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Marissa Lingen

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Books read, late September [Oct. 2nd, 2014|04:37 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Daniel Abraham, The Widow’s House. Best read quickly so that one can focus on the dragon and the banking and not on saying, “Ugh, Geder, shut up.” I mean, dragon! Banking! But: Geder, shut up. This is the fourth book in the series, and I really think it would be completely incomprehensible if you hadn’t read the others. There are spiders where? The spiders and the dragons relate how? What? What? So really, don’t start here. Dragons and banking, go to the back of the line. The start of the series. Whatever. And don’t read too slowly, or you may need to smack some characters.


Tina Connolly, Silverblind. Discussed elsewhere.


Frances Hardinge, Fly By Night. I am grateful to Marie Brennan for pointing this out to me, because its marketing hits some of my bad buttons, but the book itself is not like that. (Basically I don’t like it when people pat themselves on the back about how their chosen profession is the really great amazing one that is better than all the others, and writers are not exempt from that. The cover and blurbs of this book suggested, wrongly, that it might fall into that category.) Anyway, there are times when Hardinge is trying a bit too hard for the whimsy for my tastes, but there are conspiracies and coffee shops and things, and it is good fun. There is much rushing about, and if you want much rushing about and many secret signals, it is that kind of book. I did have a bit of difficulty with the goose feathers being white, because that’s just not what we have here, but I did eventually get my brain to behave.


Edgar Holt, The Making of Italy, 1815-1870. Very much what it says on the tin. This is an old book I picked up used, and it goes over the basics of the Italian unification–if it was breezier it would have been called “Garibaldi and All That,” but that would have misled a person into thinking it was breezy, and it wasn’t. It laid out the straight path. The obvious background. What Pius IX was doing. What Victor Emmanuel was doing. What the Sicilians were doing. It is useful, and I will keep filling in bits of this, because I am left with plenty of questions. But that’s how this sort of thing works.


Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata, Hikaru no Go, Volumes 4-8. Several more volumes of melodramatic teenage Go manga. Do you want melodramatic comics about Go, wherein stones are placed with a ringing “KLAK”? Because this is that. Yep. It sure is.


Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire. This book is vast and contains multitudes and multitudes of people. So many multitudes. There are cool things going on with plants and parallel worlds; Kameron has given herself room, with the large cast, to ring changes, to be an epic fantasy that is really epic, and yet she hardly goes any of the same places that other epic fantasies go. I will flag that there is a domestically violent relationship fairly close on here, and I didn’t find it less distasteful for being in directions less expected in our culture–that wasn’t the point, one wasn’t supposed to find it any less distasteful, if you think Kameron was endorsing it, go back and read again, but if your background is such that close views of domestic violence will upset you, this one is vivid enough that it should probably be flagged, even though it’s a fairly small component of the book.


Emmi Itaranta, Memory of Water. This worked best for me as an exploration of emotions and symbols and not really as a work of science fiction. It’s Finnish post-apocalyptic stuff, and I just didn’t believe in the future Finland in the book, in a pure physical sense. Socially, possibly, once you had the postulates. But scientifically, eh, no, not really. But there was a lot of water and tea and hiding, and I liked those things. I liked the experience of reading the sentences, when I could stop thinking about the hydrology.


Gwyneth Jones, The Grasshopper’s Child. Kindle. This is a YA with a substantially local/domestic focus, in the world of her Bold as Love series. If you want this book, you really want this book. Oh my did I want this book. (Pamela, I’m pretty sure you want this book!) The protag is a teen who has to care for old folks, as most teens in her culture do, and I would be interested to see how it works for someone who doesn’t have the previous five books. It’s an entirely different set of main characters, with cameos by the protags of the previous five books, but many of the worldbuilding implications and their importance–which are crucial to the mystery plot, I suspect–are sketched in as reminders rather than filled in thoroughly. But having had the previous five books and loved them, I was very fond of this, both for more of the world and for Heidi herself and her friends.


Sebastian Junger, War. The account–largely a psychological analysis–of front line American troops in Afghanistan, by a journalist embedded with them. Junger talked about how this kind of war changes young men, what it asks of them and by extension what we as a country are asking of them if we send them to this kind of war. I felt that he neglected to account for how much the particular front-line troops he was writing about were self-selecting, though, which doesn’t mean that we should be asking them to self-select into those situations, but it does raise questions about what we do with young men of the backgrounds some of them described and the extreme combinations of hormone balance and reaction time some of them seemed to have if we, as a society, are not throwing them into combat situations. Junger was acknowledging that the front line troops he was dealing with were in many ways different from the armed forces as a whole. He wanted to talk about the bravery and intelligence of the men he was dealing with, which is valid, and I think that he felt he needed to elide the ways that their specific kinds of bravery and intelligence are not necessarily transferable even to other jobs within their own branch of the military, much less other jobs outside it. And he wanted to talk about how combat and even life in the combat zone had broken them for other things, which is again a reasonable point to make, as long as he did not elide the point that in a conflict of this size, these specific people were also pretty broken going in, and that is something we can’t really ignore as a culture, either. We’re struggling with how to handle what football does to young men, what hockey fights do, what all the modes of violence do to the bodies of those who participate in them, what it does to shape their minds and personalities and their expectations of the people around them who are not participants, and war is that writ much, much larger. But what we don’t want to talk about, I think, is that sometimes the people we are feeding into our dark machines have been through them already when they were small. Junger writes that whatever a society asks its young men as a group to do, they will become good at, and that might be true (and is worth thinking about what it implies in reverse, and also about young women); but his is not a book about the generation that fought World War II, when somewhat larger percentages of America’s young men were asked to become good at the front lines of combat. For the most part–and Junger doesn’t really want to talk about this–we are asking our young men not to get good at combat. And the ones in his book are the ones who hear our culture, our government, when we say, “Except for perhaps a tiny sliver of you. A tiny, tiny fraction of a percent, we still need to have doing this,” and they say, “I think that means me.” That doesn’t mean they’re horrible people. It doesn’t mean they’re not polite to waitresses or fond of their sisters or any of the redeeming things Junger shows. But it does mean that pretending that they’re identical to the people who signed the enlistment papers next to them and said, “Maybe I could learn to fix airplanes,” or, “I’d be a good quartermaster I bet,” or, “I dunno, Sarge, whatever Uncle Sam wants I guess,” is more than a little disingenuous. Still worth reading about the details, though. Still very much worth reading about the details.


Blair MacGregor, Sand of Bone. Kindle. Discussed elsewhere.


Sarah Moss, Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland. I spent this book rolling my eyes. Sarah Moss appears to have gone to Iceland for a year with two small children and a husband in tow without thinking for even a second that it would be substantially different from the UK. Did you know! Iceland is not the UK! And then even when she figures out what’s going on, she takes forever to figure out why, and sometimes she just never manages it. There are some interesting things about modern Icelandic culture that I slogged through this book to get to, but basically, ugh, sometimes a memoir can make you think, “I…really dislike this memoirist personally.” (Do not put a preschooler in a preschool for three weeks before checking out whether it is a preschool you approve of. Just: no. Don’t do that. Especially when your husband is otherwise a stay-at-home parent and presumably could…go have a look? Maybe? Either you’re so easy-going you don’t care, in which case, fine, be that easy-going, don’t fly into a tizzy when you can finally be bothered to look into things–or else go have a look to start with. It was just this horrible half-assed mix throughout. Ugh.)


Luke Pearson, Hilda and the Midnight Giant. My friend Shannon poked me about this, and I requested it from the library right away, and I brought it home from the library and read it in about fifteen minutes, because it is a kids’ graphic novel. It is a charming and lovely kids’ graphic novel. It has three different scales of action and trying to treat people decently when they are very different from you and bureaucracy. And giants. And a mother who is in some ways very like Lisa from Ponyo. Do want.


Ekaterina Sedia, Moscow But Dreaming. Collection of short stories with a fabulist twist and mostly a Russian twist but not always. Different strengths in the Russian and non-Russian stories. All quite readable, very much Sedia’s vividness shining through.


Peter Watts, Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes. A shorter collection of short stories, and a very different kind of vivid. I didn’t find them all readable, not for lack of skill, but because Watts’s level of dark sometimes goes over the line into too nasty for my tastes at that moment. However. That thing I was saying above, about Junger not wanting to talk about what we do with the people who have already been fed into the dark machines when they reach adulthood? Peter Watts is willing to talk about that. Peter Watts is by no means going to flinch from that, or pretend that those people don’t need useful places to fit in, don’t need to find happiness and productive things to do with their time. And that’s why I keep returning to Watts’s work even when there are some stories that make me go “oh ick no.” Watts doesn’t worry that people will not be able to see bravery and brokenness at once. He trusts his readers for that, and to see that situations may change who is the functional one in a situation in the blink of an eye.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2014-10-02 11:00 pm (UTC)
Big props to Abraham, in my mind, for successfully selling Cithrin as someone who would be capable of inventing the big difficult thing that she invents in this book.

I've read all of Hikaru no Go and at some point I noticed in there that the boy characters were getting noticeably taller and more mature, but at no point did any hint creep into the story that there exists such a thing as sex. At any rate, you seem to be liking the story well enough to get through the first eight volumes, which suggests that you'll enjoy the other fifteen also.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-10-02 11:03 pm (UTC)
Eh, the first eight volumes were lent to me in a chunk by someone who owned them and does not own the other fifteen, so going and getting them would take some effort on someone's part. If it's not mine, I'll probably read them, but if it is, probably not.

Re: Cithrin: yes.
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[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2014-10-02 11:07 pm (UTC)
If you were in Houston I would happily lend them to you. Alas.
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[User Picture]From: rachelmanija
2014-10-02 11:03 pm (UTC)
I haven't read the Junger book so I may be misinterpreting what you meant; do you mean that the men Junger met had already been seriously abused as children and/or already a history of committing serious violence, then decided that what they really wanted to do was to become combat troops?

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-10-02 11:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, that.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-10-02 11:04 pm (UTC)
That is: partially that, and some other stuff.
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[User Picture]From: rachelmanija
2014-10-02 11:11 pm (UTC)
What other stuff?

It's complicated because there's so many Venn diagrams going on there:

- The people who go into the military specifically because they want to engage in direct combat. (Some of whom will be placed behind a desk or otherwise will ed up elsewhere.)

- People who were abused as children. (A very large group, there.)

- People who go into the military for other reasons, and end up in combat because that's not limited to people who are supposed to have that as their main job, or because that's just where they got assigned.

- People who want to do something important and/or exciting and/or challenging, and the military is the only option that seems to offer that.

- People who resort to violence as a matter of course. Lots of civilians are like that. LOTS of civilians.

The group of people who ended up in combat because they 1) wanted that specifically, 2) like to hurt people and/or are really psychologically screwed up is a relatively small group, I think. Especially compared to some of the others above.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-10-03 12:07 am (UTC)
This was a very specific, very front-line-specific group. He may have been talking about a subset of them more than others, though, because those were more willing to talk, more interesting to that journalist, etc.

Still, I think the fact remains that there will be a (probably--ideally--quite tiny, but still existent) group of people who choose the violent options their society labels as heroic (whether that's combat or the NFL or being an NHL "enforcer" or what) because they know their own violent tendencies and consciously want to do something positive with them. And when we, as a culture, are looking at the hideously, horribly negative things that violent options do to people, I think we need to look at what we have as options for people who are making that choice. What therapies we're providing (and at what costs), what other outlets, etc.

One of the reasons we consider these things, of course, is that there is always a huge amount of spillover on people who are not that tiny subset. People who have joined the military for other reasons. People who just like playing hockey and got into fights/concussed along the way. Etc. And another is that just because it seems like the best option people have now, does not mean it's the best option an entire culture can come up with for future iterations of people.

And this is not most people who were abused as children. Not most men who were abused as children. Not most men who were abused as children and go into the military. Etc. I have more to say about this but cannot in public without talking about people I know in ways that I'm not sure they would be comfortable with.
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[User Picture]From: sprrwhwk
2014-10-03 06:08 am (UTC)
This is very wise, and something I have been grappling with for a while. (I work in information security, which draws a lot of the same people.)

There was an article I found today -- and I can dig it up if you're interested -- talking about the difference between empathy versus compassion and kindness, and that compassion and kindness are possible without empathy, which validated some things I have been observing for a while.

I think a lot of us -- and I include myself in this -- know something about the darkness in our soul, and consciously look for ways to do something positive with it.
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[User Picture]From: tool_of_satan
2014-10-02 11:18 pm (UTC)
Daniel Abraham, The Widow’s House.

I take it that this isn't the last volume. Do you happen to know if it's nearly the last? (I usually wait until series are done or about done before I read them, with some exceptions.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-10-03 12:11 am (UTC)
It looks like this is planned to be a five-volume series, and The Widow's House is book four. Abraham is still referring on his website to it as "penultimate" when he talks about launch days etc., so it looks like he has actually kept to his plan.
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[User Picture]From: tool_of_satan
2014-10-03 12:17 am (UTC)
Thank you! I looked on his website a while back but I obviously missed the "penultimate" references.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2014-10-03 05:04 am (UTC)
SHUT UP GEDER

I am annoyed with Orbit for choosing the scene that they did for the teaser in the last book, as it occurred so far into this book that I spent quite a long time waiting impatiently to get to that scene. And it's a good scene! But not worth feeling impatient for that long.

The dragon and the banking are pretty great, though how one can invent paper currency and not immediately think about counterfeiting is, um. Well, Cithrin's still young, I suppose.
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[User Picture]From: athenais
2014-10-03 07:04 am (UTC)
I liked Memory of Water, but it did not seem like Finland at all.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-10-03 10:55 am (UTC)
Not just me, then. Good.
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[User Picture]From: genarti
2014-10-03 08:29 pm (UTC)
I would highly recommend the rest of Frances Hardinge's works, if you liked Fly By Night. It was her first book published, and IMO it suffers the most from trying too hard for whimsy -- and, really, if that's arguably your weakest book, you're doing extremely well, I feel! Fly By Night has a sequel, but other than that they're all in different worlds -- and mostly secondary worlds, all quite different from each other. (Verdigris Deep aka Well Wished is set in more or less modern-day Britain, and Cuckoo Song is set in 1920s England.)
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