, read this and it should clear up everything.
Aug 9 (sorta)
Like with short stories, I don't read poetry collections whole or in order, and I always cache away fragments for winter.
Kimmy Walters writes the kind of poetry that characters in a Kelly Link story probably write. She is great. I also kind of want to name-check Aimee Bender here, too, but don't have a full theory of what the shared strand is. Pervasive surrealism combined with a method of playful transgression.
Feb 20-ish, 2016
These books still rule, and I needed some comfort-food re-reads.
Mar 25, 2016
I think I've talked about Acts 1 and 2 here before. Act 3 is even better.
An interesting thing about KRZ: not only is it episodic, but it has a bunch of free, optional side-episodes that you can download as separate apps. These tend to be experimental and weird, but will drop crumbs of the main story from time to time. I highly recommend playing "The Entertainment" before starting Act 3: it's basically a metafictional overture for the whole act, in the form of a student play put on the ’70s by Carrington (the guy you can meet in act 1 who's seeking a venue for his new project). It's kind of a confrontational anti-game, with a hilariously shocking ending that turns out to be extremely relevant the instant the curtain rises on Act 3.
Anyway: this game isn't quite about what I thought it was about, and I'm excited for the next act.
April 5, 2016
A strange and intense post-apocalyptic ghost story.
I started out skeptical of this, but it won me over. It's kind of genre salad in a way that, now that I think of it, reminds me slightly of Smoketown. (Running in a very different direction with it.)
The metaphysics didn't quite make sense; it never really followed through on the tease that we'd find out what happened to the world; I remain very curious about why there are ghosts now when there didn't seem to be ghosts before. But ultimately it satisfied in the ways it needed to satisfy, and I kind of savor the lingering mysteries.
This was a really relaxing read, and it went down in a flash. A+ airplane or beach book; I quite enjoyed it.
"Relaxing????," you say. Well, it's technically a story about repeatedly almost dying in a frozen airless hellscape, sure, but in practice it reads like a series of really fun forum posts about how badly the HVAC system managed to fuck itself up (and our hero's legendarily janky patch job). About 4/5 of the book is the protagonist's log entries, which he only writes once he's tamed enough chaos to sit at a computer for an hour. So they're paradoxically calming!
The log entries are written in what I suspect is Weir's natural forum-post voice. He's not a very versatile writer (the 3rd-person alternate POV sections are all pretty weak), but he's very good at conversational technical explainers, so most of the book is A Real Fun Read If You Like That Sort of Thing (And I Do).
Bitter life-or-death struggle, presented as a series of really knotty engineering problems with clever "solutions" (including multiple off-label abuses of a plutonium-containing device). Good times.
Well, everything else in the world is kind of going nuts right now, so here's some book reviews if you need a brief distraction.
Jan 21, 2016
This is exactly what I was hoping for from the series finale — it re-engaged the conflicts that drove Justice, integrated Sword's complications into those, and generally brought things to a chaotic and satisfying close.
Please read this series, it rules.
Also! I really liked the two new significant characters, but even just saying their names would be too spoilery, ha. They are great, and I would read a sequel just about them horsing around and causing havoc.
Feb 1, 2016
I read A Wizard of Earthsea ages ago, but never followed up on the sequels until now.
Wow, this was an entirely other thing, wasn't it? Wizard was a book that moved in effortless wire-fu leaps, treetop to treetop; Tombs drags and taunts.
I don't know if I can say I enjoyed it, per se. But I can see how it was the right and proper follow-up to Wizard. It was satisfying, regardless of whether it was fun.
Feb 6, 2016
I learned a lot from this and I'm glad I read it! The rhythm of the writing wasn't quite to my taste and the repeated dog comedy bits got old, but the physics explanations were top notch, helping make sense of some things I've never been able to grasp before. This is some of the highest quality popular science writing I've seen.
It was also timely, because they announced the first gravity wave detection at LIGO pretty much as soon as I finished it and I was totally equipped to understand the news. 🙌🏼
Nov. something., 2015
I spent a lot of this book wondering whether I liked it. It's honestly a bit of a baffler! I think my answer is yes, but it's the first part of a duology, so maybe check back in a few months.
This takes place in a feudal society on a planet whose terraforming process might have been partially aborted. Political power is centered around beached starship hulks that now serve as habitats and fabrication plants. Maybe 1/5 of the story is about that global situation. The bulk is about feudal intrigues, teenagers getting WAY over their heads in ill-advised romantic entanglements, and swashbuckling.
Here's a thing I went WAY back and forth on: There are some genetically engineered intersex/nonbinary characters who are assigned the pronoun "it." NO, FUCKING, I KNOW, RIGHT? But I can't just shut it down for that, because:
So...??????? IDK, it gave me a gross twinge every time but I do think it made sense in-universe.
Dec. 30, 2015
More Parker! The Wave has been good to me, so I've got a stash of these waiting to be read.
This one happens between The Hunter and The Outfit, which surprised me because those seemed to be butted right up against each other with nothing particularly eventful in between. And yup, this book consisted of Parker attempting to evade the fallout from Hunter and failing back to status quo ante.
Which is fine, because that's not really the point of it: Parker is about process, not outcomes.
Jan 29, 2016
More Parker! I'll just leave it at that. This was a pretty solid one. Uh... maybe a little more misogyny than usual? (These are crime novels from the '60s, so the level is always going to be pretty high.)
Ok, I only have two books from last year left to review, so I went ahead and did a quick count. (I'm excluding shorts and video games here, even though I mix them into my posts.)
I can't remember if women have outnumbered men yet?? But my impression was that I was reading 2 to 1 in favor of women this year and it was actually about dead even, so that weird cognitive bias lives bravely on.
June 13, 2015
Ruth said I'd probably like these, and she was right!
This is the first of a series, set in a fantasy world heavily based on ancient Greece. It's also very different from the rest of its series — it's narrated first-person (the rest are close-in third person), it's a fairly straight-ahead adventure story (the rest are knotty political thrillers), and it's written at a middle-grade level and published with middle-grade typesetting and cover design (the rest are definitely YA, and have a certain amount of shocking content even by modern YA standards).
When I finished this first book I was mildly pissed about the twist ending, but I took that back after thinking about it overnight. See, the story is strewn with weird inconsistencies and glitches in the narration; I had taken them as failures of writing that I was willing to gloss over and forgotten them, and then I got blindsided by the ending. But it turns out the inconsistencies aren't errors, and the ending isn't out of left field. It's just that the narrator is writing for a (fictional) audience who're already clued into the twist, and who either know him personally or at least are familiar with his position. He's having some ironic fun with his real readers, and the end only seemed like a twist because I'm a mutually-fictional outlander eavesdropping on a story I'm not involved in. It seemed offensively glib that first night, but by the second night it was just your buddy Eugenides up to his usual cheeky hijinks.
June 21 and Aug 6, 2015
Let's pause for a manifesto. I don't really have rules for the didread series, but I do have some guidelines. To wit:
That last one is really chapping my hide right now, because it's almost wholly impossible to talk about the rest of this series without spoiling the end of The Thief.
So maybe it's time to bail out and post a one-liner? "I liked The Thief, but I loved these." That's always a bit unsatisfying, though.
How's this: I went into Queen expecting magical thief adventures, and got blindsided by a psychologically gruesome story about how far you can go to protect your country. By the time I started King, I had no idea anymore what I was getting into.
There's another book in this series I haven't read, and some unknown number still on the way. I'll probably read them all. Super solid, and a hell of a ride. A year later, I still feel incredibly gross about some of what went down here.
August 22, 2015
I was really hyped about this, and there were a lot of things I think it did really well, but on the whole it didn't quite do it for me.
Which is fine!!! Real talk: this is YA written for the younger end of that audience (~14-ish?), and it's not doing anything particularly fresh in plot or structure or prose. What IS fresh and important is that the heroine is a brown girl from a Spanish-speaking family, and the setting is a recognizably diverse New York City, and tbh that is more than enough to earn it the attention it's gotten plus some.
This is a perfectly serviceable middle-of-the-shelves modern fantasy, of the type I grew up identifying with. Everybody deserves to grow up with a pile of those, and this book is a salute to all the brown girls who got left out of the pile I was stuck with. End of review. Buy this book for a kid who needs it.
(So what didn't do it for me? It veered off-premise and went generic. The set-up was that Sierra can use her artwork to empower the spirits of the helpful dead, which is awesome. But she only used that power for like two or three things before she just achieved god mode [because she was born special] and charged in for victory, leaving the themes of art and building stuff completely behind. If the climax and denouement had been based around the [TOTALLY AWESOME] powers the book had set her up with, I think I would have liked it a lot more.)
Mar 22, 2016
Awwwww this was cute!! The non-adventures of four Italian roommates and their rotating foreign subletters.
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.
Dec 21, 2013
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.)
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.
June 15, 2013
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.
July 5, 2013
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.
Sept 16, 2013
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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. ???!!!!!!!
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.
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.
Eh, it's been a while. Let's drop a book post.
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-
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.
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.
...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.
I reviewed this pretty recently, and don't have much to add. It's still really good, yo!!!
Jan 31, Feb 2, Feb 3
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.)
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 coffeeandink or rushthatspeaks.
This was very good! An angry and needle-sharp book, which moves quickly and makes old maneuvers seem unexpected and dangerous.
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.
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:
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-
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.
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.
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.
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.
May 7, 2014
ALSO GREAT, SAME REASONS.
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.
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.
June 7, 2014
This book was odd as hell! Not least on the genre front:
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.
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.)