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Flora 717 is a lowly sanitation bee, but instead of being mute like the other members of her caste, she can talk and apparently make Flow to feed the larvae in the nursery. The sisters of the Sage clan (the priestess caste) take note and let her work in the nursery for a bit, since the hive is going through rough times and there aren't enough workers. Soon, Flora is experiencing things far outside the lives of the other sanitation bees, and she eventually realizes she is even more different than she realized, for she can lay eggs when it is a crime to challenge the Queen's fertility.

I keep seeing this described as "Watership Down with bees," which mostly seems accurate? Although I find it curious that Watership Down tends to be classified as fantasy while this is slotted under "science fiction" in Amazon, possibly due to the rural setting of the former and the more urban-esque landscape of the hive for this book. I'm also not sure I find it as political as the reviews comparing it to The Handmaid's Tale, possibly because the point of view is so alien in some ways. It's something I'd rather tease apart at a Wiscon panel or in discussion, because while some reviews have been classifying it as dystopic, I don't quite agree. There is too much actual bee biology for it to feel completely dystopic to me, particularly since the book is framed by a prologue and epilogue from the point of view of the humans who own the orchard the beehive is in; it didn't feel so much like it was comparing the human condition to the bee world and more as though Paull were focused primarily on fleshing out the bee world properly. I have to noodle a bit more on this, because I haven't thought it out enough.

She does a great job detailing her particular bee society and making it feel like a complete world, from the way the bees communicate via scent and chemicals to their worship of the queen to the foppishness of the drones. From the bit of browsing I did, it seems like most of the information is fairly accurate, except a spoilery bit in the end and the fact that bee roles are not nearly so harshly delineated irl. (Also, one beekeeper wrote a review in which they felt very put out about the negative depiction of beekeepers as the theives of the bees' carefully made honey. I have to say, I laughed.) I particularly loved the way religion and government are mixed up in the hive, and the look at the various castes and clans.

I did have some nitpicks, because it wasn't always as alien as I wanted it to be; Paull refers to things like bees bleeding or having their intestines torn out, which made me wonder if it were just a figure of speech or...?? Ditto mentions of things like goblets of nectar or plates of pollen. I also thought the prologue and epilogue should have been cut, because I am not here for human context and thoughts! I want weird alien life forms that are actually from this planet!

Anyway, this was a really fast, immersive read, and I still feel like there might be creepy-crawlies on me randomly throughout the day. (For insect-phobic people: I am pretty grossed out by bugs in real life and in pictures, but I'm mostly fine reading about them in books, from fictionalized bees to real-life parasites, so YMMV? I wasn't creeped out while reading, but my skin does start to itch when thinking about it afterward.)

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Sep. 18th, 2013 09:56 am
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What I've read: I haven't actually finished anything this week, alas.

What I'm reading: Of course, I have not progressed in anything I was reading last week! Instead, I have started Tenea D. Johnson's Smoketown, and how have I not heard of her? (Okay, possibly because I have been out of the loop for years.) This is one of those books that feels like it was written JUST FOR ME: a city with layers and layers of history still mourning the plague that struck it decades ago, a city that has outlawed birds and now has callers in the dawn to add an approximation of birdsong back into the city soundscape, a man locked away in a tower living through the full-immersion experiences of others via virtu reals, an artist who can bring things to life via drawing and chemistry. It feels so much like Kari Sparring's Living with Ghosts, only much, much kinder to its women. And! Not only does it have all the gorgeous cityscapes that I love, it is populated with brown people! I am only about a third of the way in, and it's a relatively short book, but I fell for the prose from paragraph one and the book has only gotten better since.

What I'm reading next: Hopefully finishing the books I was in the middle of last week, along with this book, and then maybe continuing on to Johnson's R/evolution.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 31st, 2013 11:09 am
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What I've read: Woe, didn't manage to finish anything this week. At least it was mostly because I was being social!

I did forget to note that I read Sampson Davis' Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home. I really wanted to read about the medical cases intermixed with personal knowledge of the intersections of health and race and poverty. In the end, the book was too didactic for me. Each chapter is about a specific thing (HIV, obesity, drugs, history of medical experiments on black people, etc.), and each ends with a list of resources. I'm sure it is helpful for people, but I wanted something much more complicated than an introduction to the myriad problems of the US healthcare system and/or personal health issues and what to do about them. I was especially put off by the PSA on obesity, where he focuses on a woman he portrays as grotesquely obese (examples of how she can't be strapped to the gurney, fungus growing in folds of flesh, etc.). This is too bad, because the bits on his own life and history in Newark and how they intersect with his doctoring were really interesting, especially since he was one of the few doctors there who had grown up in and still lived in Newark, as opposed to commuting there from another, more affluent town.

I also forgot to mention Carolyn Jewel's novella Moonlight last week. It unfortunately is not particularly notable. There is some emotional stuff going on there re: a younger man in love with the slightly older women he grew up with and trying to not be seen as a goofy younger brother, but most of it focuses on the sex without tying it in to the conflict.

And I forgot Courtney Milan's A Kiss for Midwinter. Wow, I read a lot the week before. Anyway, I don't dislike it to the same extent [personal profile] coffeeandink does, but the noted discrepancy between what people say about Lydia's cheerful disposition and what we actually read on the page is very disconcerting. I also thought Jonas never quite gelled as a character to me; he read more as a collection of traits—blunt and socially awkward doctor who shows compassion to underserved populations—than an actual person. Definitely not one of Milan's better works.

What I'm reading: I still haven't finished Spillover. So of course I started Mira Grant's Feed, which is one of those "everyone was talking about it when it came out and I am only now getting around to reading it" books. So far, it is entertaining and easy to read—too easy, given how I lost track of time at bedtime! I'm not terribly caught up in the characters yet; they are very snarky and capable, but there's no real emotional hook for me to grab on to. Also, it is interesting reading this in 2013 when the presumed zombie apocalypse is in 2014 (the book was published in 2010). I'm not sure I would have fully bought into Grant's projection of how blogging grows increasingly important even back then, but now it's even odder to compare to what has actually been happening.

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully Hiromi Goto's Half World, because I keep meaning to read it and then forgetting that I do when it comes time to select a book.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, May. 15th, 2013 10:34 am
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Didn't post last week since I didn't actually finish anything....

What I've read: Finished Adulthood Rites! And Imago! More noodling for Wiscon: all three of the books are captivity narratives in ways, though Jodahs' captivity is the least restrictive... it's only outlawed from Lo, and then briefly imprisoned while looking for its human mates. I keep being struck by the biological determinism of the books, particularly the emphasis on Human males and their propensity for wandering in Adulthood Rites, and how the Oankali think it's more important to listen to the messages that Humans' bodies give as opposed to their mouths/thoughts. There are some scenes in which the person is saying they don't want to be physically intimate with an ooloi, but the ooloi reads past the words to their body and goes on anyway. And... it doesn't always work out well--the Humans are frequently conflicted--but I am reminded of rape cases in which the survivor is physically aroused during the attack and how that in itself can be incredibly traumatic (as well as the super awful arguments about how then it isn't really rape).

Must remember to go over [personal profile] oracne's entry (spoilers) before the con as well. Can't believe Wiscon is in less than two weeks!

I also read [personal profile] rachelmanija's A Cup of Smoke, which is a collection of her short stories and poems. I've read a lot of them before, but I really needed something comforting after Haru, and having a familiar voice (along with a rodent zodiac) was immensely helpful. Unsurprisingly, I liked the stories more than the poems (I am not a huge poetry person), and there are a lot of f/f, POC, and retold tales, which is right up my alley. I can't really be objective about this, since Rachel is a really good friend of mine, and I can see so many of her fingerprints over all the stories, but that is also why it was the perfect thing to read right when I needed it.

What I'm reading now: Er, I'm not. I started Tansy Rayner Roberts' Creature Court trilogy, but I still need familiarity and comfort right now. Possibly instead I will continue rewatching Fruits Basket and Utena (CB is watching them for the first time. I think he's more taken with Utena so far, especially now that we've seen a few more Nanami episodes).

What I'm reading next: Maybe stuff for Wiscon? I don't know. Oh wait, I mean to get to the new Skip Beat chapter!

Reading Wednesday

Wed, May. 1st, 2013 11:02 am
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What I've read: Finished my reread of Dawn for Wiscon \o/! I have various quotes highlighted for things like heteronormativity, consent issues, gender essentialism, slavery analogues, and etc., but I still need to mull over things and synthesize before I have anything particularly good to say. Aside from issues about gender and sexuality, which hopefully will get discussed in depth at the Wiscon panel, I'm really interested in how Butler deals with violence. And I'd like to compare Dawn to other post-apocalyptic books about rebuilding society, since I think many of them fall prey to the "The strongest will survive and this is just and right!" mindset that Butler doesn't necessarily avoid, but does try to complicate. Lilith's relationships with other women aren't explored as much, possibly due to the emphasis on pair bonding and reproduction. Some thoughts on how OSC's Worthing Saga has a section very much like Lilith Awakening various people and having to train them for life on Earth, though possibly I only see similarities because I don't read that much SF and therefore don't know other works with this general theme. Lilith vs. Jason Worthing and how the people they awaken and train react to them is especially informed by the characters' and authors' race and gender, imo.

What I'm reading: Partway through Adulthood Rites! Dawn ended much more abruptly than I had remembered, and there's a big shift between it and Adulthood Rites. So far: more notes on heteronormativity, gender essentialism, and violence, as well as a continuation of Humans as Other. I really want to poke at the idea of the specialness and risk of a Human-born male child.

What I'm reading next: For once, I am fairly certain! If all goes well, I will proceed to Imago.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 24th, 2013 10:10 am
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Sigh, I have been reading (and posting) much less of late.

What I've just read: I feel like I haven't had much brain the past few weeks. Anyway, I finally figured out how to split up a single epub file into several so I can split up several compilations I have—they mess with my series numbering! And I hate it when a compilation of romance novellas has novellas in several series I'm keeping track of, so I don't know which series to count it as. My quest for book organization perfection will never end... This is the long way to say that in the course of splitting up novellas, I came across Sharon Shinn's "Nocturne" in Angels of Darkness, reread it, and was struck by a desire to reread some of her Samaria books. And lo, I was down in South Bay over the weekend and found my copy of Jovah's Angel.

"Nocturne" is a light, enjoyable read that doesn't feature issues about faith. This is good, because I feel the Samaria series overall doesn't do very well with those. I like the first-person voice, and the fact that the heroine is past thirty (iirc). There's a bit of "hey disabled person, stop moping around," as the heroine finds a recently blinded angel, but I liked how they found a way for him to fly again.

Jovah's Angel was less light and less enjoyable, alas, and it reminded me of why I am not a Samaria fan. I vaguely remembered it having more engineering stuff and more crises of faith and was sad to find that this was not so. Anyway, this is the one where Alleluia discovers that their god Jovah is actually the orbiting spaceship Jehovah. I didn't remember the subplot regarding former Archangel Delilah at all. Overall, I like that there are two female Archangels here, and that they aren't pitted against each other, but I would have liked seeing them together more. I also didn't quite buy how quickly the Alleluia/Caleb romance progressed, and of course, I still want more deconstruction of the whole Jovah-picking-your-perfect-mate thing. Overall, the book isn't enough of a romance to satisfy, and it's not enough of sf to satisfy on that front as well.

I also read volume 1 of 7 Seeds. So far, I am unimpressed by the heroine, though I am sure I would be the extremely frightened and nervous one if I randomly found myself in a boat with strangers and no memory of how I got there. Plus, she probably develops into a badass later on, so I am content to wait and watch. On a more random note, EW BUGS. I'm glad Tamura doesn't draw them in great detail.

What I'm reading: Just started Lilith in preparation for Wiscon, which hopefully I will continue. I am feeling rather meh lately, and the dystopic situation weirdly makes me feel better.

What I'm reading next: If I am being optimistic, more Xenogenesis! Also, more of 7 Seeds. Though I am tempted to start on a Fruits Basket reread because CB has just started on the anime. And I just got Yes, Chef from the library, which has POC author + food + easy reading in its favor.
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Disclaimer: I got a review copy of this from the author.

This is the first volume of the Tokyo Demons light novel series, which can also be read online. It's clearly part of a larger arc, but the volume has a complete plot and resolution. It's very much in the tradition of "teens with superpowers/mutant powers/psychic abilities/etc." where here, said teens are dropped in the middle of yakuza, gangs, and a secret organization with nefarious goals.

I feel like I should have had much more fun reading this than I actually did, given the premise. There are some cool bits, particularly re: Ayase, one of the POV characters, figuring out creative ways to use her powers (her body turns into a swarm of bugs), but one initial problem was just that the plot takes so long to kick in! Some elements are being set in place early on, but it felt like there were too many instances showing Ayase being withdrawn or Jo (the other POV character) being tough and street smart without anything actually happening. The plot finally gets a jump kick halfway through, with the teens disclosing their mutant powers and finding out about Nefarious Organization, but that's a long time to have various characters wandering around, not knowing what's going on, and mostly going through the same loop of not wanting people to find out about their powers or ... something, in Jo's case.

My main issue, though, was that I found it really difficult to connect with the characters. They seem interesting enough on paper—Ayase, the paranoid girl trying to hide her ability; Jo, the pickpocket smoker who tries to not care about anyone; Sachi, the nice guy who is trying to bring everyone together—but it doesn't quite gel in the execution. For example, I never really bought that Jo secretly cared about people while trying to maintain his tough demeanor. You see a lot of him waffling on getting involved, but he never seemed invested in any of the characters as people with personalities, with the possible exception of Mitsuko, who he wants to bone. I also completely don't buy Sachi as the heart of the gang. The emphasis is always on how much he wants to help and how he tries to get close to various people so he can, but to me, it felt like him repeatedly crossing boundaries and signals to get people to interact with him, which is creepy. Ayase probably gets the best character arc of the bunch, but it's really frustrating watching her get maneuvered into a potential romantic triangle.

I also wish there were more women. There are some in the organization fighting Nefarious Organization, but there isn't much interaction among the women. It's also frustrating that Ayase is so far the only girl teen mutant among a group of around five of them, and that she's already getting embroiled in aforementioned romantic triangle. Mitsuko shows up later and seems cool, but she also primarily interacts with the guys, and in a very sexualized manner at that. She's supposedly the sempai for a lot of girls in the school, and she helps out Ayase at one point, but most of that is background to her relationship with Jo and another supporting male character. One of the older women in Nice Organization is cool, and another mostly seems to be there due to her relationship with another one of the guys.

So, fun plot when it kicks in, but the characters all feel a bit too flat for me, and it could use a lot more women.
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What I've just read: Finally finished Cecilia Grant's first book and read the second (interesting new author, see review), which lead to a bit of a romance spree. Went through Sherry Thomas' Tempting the Bride, which I liked due to longing and unrequitedness and amnesia, though tbh, didn't really buy the hero's sudden non-taunting of the heroine even though I love it due to aforementioned angst. Read Meredith Duran's That Scandalous Summer (like the heroine, bleh for the hero, got really disinterested toward the middle and end) and her novella, Your Wicked Heart, which has a heroine who reminds me a great deal of Olympia from Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire. Also, I think it has the hero I've liked best out of her books so far... I love Duran's prose and I love her heroines, but I frequently want to brain the heroes and get really lost during her plots. Then Rose Lerner's A Lily Among Thorns, which has an adorkable tailor hero who asks about clothes and fashion and can cook. Couldn't completely get into it, though, I think because the dialogue sounded too modern for me? (Then again, I know zero about Regency outside of romance novels.)

Finally finished Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which I had been reading for so long that I forgot to include it on my "currently reading list" for the past few Wednesdays.

Also read Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince, which I REALLY liked. The reviews on Goodreads seem to be very love it or hate it, though. Also, I rolled my eyes at the ones that were all "There's so much sex in this! Homosexuality and bisexuality is no big deal?!" and reviews complaining about too many original terms ("waka," "grande," etc.). I suspect I have very different expectations compared to the current YA SF audience?

...the length of this section correlates inversely with how much sleep I have been getting. orz

What I'm reading now: Still in the middle of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. Probably something else I started months ago and promptly forgot?

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully the book I'm reviewing for my Con or Bust offer. More realistically, probably a ton more romance novels.
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After a nuclear apocalypse and subsequent global cooling, the enclosed glass pyramid that is the city of Palmares Tres rises in what used to be Brazil. Palmares Tres is ruled by a queen and Aunties, but every five years, the city elects a Summer King. And at the end of the year, the Summer King is sacrificed as he selects the next queen.

June Costa and her friend Gil are very caught up in the current Summer King elections, and when their favorite candidate Enki wins, Gil and Enki quickly fall in love as June plots with Enki to create politically risky art installations. This sounds like it should be your standard post-apocalyptic YA romance triangle, and it really isn't. Gil and Enki's romance mainly acts as a backdrop to June constantly having to balance social approval against radical art.

I am having a terrible time writing a summary of this. There's June's battle with her desire to win the prestigious Queen's Award while knowing that anything too daring will disqualify her. There's Enki pushing her more and more toward radicalism as he uses his Summer King position to make the city focus on its poorest citizens. There's June's terrible relationship with her mother and stepmother, with the death of her father haunting them. There's the city's anti-technology tendencies in a world where many people have abandoned their bodies to become datastreams. There's the conflict between the wakas (the powerless youth of the city) and the grandes (the non-youth) along with the class conflict June has been too privileged to pay attention to before Enki. And all the layers are so easily intertwined with the others: this is a future city that feels incredibly real and complicated.

I've previously liked but not loved Johnson's books—Racing the Dark felt too crowded and lacking in focus while Moonshine had a great world but too much paranormal-romance-genre-flavored romance for me. The Summer Prince manages to juggle a bit of romance with a lot of worldbuilding, along with a great YA coming of age story that is June coming into her political and artistic own, and it really feels like Johnson has come into her own as a novelist as well.

And all this is ignoring the incredibly powerful narrative of a Summer King's year and the ritual the city was founded with, the choice of mortality and sacrifice and how it impacts everyone in the book.

This is a really good book on so many levels. I love Palmares Tres and the little glimpses we get of the world outside, I love having same-sex relationships casually in the background, I love little things like June's relationship with her rival Bebel and how that unwraps, I love the bits and pieces of Brazil and the South American African diaspora, I love the non-dystopian and non-utopian matriarchy, and I really really love how it's about sociopolitical moral dilemmas and art and expression written in a way that is complicated and difficult and very personal.

Anyway, go read!

- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] starlady's review
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(This covers The Iron Duke, Heart of Steel, Riveted, and two novellas in Burning Up and Wild & Steamy. I was going to put in individual write ups here as well, but the post is already monstrously long as is.)

Since several people praised the Ben Aaronovitch books and I am not in the mood for romance, I went for ...a tear through steampunk romance. My brain, I do not understand it either.

Five hundred years ago, the Mongolian Horde conquered most of the Eurasian continent via nanotechnology and war machines. When the series begins, the Horde's empire has begun to decline, and England has been freed from Horde rule nine years ago, when the Iron Duke blew up the tower that controlled people via the nanoagents they are all infected with.

Unsurprisingly, I had some serious issues with this premise. That said, I liked how much worldbuilding there was in The Iron Duke, though I didn't necessarily like the worldbuilding itself. The next two books have been exploring much more about the world and expanding it. I still find some of the things in the world nidgy, but there's been enough interesting stuff to balance it out so far.

For one, it is an incredibly thorough alternate timeline. Paranormal romances from around twenty years ago used to read as though the magic was only in there to further along the romance, what's now called urban fantasy has definitely improved on that, but this is a series I would actually give to someone who wanted worldbuilding detail. I particularly like how Brook has extrapolated how different cultures in her world work: the English are much more comfortable with sex and mechanical prosthetics, given that they didn't have much choice with either under Horde rule, whereas the New World, populated by refugees from Europe and Africa, tends to much more closely resemble historical mores. The New World, on the other hand, is extremely multiracial. Brook is also taking a lot of time to explore bits of it; having each book be an individual adventure instead of part of an overall arc means that they can cover a lot more of the world. It is still very Europe-focused though.

I'm still not sure what I think about the treatment of Native peoples. I couldn't tell what had happened to various indigenous communities when European and African refugees flooded in after zombies basically took over Europe and Africa, and so far, the books focus more on New World communities established by the refugees, particularly ones that speak European languages and correspond to European countries. We know that Portugal and Spain and France and England have carved out little portions, but I wanted to know about various African empires and kingdoms as well. I know from her online guide to the world that actually, the vast majority of the Americas is under the control of assorted Native confederacies, but it's not something that has so far showed up in the text itself. (Also, annoyed at "New World" terminology, though I suppose it makes sense given that it's all European people in the books talking about it.)

I wasn't sure how aware Brook was of things like imperialism and colonization and how intertwined they can be with steampunk—the very beginning of The Iron Duke mentions that the people in England almost all refuse to drink tea or eat anything with sugar, because the Horde used tea and sugar to hide the nanoagents used to infect and then conquer England centuries ago. On reading this, I didn't feel sorry at all for the English and more thought, "Ha, serves you guys right!" given real-world history of how tea and sugar trade went hand in hand with colonization (I am also curious how the Horde got all that sugar, given that there aren't sugar plantations in the Americas. SE Asia is my guess?). I think now that Brook was actually aware of this and meant for it to be ironic, but without much context, I gave it a lot of sideeye when I first read about it.

I also find the worldbuilding really interesting because Brook is obviously using it to explore issues around disability (mostly the social model of disability, I think, so far), gay and lesbian rights, women's rights, and race. Sometimes it's been heavy handed, or it doesn't quite feel right to me, or I roll my eyes, but it's substantively more than most paranormal romances and urban fantasies do, and actually more than a fair amount of sf/f does.

That said, I'd advise pretty much everyone to skip The Iron Duke, which is the book I want to throw against a wall (heroine: awesome. hero: HATE HATE I HATE HIM SO MUCH). Heart of Steel features the cutthroat Arabic pirate airship captain and the Indiana Jones-type guy she throws off her ship the second time they meet. Riveted has POC in the roles of hero AND heroine (this may actually be a first for me in non-African-American romance), along with minor spoiler that I think will convince people to try this. )
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When the Sadiri homeworld is destroyed by their enemies, the bulk of the remaining Sadiri population move to Cygnus Beta, a planet known for harboring many different societies and groups of people, often refugees. The Sadiri want to rebuild their people and culture by finding women with suitable genetic traits to marry, and a small expedition is formed to scout out various populations and places on Cygnus Beta. The book isn't so much a story of rebuilding the Sadiri people, more a set of stories about what the expedition encounters.

First, I love the narrative voice of the book. The narrator, Grace Delarua, is a fairly ordinary citizen of Cygnus Beta; she's a government worker who enjoys fieldwork and has a talent for languages who is called on board due to her existing professional relationship with Dllenahkh, a Sadiri councillor. She's snarky and not particularly serious, and I especially liked learning about her personal and family life outside of the expedition. The relationships among all the members of the expedition are also interesting, from Delarua and Dllenahkh's growing closeness to the way team roles grow and shift when a bunch of people are stuck together for a while.

That said, I thought the narrative itself lacked some drive. I was fine with this through most of the book, since the characters and the worldbuilding made for interesting incidences, but I wanted some more closure for the ending. I vaguely think the romance between Delarua and Dllenahkh ties in with the Sadiri's attempts to figure out how to continue their race, but it would have been nice to have a much more substantial connection. That, and I am still not sure what the Sadiri end up deciding.

The romance itself seems well done: I really like how they move from professional respect to friendship to romance. It didn't really hit me, but as previously mentioned, I am in a weird non-romance mood of late.

Given that the narrative is all about finding women for reproduction (the vast majority of the refugees are male), I really wanted Lord to go more into that, particularly what happens with LGBTQ+ Sadiri. It's especially interesting because one member of the team is asexual and nongendered, which one of the Sadiri reacts a bit to, but there's not much further exploration. I do like how Lord portrays the various tensions pulling at the Sadiri: when you are the last of your people and culture, it makes complete sense to want to rebuild, especially if your homeworld has been destroyed. On the other hand, as Delarua notes, people on Cygnus Beta come from all sorts of cultures (planets? races? I am not sure) and usually ended up there due to some sort of negative circumstances, and the Sadiri's reluctance to mingle looks a lot like arrogance to them, especially since the Sadiri had a fair amount of influence and power before their world was destroyed.

Also, niggle that I have with a lot of SF books: Delarua refers often to "old Terran" cultural artifacts like Indiana Jones or other bits of pop culture, and I always wonder why it usually ends up being pop culture relevant to us now and not as much pop culture from various other planets.
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(consists of The Maker's Mask and The Hawkwood War)

Tzenni Boccamera would like to rescue her sister Catha from the stronghold of the Kapellans, as the feud between Boccamera and Kapellan is legendary. Then things get incredibly complicated with the search for various missing Kapellans, a genderqueer bodyguard, dizzyingly complex politics, the involvement of more families, ancient technologies, secret orders, and a very detailed world. I am not entirely sure all of it makes sense to me in the end, but it's great fun to read even when I can't keep track of half of what's going on. My main gripe would be that there's enough content in here to make for a very fat trilogy, as opposed to the two relatively slim volumes there are.

These books have a lot of things I like. Tzenni is an engineering geek who is rather frustrated at being entangled in all these politics, and she is overwhelmingly practical until faced with an engineering problem, which of course requires her undevoted attention and brainspace no matter what else is going on. Innes Liang the bodyguard is made of ten kinds of awesome, and it is an epicon (genderqueer for the world, "it" seems to be its preferred pronoun) of great wit and sardocness, and its relationship with Tzenni is one of my favorites in the books. The books easily pass the Bechdel test, and there are a lot of very interesting women doing very interesting things, some of whom I like, some of whom I don't, and some of whom I am on the fence about. I particularly want to know more about the system of inheritance and families; marriages frequently consist of more than two people, heirs are chosen and named and can skip generations, and there's a huge injunction that two heirs or a Prime (like a ruler) and an heir should not marry.

The world is one of those populated by the descendents of space-faring peoples, with a mix of space fantasy and VR tech and telepathy or something, and although you get a bit of the world's backstory and how the various technologies were forgotten or recovered or lost, I actually wanted a lot more infodumping than I got. The dialogue is witty and fun, and the pace is breakneck. I did have a bit of trouble following the many, many plot twists, though never enough to keep me from enjoying the book. I feel a bit odd in that I can't quite summarize the plot of the book because I'm still not quite sure what exactly it was, because there was so much of it.

I do wish one of the primary villains weren't an epicon, particularly given his/her branch of villainy, but overall I like the gender and sexuality bits of the world a lot. Other requests I guess would be more central non-het relationships, and more of Innes Liang in general.

But yes. One could have worse complaints than "More please!" (Dear Ankaret Wells, I really hope there is going to be more set on Requite, because I like it a lot so far and would read many many more pages about it, even without the current characters. And I very much want more of the current characters too.)

Thanks to [personal profile] coffeeandink for the rec!
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I've read books one and two and been thoroughly spoiled for three. I enjoyed the first book but didn't think it was the Best Thing Ever, and I was rather disappointed in book two.

I think I probably liked the movie better than I liked book one, largely because the worldbuilding of the book is a bit skimpy for text format, but makes for excellent visuals. Also, I really don't remember many of the details in book one, since I read it about three years ago and never reread. The movie had many of the same major flaws the book (the race stuff, my generally wanting it to be more about revolution and less about the Games), with a few of its own added in, and one major point of awesomeness that made me really love it.

Assorted unspoilery thoughts )

Assorted spoilery thoughts )

Mostly, though, Katniss made the movie for me.

Links (assume spoilers for first book/movie!):
- my review of Hunger Games the book and Catching Fire (spoilers for book 2 as well)
- [personal profile] sanguinity's review
- [personal profile] diceytillerman's review
- [personal profile] grrlpup's review
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This is a murder mystery set in an alternate future in which the Indian Territories have reverted to Indian control via an environmental act of Congress—Congress wanted to preserve the flora and the fauna of the Territories, but they realized without Indians there, it was going to be pretty damn hard. And hey, Indians were still classified as fauna...

It's also extremely snarky, dives into other narratives written by the characters in the book, and, unlike most sfnal works, leaves most of the worldbuilding in the glossary instead of the text. I was lured into reading the book when [personal profile] sanguinity posted snippets from the glossary, which are fascinating.

I keep debating about writing this up or not. Against: I read this when I didn't really have enough brain to appreciate it and I still feel like 80% of it flew right over my head. Against: I currently don't feel like I have enough brain to write about it, particularly since I had to return the book to the library a month or so ago. For: More people should read this and talk about it in smart ways so I can eavesdrop!

Jones uses the set up to talk about the fishbowl effect of having paparazzi/anthropologists surround the border of the Territories, wanting to get their hands and microphones on a Real Live Indian, only of course, there are no Real Live Indians real enough for them. I especially love all the bits about identity and authenticity, how it's complicated and tangled enough inside a group, and even more so when you add on the spectators. I suspect a huge percentage of this went over my head, which I'm fine with, since it's not really a book that should be talking to me or for me.

It feels more like literary fiction than SF to me, largely because of the present-tense voice in the present-day chapters and the way Jones skips from omniscient POV to first-person to a variety of other things in the manifesto snippets. I was going to say it also felt a lot like literary fiction because I feel the worldbuilding isn't as tied into the plot as I'd usually expect with something SF/fantasy. I mean, it is, because obviously the plot would not exist without it, but it also isn't in that the big plot revelations aren't really about the worldbuilding, like they would be in most SF/fantasy that isn't cross genre—I get the same impression from paranormal romances FWIW.

In conclusion: really interesting, and I feel I need to read it about eighteen more times just to figure out the plot.

- [personal profile] sanguinity's review
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According to the cover copy, this is Ted Chiang's response to the question of artificial intelligence and how it might arise. The lifeforms in question are called digients, and they were created to be like Furbies or Tamagotchi. They exist primarily in online spaces much like World of Warcraft or Sims Online. The digients are smarter than most animals, as they can talk, use tools, and have concepts of independence and etc., but to achieve intelligence, they need to be raised and taught. Two employees, Ana and Derek, end up being more emotionally invested than predicted as they train the digients, and when the company abandons the digient market, they end up adopting some.

I very much like how the reaction to AI isn't the usual scifi "Technology is EVIL!" storyline; instead, most people outside of a very dedicated few don't care at all and don't see why other people would devote their lives to their digients. I especially liked the focus on teaching the digients and how that fostered emotional relationships; it's a bit of a cross between raising a child and keeping a pet in terms of commitment and dedication. It reminds me a bit of Nan Gongyu's White Garden, only with digital avatars instead of cloned dog-human hybrids. Still, the emotional issues both works concentrate on are similar, though Chiang takes a much wider view.

I also like that Chiang's future seems very multicultural, but I was a bit trepidatious about Ana being the one who wanted to love and coddle the digients, whereas Derek wanted to push them more. That said, I think that bit of gender divide wasn't particularly echoed in the work, and I appreciated that both Ana and Derek had significant others who didn't understand their attachment to their digients.

For me, the scenarios felt very plausible, from the Silicon-Valley-esque lifestyle and setting to issues of digital obsolescence. I've seen some other remarks that say they don't quite believe in one of the major dilemmas later on in the book. I kind of don't care; it's not implausible enough to drag me out of the story, and I'm more concerned with the way the people in the story react to the events, which felt real to me.

I'm also going to be terrible at saying if others would enjoy this or not. I usually appreciate Chiang more intellectually than emotionally, but this story hits on my pet buttons so hard that I can't say if it'll work for people without that button. It was a good read, with the same prose quality of Chiang's other work, and I suspect his fans will still like this and non-fans may not, unless, like me, they are very sucked in by the pet thing. (Or possibly a child-rearing thing, though I can't say.)
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(individual titles: Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, Exile's Gate)

I hate writing plot summary. Therefore, instead have a list of elements that make up the series: cold, icy, possibly alien woman attempting to close all the Gates in the universe (Morgaine); dishonored horse-loving warrior who becomes her bond servant (Vanye); medievaloid worlds; science that looks pretty much like magic; body swapping; UST galore.

I read book 1 and 3 of this series four years ago and skipped over book 2, as my library didn't have it. Most of what I remember from that first read is "Morgaine + Vanye = win," "hairbraiding = sexy," and "Who is this Roh guy and what the heck is going on? Oh well, Morgaine is talking again, good."

It's amazing how much more sense the series makes when a) my plot brain has returned and b) I actually read book 2 between books 1 and 3. These would remind me a great deal of traditional sword and sorcery books had I actually read many of those as a kid; as such, I feel Cherryh has many of the trappings, albeit with Morgaine as a master of alien technologies instead of a sorceress, but couldn't say for certain.

The world of Shiuan is the most striking: it's nearly the end of the world there, and the looming sense of DOOM and apocalypse makes it the most memorable of the four worlds.

Still, the reason why I read the books is less the worlds and almost all Morgaine and Vanye. Morgaine is, as mentioned, cold and icy and determined to close the Gates at all cost, while Vanye is frequently torn between his loyalty to her and his conscience. It also helps that Cherryh is excellent at UST; some of the most memorable scenes between them involve hair braiding or Morgaine sleeping on the same bed as Vanye with absolutely nothing implied.

Exile's Gate has much more Morgaine/Vanye, which is almost a bit strange to me after all the UST, but I still love how Cherryh ends up balancing it with Morgaine and Vanye's liyo/ilin relationship.

In conclusion: cool and fun worldbuilding and adventuring, but mostly lots of not-touching and not-saying what you actually mean!
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Thorn is taken in as a baby and raised by Duun, a hatani who trains Thorn to be a hatani as well. I am still not entirely sure what a hatani is—it seems like some sort of combination of judge, super tracker/hunter, and master reader of emotions and motives. In short, almost all the stuff I tend to associate with good court intrigue and/or assassination and/or spy narratives. And although his hatani training makes Thorn different from everyone else, it doesn't explain why he doesn't look like anyone around him.

This book reminded me of Ender's Game, and [personal profile] coffeeandink mentioned it reminded her of Octavian Nothing. All of them are about children used as experiments, some for purposes crueler than others; they are about living in a lie, being deceived by everyone, and being isolated from everyone. I think Ender and Thorn feel the pressure to succeed far more than Octavian, but Thorn and Octavian's loneliness and isolation is more real. Ender's Game is the fantasy version of the scenario while Octavian Nothing is the cruelest; Cuckoo's Egg strikes the balance in between where I can see it fulfilling some adolescent wishes (as Ender's Game did for me) but in making the psychological weight of the deception and Thorn's dependence on Duun much greater. Thorn is always more at a loss than Ender, and the reader feels just as lost as he does—either Cherryh's prose is particularly elliptical here, or it just seems that way to me because this is the book that started my grand Cherryh read.

On a superficial note, Thorn's constant worried monologues were a little difficult for me to read, partially because they were italicized and partially because we were so much in Thorn's head that I had a difficult time figuring out what exactly was going on outside of it.

Spoilers can't say can't )

In conclusion: good ending and good take on a particular SF trope, but it doesn't feel quite as substantial as some other Cherryh's I've read.
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A plague threatens humanity throughout the universe, save on the planet Grass. Sanctity, the church that rules Earth, sends the Yrarier family to Grass in hopes that their affinity for horses and horseriding will somehow allow them to get closer with the aristocracy on Grass (the bons) to hopefully find a cure for the plague. However, the humans on Grass are limited to a small area due to the bons' unwillingness to kill too much of the ubiquitous grass that covers the planet. Unsurprisingly, there's a surprise regarding the planet and the bons' strange predilection for hunting, albeit not quite with horses, hounds, and foxes.

Meanwhile, Marjorie Westriding Yrarier's marriage is falling apart and the trip to Grass stresses it further.

I thought this was all right, albeit with frustrating characters, until the big reveal. Marjorie is almost never wrong, her husband is a two-dimensional ass, her daughter is just like her husband, and the son who resembles her is just like her. The brothers and elders at the Grassian Church are more interesting at least.

Also, much of this felt like Speaker for the Dead to me, only less interesting.

Spoilers )

So... did I miss something really huge? I do not understand why this is supposed to be groundbreaking ecological SF? (My copy has a quote saying "a subtle, complex meditation on ecological disaster.")

Rec me stuff!

Sun, Sep. 19th, 2010 12:46 am
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OMG people! I have my plot brain back! Not only that, but I am suddenly feeling the urge to read really dense SF with lots of worldbuilding and aliens. This is extremely strange, given my three-year-or-so romance novel spree and my general tendency toward the fantasy side of sf/f.

Rec me stuff! I have been contemplating attempting Cherryh again, as I just reread Gate of Ivrel and could actually figure out what was going on, but I am a little scared of where to start. I've mostly just read her fantasy, since plot-brain abandoned me years ago, but now I want to try more of her SF. I own Faded Sun, Foreigner, and Invader.

... while I'm at it, I should probably read some Ursula K. LeGuin SF too, since I haven't even read Dispossessed.

Mostly I want cool cultures and politicking and alien-ness, although anti-colonialism and feminism are huge pluses. I've already been slightly thrown out of a book or two thanks to the use of terms like "native" and "reservation" and not being sure if the author was aware enough to deconstruct or was just thoughtlessly using it. POC authors also a big plus. Have read Karin Lowachee's Cagebird and have some of her others out, recently went through a fair amount of Butler and mean to reread her Parable books, would like to know if Tobias Buckell's current books fit the amount of denseness I am in the mood for.

This feels so odd, but I figure while I am in the mood, I should read as much as possible, since this seriously hasn't happened for years and years.


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