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Books read, mid-October to mid-November - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, mid-October to mid-November [Nov. 15th, 2007|04:48 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Daniel Abraham, A Shadow in Summer. Obligatory gripes: this is just the beginning of the story, not a complete story in itself. Also, while I like seeing a fantasy language that isn't structured just like English, the taking of poses felt a little clunky at first, just in that we don't have all that many ways to refer to that behavior in a language that doesn't require it for daily communications. Other than those things -- well. Let's just say that I read this book in its entirety at World Fantasy, because once I started reading this book, I wanted to keep reading this book, even though lots of cool people I don't see often enough were around to see. Granted, much of the reading time was in the early mornings, when other people weren't out and about yet. But still. I like well-done high fantasy, and this is well-done high fantasy, and I look forward to the next in the series rather eagerly.

Kage Baker, The Sons of Heaven. So...this is what it ends with, huh? Hmm. When I started reading the Company books, I thought what I really wanted was the stuff set in the future. And I was right...ish...sort of. One of her major decisions in the last few books undercut the dramatic tension pretty severely for me. Frankly, I stopped caring whether the immortals ever did die. Seemed like it was as reasonable a fate for them as for anyone else. So...I'm pretty sure that this is what she wanted to do with this series, and I'm glad she got the chance to do the whole thing (said the bitter Veronica Mars fan), but a lot had come to depend on whether she stuck the landing. I didn't feel like she did. I felt like Mendoza's life was simultaneously tawdry and boring, and that a good dose of self-awareness was called for all around.

Chaz Brenchley (desperance), Tower of the King's Daughter and Feast of the King's Shadow. I bought these -- and the last in the series -- in Toronto when I had only read one of Chaz's books. I looked at them there in Bakka and thought, "Well, if I buy them all, I risk not liking any of them, and if I don't buy any but the first one, I risk not being able to find the others once I want them." I like Chaz and had liked the first of Chaz's books I read enough that I decided to go for it, and I'm glad I did. This is a not-quite-Crusades sort of fantasy, all one story despite the length, and I'm really enjoying the hidden land and a couple other fantasy conceit issues and, and, and! the thorough undermining of a romantic trope set forth in the first volume. So I'll get to the third one pretty quickly, I can tell, and will be glad that I don't have to run all over hell's half-acre looking for it.

David B. Coe, The Sorcerers' Plague. So this has a few more of the problems I have with high fantasy prose than the Abraham or the Brenchleys: the sea captain with phoneticized dialect, the Standard Fantasy Descriptors. But I am willing to forgive those things, because Mr. Coe remembers one of the things we're doing here, and one of the things we're doing here is asking the next question. The interesting next question. Specifically, he used a fantasy premise we said we'd like to see, on this year's Farthing Party panel about how magic is done, what metaphors are used, and he got as far as the people on that panel and then a couple steps farther down the chain of, "And how would people react to that?" in an interesting direction. Also, the jacket copy is indicating that this is a sequel series, but the information about the series that precedes it is woven in skillfully enough that I was able to start caring about those characters from reading this volume -- he wasn't leaning too heavily on people caring from the last series. So in light of all that, I can deal with a few instances of Raven Hair and keep reading in this series. I may even go back to find out what these people got up to on another continent. We'll see.

Parke Godwin, Waiting for the Galactic Bus. I wanted to like this book because it was a present from friends whose taste I generally appreciate. I wanted to dislike this book because the conceit -- nearly omnipotent aliens set a particular pair of human fundamentalists straight? -- looked really annoying. But I liked it despite the premise; it just rattled on so engagingly, and I think it was written in a different era of fundamentalist/non-fundamentalist interactions -- some similar concerns but just a different tone to things. And I also liked that one of the fundies was presumed to be a fundamentally good and thoughtful person who had a few details wrong and who had been raised in suboptimal circumstances. I also liked that while many of its conclusions were fairly obvious from the start, there were a few obvious directions Godwin didn't take.

Ann Halam, Dr. Franklin's Island. This is Gwyneth Jones's name when she's writing YAs, and Gwyneth Jones has my heart from the Bold As Love series, so when I had the chance, I picked up some of her Ann Halam books. This one is sort of Dr. Moreau-ish, but very careful with its balance on view of scientists and change. It could have been much grimmer and grislier than it was, but it didn't sugar-coat, either. I think Halam/Jones is very good at that balance, and it's an extremely important one for YAs. It was less immediately appealing than the Perseus retelling but more satisfying upon actually reading it.

Robert Harvey, Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence. The title of this book is more honest than the subtitle: Harvey isn't really trying to give an overview of Latin American independence. He's trying to give portraits of several major figures within that. If ever you've said, "What I need is a history book with lots of sex in it," here you go. Lots. Especially early on. The structure of the book was extremely weird: it was by regions, so there were events and people referred to long before they were covered in the text. But if you were already quite familiar with the details, it would have mostly been extremely elementary, I suspect. I learned some things from this book, but I'm not sure it was an optimal way to learn them.

Peter Høeg, The Quiet Girl. If you already like Peter Høeg, read this. If not...um. Maybe start with something else. Danish magical realism is not at its pinnacle in this book, even though I did enjoy it here. I thought the clown nature of the clown was underutilized, among other things.

Margo Lanagan, Red Spikes. Short stories. Good title for the whole collection: sort of sticky-spiky-short. This is the second Lanagan collection I've read, and I'm glad I read them, and I'm glad I didn't spend money on either. There was a feeling of sameness to the stories to me. Maybe I demand too much range in short stories. I don't know.

Ian MacLeod, The Summer Isles. This one suffered for me by its proximity in reading to Ha'penny, which I thought was in all ways a superior book, and which had far too many superficial similarities for me to leave them uncompared. I like MacLeod better when he isn't trying to be Thomas Mann, perhaps because I like everybody better when they're not trying to be Thomas Mann. I suspect even Thomas Mann could have pleased me by trying to be someone else, I don't really care who. But I digress. If you only read one alternate history of fascist Britain with a gay main character this year, this shouldn't be it. But if you're looking for a third, it's not a bad read. (Particularly if you're fonder of Thomas Mann than I am.) (Which it is not hard to be.) (Sorry. I promise I'll shut up about Thomas Mann now. But I hadn't had to think about Death in Venice in this decade, and I was pleased about that.)

Sarah Monette, The Bone Key. If I had read the description of this book rather than the byline, I would have put it back with that "how-nice-but-not-for-me" look on my face. I'm glad I didn't, because it turns out it was for me. The tone of the stories was just exactly right, creepy but grounded in investigation of the world around oneself, for me to take it as dark fantasy rather than pure horror. The unsettled and inquisitive melancholy of the narrator fits him exactly right, and the details of his background, as they emerge over the series of stories, feel utterly natural as each one comes up.

E. Nesbit, Wet Magic. I read this one online. I had bookmarked it and then promptly ignored the bookmark because I hate reading things as serials. Haaaaaate. Then I had my most recent vertiginous spell and was most comfortable sitting upright in my desk chair and not going downstairs where my book was. Wet Magic suddenly became very convenient. It's pretty typically Nesbit, with well-meaning adults sometimes managing to actually do well by the children and sometimes not. Mermaids. Bad books vs. good ones. I can see why it's not one of the more widely reread Nesbits, but it's worth the time for a fan.

Garth Nix, Across the Wall. I liked the first story and a few of the others, and I heartily disliked some of the others and didn't finish them. The send-up of choose-your-own-adventure books left me completely cold, but the first novella was worth the whole collection.

David Quammen, The Flight of the Iguana. This is a Gouldian sort of set of naturalist essays. He knew going in that he wanted to make them into a book, so they work better as one than some collections of that sort. There are a few quirks of total idiocy, but generally it's the sort of book full of fascinating tidbits. And one of the interesting things about reading it now is that it's very old indeed by "magazine column" standards -- Challenger had just happened -- and some of the pop sci theories have disappeared completely. It was just on the cusp of the time when I was regularly reading popular science magazines, so there was a lot of, "Really, they thought that? Interesting!" and also a lot of, "Oh, that was brand new then? Interesting!"

Edward Teller and Judith Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey in Science and Politics. Aaaaaaah the self-justification it burns, it buuuuuurns! Aaaaaah get it out, get it oooooooout! But alas: my brain is stuck with having read this book. Unless you are totally obsessive about the Manhattan Project or Hungarian-Americans of note or some other relevant subject -- possibly even if you are -- steer clear of this horrible, horrible, utterly defensive, horrible book. It is a good thing for me to have read. But -- aaaaaaagh. Not everything is the fault of Communists, Edward. Really not. Fascism's anti-Semitism in particular: not the fault of Communists. Aaaaagh.

Jo Walton (papersky), Ha'penny. The ending of Farthing made me cry. So did the ending of Ha'penny, but in a totally different way. It sort of knocked the wind out of me, Viola's resolve juxtaposed with Carmichael's that way, and I sat there trying to breathe after. I may still be trying to breathe. This is, in case you were wondering, a good thing. An utterly brilliant thing. This is the book it needed to be, and I think it is the book we needed. At least I did. Go, go. Read.

Everett Webber, Escape to Utopia: The Communal Movement in America. Mr. Webber blithely explained to us why the communal movement was dead and would never be resuscitated in the US. He wrote this in the late 1950s. So that was pretty amusing. Some of the details were interesting, but his overview was so very wrongheaded that amusement predominated.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-11-16 01:42 am (UTC)
First, I half to say I really love these posts. I look forward to them every month.

I've been eyeing Dr. Franklin's Island. Now that I know it's Jones, I will definitely read it.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-11-16 01:45 am (UTC)
Did I just write 'half to say'? Ignore me.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2007-11-16 04:18 am (UTC)
Glad you like them! I'm feeling a bit compulsive about them, so I'd probably keep doing them even if no one cared.
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[User Picture]From: mojave_wolf
2007-11-18 07:04 am (UTC)
Heh, a link to your book reviews is why I friended you. I'm pretty sure, at least, since I don't know you at all otherwise. I honestly can't remember, but I look forward to them, so yay that you keep writing them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2007-11-18 02:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for saying so!
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[User Picture]From: spartezda
2007-11-16 01:52 am (UTC)
I so agree on the Company novels. The series started out promising, but then . . . bleh.
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[User Picture]From: ellarien
2007-11-16 02:53 am (UTC)
I blame Wet Magic at least partly for my pre-teen mermaid fixation, which seems to have re-emerged in later life as a fondness for TV and movies about implausible submarines.
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[User Picture]From: rysmiel
2007-11-16 03:30 am (UTC)
The things that sticks in my mind some years after reading Waiting for the Galactic Bus is John Wilkes Booth's "one lousy Republican". As characterisation goes, that's a perfect telling detail.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2007-11-16 10:47 am (UTC)
I've just finished the first of the Company novels and found that it didn't live up to my expectations - which had been based on the enthusiasm for the series I'd seen around on LJ. One of the problems I had with it that I'm not too fond of whiny teenagers, and Mendoza didn't seem to be growing out of that stage. I had been wondering whether the later books in the series might suit me better, but if she never gets much in the way of agency or self-awareness then I suspect that I shouldn't read the rest.

[Lots of questions. Feel free to ignore them: I'm trying to express interest and find out about cool stuff, not conduct an interrogation. It's just come out looking that way.]

Where would you recommend that someone should start reading Danish magical realism? What are the qualities you like?

The thing about the clown sounds intriguing, especially as I get the impression that the Clown is far more of a horror figure, or at least more usually unsettling, than in the UK. Mind you, it's a long time since I went to a circus, and I do tend to miss large blobs of pop culture without realising it, so maybe that's not the case. What's 'the clown nature', though?

I liked The Bone Key, too. The stories as a whole were gentler, somehow, than I thought they'd be, which is a function of the tone rather than the content, I think.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2007-11-16 11:34 am (UTC)
There's a missing 'in the US' in my clown paragraph. I have no data about clowns in Denmark.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2007-11-16 12:43 pm (UTC)
I don't know much about Danish magical realism other than Høeg; he's the one who gets translated most, certainly. I like the deadpan to it. I think History of Danish Dreams is a good place to start there. By "clown nature" I simply meant that we were told the main character was a clown, but other than traveling to perform, he didn't use very much of the stuff he would know from being a clown or do anything that seemed to stem from his experiences therewith.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2007-11-16 01:31 pm (UTC)
Ah, OK. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: inkylj
2007-11-17 05:02 am (UTC)
Only about a third of the books focus on Mendoza, for what it's worth. If you liked other bits of the series it might be worth trying another one (Sky Coyote would be a sensible choice, if you like Joseph).
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2007-11-16 11:11 am (UTC)
Google gave me an alert for this post, because of the Brenchley: I'm glad you're enjoying Outremer!

And then I read on, and found the review of Dr Franklin's Island (ah, but have your read Siberia?) and Wet Magic, which I adored when I read it as a child, and adored rather less when I re-read it recently. Still, "Sabrina fair..."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2007-11-16 12:45 pm (UTC)
Yes, I did read and enjoy Siberia. A friend sent it down from Canada, where it's easier to get British books. There are a few supposedly available in the States; we'll see what I can find.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2007-11-16 01:47 pm (UTC)
I think the similarities are entirely on the surface, but I certainly didn't mean to imply "Ian MacLeod is such a copycat nyaaaah."
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