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Marissa Lingen

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What I’ve done for you lately. [Jun. 4th, 2014|12:45 pm]
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For those of you who’ve already finished reading “The Salt Path” in Apex Magazine as linked from yesterday’s post and are thinking, yeah, Mris, but what stories have you written that are available for free online today?–


The answer is, “Maxwell’s Demon Went Down to Georgia” is now available from Nature Futures. Go, read, enjoy.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Good things, early June [Jun. 3rd, 2014|10:23 am]
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1. Apex Magazine’s June issue is out, and in it my short story The Salt Path. Go, read, enjoy. This is one of the good times when I went back and reread it and discovered that I actually did write the story I wanted to write. It’s in the same mental framework as my Tor.com stories have been, in case that matters to somebody other than me.


(Okay, in case it matters to somebody other than me and Alec and Timprov.)


2. Speaking of Timprov, now that the Kickstarter has succeeded, those of you who didn’t get in on it–or possibly didn’t order enough copies of the book or prints–can pre-order copies of the book or order copies of prints here.


3. Speaking of things that are shiny and gorgeous, Elise is having a shiny sale. I have already bought some of the wonders, but I generously left some for you! See how I am nice to you and want you to be happy? Go. Be happy.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Vol. 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988, by William H. Patterson, Jr. [Jun. 2nd, 2014|01:55 pm]
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Review copy provided by Tor Books.


You would think that Robert Heinlein was a writer who could, if he chose, offend plenty of people all on his own without any help. But he has not been left to his own post mortem devices in this! Oh no! No, he has the assistance of William H. Patterson, Jr., to make sure that no stone is left unturned if it might have creeping, crawling things under it that represent stomach-turning levels of ignorance to pass off on the reading public as somehow relevant to the first SFWA Grand Master’s career.


Oh, sorry, maybe I should start this review more straightforwardly: I did not like and do not recommend this book.


Let’s go with the paragraph that brought actual tears of rage to my eyes:


They [the Heinleins] had both fallen in love with the northern countries on their earlier trips, but Finland (which does not consider itself to be “Scandinavian”) was special even among them, with a national character of fierce resoluteness–sisu–that precisely suited their mood on this occasion. The Suomic “do what must be done” was the only attitude that a free people could possibly take, living next door to the Soviet Union. The Baltic states–Latvia, estonia, Lithuania–did not have it, and they had been eaten up by the USSR.


That last piece of toxically inaccurate drivel, friends, has no footnote. No. Footnote. That is not Robert Heinlein talking in any sense. That is William Patterson slandering the people of the Baltic states–using Finland to do it, no less!–on his own hook. For fun. Because it suits his own political agenda to declare, ex cathedra, that if only they had wanted it badly enough, the facts of geography and political support of the 1940s would have been different for those small countries. He knows less than nothing about the Singing Revolution. Nothing about the resisters who went to the camps or who lived in the forests resisting Soviet rule for years and in some amazing cases decades. He knows nothing about what the west did on behalf of Finland–”brave little Finland”–that it never once considered doing for any of the Baltics. No. William Patterson was an American of the Baby Boom generation who decided that what a biography of Robert Heinlein most needed–what people reading about Robert Heinlein most needed–was to have lies about these people just tossed into their reading material for giggles. Because, you know, most people who pick up biographies of mid-century science fiction writers read reams about the history of the Baltic region and can easily have this kind of blatant falsehood countered rather than lodged in the back of their brain as the truth about the people of this region.


Most of my regular readers know that I am a serious Finnophile. I find it all the more offensive to have Finland used as a club on other countries that did not have the advantages of geography and political support. This is just wrong. I used up all my obscenities on this yesterday when I was reading, and believe me, I used many. Today I’m left drained. Today I can just say: this is so very wrong.


I wish that was only one thing. I wish that was the only time that the staggering arrogance of Patterson’s ignorance made itself known in this volume. But alas. If I was the sort to write in books, the single most common thing I would have written in the margins of this one would have been, “Who asked you?” When Patterson was reporting that Heinlein decided to vote for Eisenhower in 1956, he notes, “He was not a Republican, but he voted for Eisenhower–probably the least harmful choice that year.” Who asked you? Seriously, who needed this bozo to be patting his biographical subject on the back at every turn? And on what grounds? What research did he do other than reading Robert A. Heinlein on the subject? Here’s another of Patterson’s un-footnoted long-winded political digressions:


Perhaps there had been embedded in Roosevelt’s New Deal the seeds of this current leftism that was softening the brains of otherwise bright and well-intentioned people, who seemed not to realize that they had conceded important intellectual and moral ground to that stunted and malign child of socialism, as Wells had called Lenin’s and Stalin’s Communism. America’s leftism now had no room for that strain of American progressive optimism and benevolent patriotism that married love of country to love of the great ideals of the Founders, that went back to the last century, through Emerson and back even to that old Puritan thunderer Jonathan Edwards.


This is notable because 1) again, this is all Patterson, not a word of it Heinlein; 2) Heinlein was himself a New Deal Democrat; 3) citation, please? What exactly makes Patterson an expert of any kind on the state of the American left or the Democratic Party as an institution at mid-century or in fact at any time? He can tell you how Robert Heinlein was feeling or at least writing about it, certainly; he had unprecedented access to the letters that would do that. But to just bloviate about what America’s leftism had or had not room for: pics or it didn’t happen, basically.


And this is sprinkled throughout, sometimes in a phrase or two and sometimes at far, far greater length. We are treated to an expansion of Heinlein’s view of Joe McCarthy in which, Patterson opines, “the worst that happened was that some people had reputations blackened, possibly deservedly if they had in fact been engaged in treasonous activities.” (Loss of livelihood to Americans exercising their Constitutional rights of free speech and free association: eh, whatever, no big, as long as William H. Patterson Jr. still finds them suspicious. Nor does he feel the need to actually look into what happened. Reading one single reputable book on the matter would be too much to ask; he’s got pontificating to do.) His citation of Emerson is particularly hilarious given that he’s not at all clear who and what Fourier influenced in American politics, even given a footnote to expand on the matter, and the surrounding material about European liberalism or lack of same is not worth the paper it’s printed on. And again: who asked him? As fascinated as we all are with the 1848 revolution, why on earth does it belong in a Heinlein bio that is already bloated in two volumes?


Various places in the book, Patterson cites Heinlein’s letters feeling that America had moved to the left without him after the Second World War. However, Patterson expands upon this at length and adds his own feelings about it without citing a single political position that would support it. I spent a pretty good chunk of yesterday reading platforms and campaign speeches for Adlai Stevenson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, just to see if I was completely mad, and the single place that I could find where Roosevelt looked considerably less “leftist” was on the matter of race–where Patterson is careful to cite letter after letter showing that Heinlein was pleased at the direction of the Democratic party away from segregation. So what would a responsible biographer do here? At most, a responsible biographer merely says that this is how Heinlein felt. It’s also responsible to interrogate that feeling–to say that this is how Heinlein felt but to note an inclarity as to why he felt that way. Patterson does not. He takes it as given that everything, everything Heinlein felt must be right.


Even in non-political issues (or inter-field political issues), this leads the biography to be a lesser work than it could have been. For example, in writing about a falling-out with Ben Bova over an Alexei Panshin review of Expanded Universe, Patterson does not apparently contact Dr. Bova for any memories he has of this incident. Last I saw or heard, Dr. Bova was alive and well, and his perspective could at least be noted. If it was so “clearly polemical” and “simply malicious,” why did Bova commission a “hatchet job” of one of the most notable writers in the field at the time? Patterson doesn’t care to know–even to dismiss the point of view directly. For him Bova’s point of view simply doesn’t exist. The only place that Patterson notes anywhere that Heinlein might have been wrong is in a dispute with the L5 board over SDI, where he notes that the situation was “more complex” than Heinlein was predisposed to see it. Everything else gets a rubber stamp–not only does Heinlein apparently learn better, he never fails to learn better.


That’s not biography, it’s hagiography.


And the worst of it is, some of this stuff is going to get attributed to Heinlein. Some of this stuff is going to get attributed to Heinlein by the people who think he could do no wrong, and some of it is going to get attributed to Heinlein by the people who think he could do no right, and especially it will be attributed to Heinlein by people who think that he is a symbol of everything right-wing about America today, whether they personally love it or hate it, whether he actually said or thought any such thing. Patterson had unprecedented levels of access to Heinlein’s papers. He could have written a real biography. With the first volume, it almost looked like he was going to. And instead this. It has immensely detailed information about what Heinlein wrote when, which drafts were called what and how they developed. In places there are the sketched outlines of a touching portrait of how a married couple can work together as a team for the benefit of the career of one of them. It’s just interspersed with a pointless, ill-informed, and occasionally sickening slog through What William H. Patterson Jr. Thinks Of Every Damn Thing (Without Actually Looking It Up).


(The most hilarious line of WWHPJTOEDT(WALIU): when he was shocked, just shocked, that even some figure skaters might not be nice people. Golly. Even some figure skaters? If you can’t trust the profession that brought us the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal, indeed, what profession can you trust? That was twenty years ago. No one has any excuse for still thinking that figure skaters are all sweetness and light. Twenty. Years. Yeah. We’ve got some real depth going here, people.)




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, late May [Jun. 1st, 2014|01:28 pm]
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Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History. This is one of those wrenching books that you want to think hard about whether you want to read or not. It’s a history of the gulag system in the Soviet Union. It does not pull punches, and it’s well-researched, and…I already said it does not pull punches. Some people should hold and perpetuate this knowledge. I am glad this book exists. But it is very much not an easy book. If you think that what you’re writing is dark and grim, go read this book and find out what a piker you are compared to Stalin. Otherwise…well, think it over. (A note: Applebaum has a habit of falling into the language of the people she’s writing about, so occasionally there will be a reference in authorial voice to a “Chinaman” or a “Balt,” which, seriously, Applebaum, cut that out. But still generally worthwhile.)


Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross, The Children of Kings. It’s been years since I read a Darkover book, and I fell right into this one like it was yesterday. The Dry Towns! Not enough about the Dry Towns previously. This one skimmed the surface a bit, I felt, but still, fun time, felt very retro.


Alice Cholmondeley, Christine. Kindle. Technically this was from early May but got left off the list accidentally. It was a piece of propaganda for the British during WWI, purporting to be letters from a young British woman who had been studying violin in Germany before the outbreak of hostilities, exposing the deficiencies in the German mindset. It was…interesting that way, very overt. Apparently it was not believed very long in its pen name (Alice Cholmondeley) even at the time; the real author is Elizabeth von Arnim, born Mary Annette Beauchamp, which really gets to be a lot of names for a handful of letters to Chris’s dearest little mother.


Deborah Coates, Strange Country. Discussed elsewhere.


Paul Cornell, The Severed Streets. Discussed elsewhere.


Helen Cresswell, Bagthorpes Battered and Bagthorpes Besieged. The last two books in the Bagthorpe series, and they are not a patch on the early ones. Now there’s only one I haven’t read. I still recommend the early ones (they’re British comedic family books), but these are fairly skippable. They’re also an object lesson in setting a time period and sticking with it. William, the eldest YB (Young Bagthorpe) is a ham radio operator, which had very different characterization implications in 1977 when Ordinary Jack came out than it does for Bagthorpes Battered in 2001–having them stay “roughly contemporary” just doesn’t work. The Bagthorpes do not have cell phones and the internet. Just…no. Also, the more phoneticized Daisy dialog we get, the more it’s clear that her personal idiolect is not at all how a 4-year-old would talk or consistent or even very funny. And these are fairly extensively Daisy-filled. Should have left us with more Grandpa, Jack, and Zero. Ah well. I’m not sorry I read them, but I’m a Bagthorpe completist. They’re hard to get in the US, and the rest of you will not be missing much if you stay with the first six or so.


Gavin Francis, Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins. There was a little bit of too much monkey, not enough penguin here, proportionally, but there was enough penguin in absolute terms to keep me happy, and also I don’t mind polar monkey stories. I actually sort of like them when they’re not getting in the way of penguins, especially when they’re not a rehash of the same explorer tales. This is short and reasonably pithy. And, y’know: penguins.


Ursula LeGuin, Searoad. Reread. I remembered liking these stories about various people in the same small town in Oregon, but I didn’t remember much about them. I think it will probably be the same again in a few years–people run seaside town motels, people get into and out of relationships, and having lived in Oregon the summer before I read them the first time gave me a pleasant grounding in place for what she was trying to do, but none of it bit deep for me. Worth keeping and revisiting but never going to be my favorite LeGuin.


Sharon Kay Penman, A King’s Ransom. About halfway through I began to wonder whether it was a sound notion, basing a book around the portion of Richard the Lionheart’s life when he needed ransoming. But spoiler alert: he is not still languishing in need of ransom. Whew. More seriously, the book did pick up despite a sagging middle, and I’m not sorry I read it, but probably you won’t want to start here; there are plenty of other Penmans that are better places to begin if you’re looking for a thumping big historical thing.


Melanie Rawn, Elsewhens and Thornlost. Discussed elsewhere.


Kim Stanley Robinson, The Planet on the Table and Other Stories. Reread. These sort of prefigure the things he’s done since, and they were pleasant enough to read, but none of them really jumped out at me individually. I don’t think I’d recommend Robinson mostly as a short story writer, at this point. If you’re feeling completist, there’s nothing wrong with this collection, but if you’re not already familiar and enthusiastic, this is probably not the place to start; they’re very much of an era, and the themes get better developed in novels later. Also, despite the title and his later career, it does not look from this vantage point like a very strongly environmentalist work.


Patricia C. Wrede, Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing. Kindle. Pat’s blog is substantially more focused than this one. It’s about writing, and pretty much only about writing. This book, Wrede on Writing, is the refinement of years of blog posts, organized and revised for your edification and set forth to be an actual book on writing. I read it in part because I’m one of the seminar leaders for Fourth Street this year, and I wanted to be able to talk knowledgeably about it for the seminar. I expect it will be particularly useful for the beginning writer, who will find all manner of things, practical advice on actual work but also how to run writing as a business and things like that.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Good things, late May [May. 30th, 2014|07:57 am]
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1. Some of you have already heard this on other social media, but this week I sold a short story, “The New Girl,” to Apex Magazine. Hurrah! Apex will be publishing another short story in the same universe (but not with any recognizably similar elements) next week, so stay tuned.


2. Marie Brennan is doing a Kickstarter for a novel. Chains and Memory will be the sequel to her previous novel, Lies and Prophecy, and you can get them both. Notice how I am saying “will be” and “can get”? That’s because the Kickstarter has already funded. But there are stretch goals, so go give it a look. (Even when there aren’t stretch goals, usually the funding goal for a Kickstarter is not the point at which the project creator starts swimming, Scrooge McDuck style, in vats of money and can make all the cool things in the world happen without anxiety, related to their project. Backers can always back out, expenses always exist. If you think a Kickstarter looks like a good idea from a trustworthy source, overfunding a bit it is nearly always a good idea.)


3. Hanne Blank is doing a new subscription project called 52 Weeks To Your Best Body Ever. Unlike most projects of this type, it will not be strictly gendered, focused on “bikini bodies,” or anything weird and icky like that. This is a “feel better in your skin” sort of project. (It’s Hanne, so there may also be a few “make your skin feel better” things, I don’t know.) I’ve enjoyed Hanne’s previous subscription project, which was recipe focused, and I think she’s got a lot to say here that will be of value to a wide variety of people.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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The Severed Streets, by Paul Cornell [May. 28th, 2014|10:28 pm]
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Review copy provided by Tor.


Last year when I read London Falling, I thought that it was clear that the beats fell where they would in a Doctor Who episode, and that’s still one of the places where Paul Cornell’s TV background is coming through in the sequel. Another place, though, is that I’m afraid he leans pretty heavily on the actors to carry the characterization and charisma of the characters. This…is not entirely ideal in a novel, where there are no actors.


Here, the most vivid character is Neil Gaiman. I don’t mean “someone who was made to startlingly resemble Neil Gaiman but was slyly named something like Bill Hayman so that only those in the know will recognize him.” No. It was actual Neil Gaiman as a major character–and yes, a major one; he seems early on to be making a minor cameo, and if you think, Lordy, this is about all the Neil Gaiman cameo I can take, there’s more. I hate Tuckerizations. This is a Tuckerization on steroids. This could have the alternate title All Tuckered Out. Best Bib and Tucker. Etc.


In a world where I don’t seem to be getting Mike Carey books any more, in a world where Ben Aaronovitch books don’t come out as often as they might, this is a London urban fantasy series, and it will do. But it’s pretty flat affect, and the Jack-the-Ripper inversions don’t ever get as vivid or as important as they might, and, well, it’s all right, if you’re up for that much Neil Gaiman as a fictional character, I guess. I’m a little worried about who will guest star in the next episode–er, novel–and what will be joyless about it. But I haven’t quit on the series yet.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Strange Country, by Deborah Coates [May. 26th, 2014|09:56 pm]
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Review copy provided by Tor.


This is the third in its series, and I think that both the emotional resonances and the plot points will be strongest if you start with the first one, Deep Down. (Edit: Sorry, no, Wide Open is first.) Which is available, so lucky you! Both the marketing copy and the book itself indicate closure as a trilogy, if you’re concerned about never-ending series; on the other hand I feel that this setting/approach has a lot of juice in it still, so if Coates decides to do more related works now that this trilogy is over, I will still line up for them.


As of Strange Country, Hallie Michaels has been back from Afghanistan long enough that she’s had time to make new, South Dakota-based trauma memories. Yay! Um. Not-yay. She’s had a rough ride when the series begins, and things do not get easier for her in the third book: her neighbors in West Prairie City start getting picked off with a sniper rifle, and Hallie and boyfriend (-ish thing? boyfriend-like object?) Boyd Davies have to figure out who’s doing it and why. And why there’s a skeleton buried in the basement of one of the victims, and what the funny rocks with the skeleton are, and how they work, and…


Yeah. So it keeps getting good. But one of the things that makes this special, that makes this not just another urban fantasy, is that it’s not urban at all. It’s very rural. And it’s rural for my people, for the Upper Midwest, for South Dakotans. The sense of scale of the northern middle prairies is just beautifully done, the importance of meat and trucks and the industries that aren’t prioritized elsewhere, the primacy of cities that aren’t even recognizable in most of the rest of the world.


And the dialog–this should be mandatory reading for people thinking of moving to the Upper Midwest from Elsewhere. As Timprov noted, it has Closed Captioning for the Subtlety Impaired. There are all sorts of places where the dialog is absolutely spot on, where what the characters say out loud is, “Yeah,” or, “I guess,” or exactly the very few words they would actually say, and then the text incorporates what that actually means in the next few lines for the benefit of those who are not alive to the nuances of the Yeah. It’s well enough done that I didn’t even entirely notice Coates was doing it until I realized that a few places were feeling a bit redundant to me…and then I went, “Oh. Oh yeah.” Not everyone goes into European history books reading enough French not to need footnotes, and Upper Midwestern is also not a second language for most readers. Better to have the in-line translations. They are very smooth.


Also there are dogs, and the dogs are important. So yeah: I am a sucker for this book.


Edit: Tor is offering a giveaway of the whole trilogy to someone in the US or Canada. Comment on this post (either the marissalingen.com location or livejournal, doesn’t matter), and I will randomly select one of you for the free books. Hurrah free books! Edit again: Argh where is my brain. Comment eligibility for this will close Saturday.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Touchstone, Elsewhens, and Thornlost, by Melanie Rawn [May. 24th, 2014|09:48 pm]
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Review copies provided by Tor Books.


These are the first three volumes of what I thought was a trilogy. It turns out no, not a trilogy at all, but a longer series, so the question, “how is she going to wrap this up by the end?” is answered with, “Oh. She’s not.” The series is called Glass Thorns, which in the context of this fantasy world translates basically as Syringe or possibly Bong or Crack Pipe: the Glass Thorns are the in-world drug delivery system. (Thornlost, the third title, is basically Stoned Out Of One’s Gourd, fantasy style. It is not going to be hard to find readers with more sympathy for this than I have.)


So the basic premise is that there are groups of four men (always four, always men) who perform magic theater, and it sort of gets a rock band dynamic going with the partying and the drugs and the women and like that. Except…I am kind of confused about why someone who wanted to do that scene would set it up to leave out the women who did that scene, and only have the groupies and outsiders–especially someone who was born in 1954 as Melanie Rawn’s bio says she was. Sure, the Beatles, the Stones, etc. were all dudes. But Janis, Aretha, Grace Slick, Mama Cass, Diana Ross…oh, never mind, you can make your own list. Point being, I honestly do not understand why you would set up a world to be ringing the changes on that subculture–which was, don’t get me wrong, plenty misogynist–and then say, “What we need here is way more misogyny.” Having the setup be that misogynist and then having one of the really unsympathetic characters be the Yoko Ono figure…from an entire race of Yoko Onos, basically the only “bad” race of the books passing magic through the female line…ick. And also ew.


(On this front, there is small social progress in Thornlost…tiny, tiny social progress…which is not particularly personally motivated by the stuff that’s been going on with these characters, so…yeah, good for the society I guess, kind of weird and random for these particular people.)


(Oh, and: I also really liked that there was approximately no racial purity in this world. Everybody was some kind of mix. That was good! Except…traits apparently breed true to blood lines in D&D/Batman villain style, with talents and appearance correlating strongly. That’s…less awesome.)


And then…the main character, Cade Silversun, sees visions of possible futures (the “elsewhens” of the second book title). And some of them are great and some are terrible, and pretty much all the really terrible ones involve the band–oh, excuse me, the troupe–doing massive quantities of drugs and drinking. And none of these jerks ever once says, “Huh, maybe we shouldn’t do that, then.” Don’t get me wrong: this is massively plausible if you’ve ever read anything about, say, John Belushi. I absolutely believe that if someone had visited John Belushi with knowledge of his future and said, “Dude, drugs are going to be really dangerous for you, they could end your career or even your life,” he’d have said, “Oh wow, so good to know, I’d better find exactly the right drugs so that that doesn’t happen!” So yes: plausible. Sympathetic and interesting? Not really. And Cade’s move to fatalism at the end of the third book would be a lot more interesting if he hadn’t been so completely fatalistic to begin with: “What can I do to avoid these horrible futures I see? aside, I mean, from actually doing anything significant, or telling my dearest friends about them. Even my dearest friend who knows I see the visions. And stuff. Um.”


I kept reading these books partly because of my misperception that it was a trilogy and would therefore have closure but partly because I am interested in theatrical troupes in fantasy. The use of magic to create specific theatrical experiences, and what their focus was, started out pretty interesting to me. I didn’t feel it lived up to that promise. Rawn did develop some of what the troupes were doing, but their intergroup dynamic was pretty stagnant–the two secondary members stayed very much in the background, to the point where I had to keep reminding myself which was which–and what development was there was more told than shown. There was room for a lot here, and frankly it might still get developed in later books, but I can’t imagine having the patience to sit through hundreds more pages of these people being drunk and high and angsting about what horrible people they might become and not taking particularly many steps not to become them.


Do I sound slightly bitter? I thought it was awfully nice of the people at Tor who send me books to send the first two when they found I didn’t have them, since the third isn’t a stand-alone, but I think it really should have said more to me that the publicity copy was not saying “stunning conclusion” or “triumphant ending” or anything like that. That’s really not Melanie Rawn’s fault. On the other hand, be aware that you will be in it for the long haul with the stoned-out drunk frat-prank whiners if you sign on with this series. That’s what you’re getting here, not…self-contained stoned-out drunk frat-prank whiners.


I really liked Melanie Rawn books when I was a kid.


I’m going to go read something else now.




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Books read, early May [May. 16th, 2014|10:43 am]
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Tanita S. Davis, A la Carte. Mainstream YA novel about a young woman who likes to cook and learns to make less crappy choices in friends. The cooking/baking stuff is all very vivid, but the (Wo)Man Who Learned Better plot is so very didactic that it’s not very much fun to read. It’s kind of like a Sarah Dessen novel that way, honestly. Not the greatest. A lot of people need to learn to make good choices as teenagers, but being yelled at by your books is…not awesome.


Alan Gratz, The League of Seven. Discussed elsewhere.


John Kessel, The Pure Product. Reread. A relief after the Dozois/Martin anthology that preceded it last fortnight. There was snap, there was forward motion, there was…oh, I don’t know what. Zany. There was a reason to show up and a reason to stick around. “Faustfeathers” was pure self-indulgence, but what are short stories for if not to have moments of wandering off into pure nerdy self-indulgence every once in awhile.


Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. Ox hoists! And other details of how they got it done in Renaissance Florence. What really startled me about this book is that they apparently had this dome, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, planned without knowing how they were going to actually make it happen. From a modern standpoint that seems, um, kind of important. It’s a crucial insight into the difference in priorities. The titular dome-builder was a goldsmith, not a mason, which is kind of awesome also. Short book, interesting, detailed and cool.


Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity. Discussed elsewhere.


Blair MacGregor, Sword and Chant. Discussed elsewhere.


Michael Merriam, Whispers in Space. I’ve read mostly fantasy from Michael before, so it was fun to see how he played with SF genre furniture instead. This is a short volume with short stories, so it zipped right by before I could entirely catch my breath. Zoom! Slower readers than I am will still find it fast-paced, I think.


Margi Preus, West of the Moon. This is shelved in children’s…possibly because of its length and the age of its protag? But it’s full of rickets and cholera and abuse and abandonment, so…gruesome things a lot of kids like, I guess. None of the fairy tale references are ever concrete–they’re all things that the main character knows about, not things that happen to her in 19th century Norway and on the boat to America. Interesting work, but if you have a kid who’s going to get freaked out by the gruesome, choose carefully.


Melanie Rawn, Touchstone. To be discussed as part of a larger series review.


Marcus Samuelsson, Yes, Chef. A memoir by the famous chef who is culturally Swedish, ethnically Ethiopian, and now by residence American. While Samuelsson is occasionally not as enlightened as he hopes (who among us is?), his observations about working in and eventually running kitchens around the world remain worth the price of admission.


Clete Barrett Smith, Alien on a Rampage. Second in its series about an intergalactic bed-and-breakfast in the Pacific Northwest. The plot runs on rails, and everything is pretty much as it seems. Very fast read, and I will still give the third one a chance because I liked the first well enough. Possibly will not be so obvious to its target age group–I can’t tell how much it’s because I’m a jaded reader?–but kids are smart, and there aren’t really blind alleys or red herrings in this one.


Daniel Tammet, Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind. I think Tammet thinks that he is more unusual than I think he is, or maybe I am more unusual than I think I am, and so are all the people I know, or something. Also this is probably not aimed at me, because it all read like pretty basic neuropsych stuff to me. Anyway, mildly interesting if you don’t know much about memory, learning, and neuropsych, not that great if you’ve read much of anything in the field already. A fast read.


Jo Walton, My Real Children. Discussed elsewhere.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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My Real Children, by Jo Walton [May. 15th, 2014|09:51 pm]
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Review copy provided by Tor. Further, not only is the author a personal friend, but I helped with this book in draft. You can go to the acknowledgments in the back and see where it says so, pretty specifically.


Various individuals and movements in SFF have talked about how they draw inspiration from whomever they please (I remember one China Mieville manifesto in the pages of Locus waxing poetic on this theme in particular), but I don’t recall seeing very many SF novels that were actually inspired by the sort of mid-century British women’s literary fiction that informs My Real Children, authors like AS Byatt and Rumer Godden–or even their cross-ocean counterparts, Gail Godwin and Margaret Atwood. This very much does. My Real Children is the story of a woman’s life and family, bifurcated. Patricia Cowan starts out singular, a seven-year-old on the beach in the UK of the 1930s, and for her early days as Patsy and Patty we see a unified storyline. Then there is the crucial moment, the split, and it is–as is appropriate for the style of book that this is–a marriage proposal.


Up until that point, Patricia’s world could be our world. After that she is both Pat and Trish, and neither of her worlds are ours. The divergence happens slowly and on human scale–there is no sudden alien landing, no moment where one of the versions of our heroine turns out to be a cyborg from the future–but the small changes are real and important, both to the world at large and to Patricia as a person. Some things that seem like her core self remain constant–when she is an old woman, she remembers two lives, so she conceives of herself as one, as herself. Others–everything from faith to food–diverge sharply enough to call core self into question.


Which makes it sound like an intellectual exercise, when it’s not that, or not just that, it’s deeply emotional. Each of the characters gets highly personal joys and sorrows, very sharp emotional relief but also bits of keenly observed mundane life that doesn’t quite line up with the way mundane reality worked out in our own timelines. All sorts of bits of women’s lives that get ignored or swept off to the sidelines in traditional science fiction are front and center here, and it is a richer book for them.


It’s a very strange feeling, trying to write an ordinary review post about a book that I already talked to the author about in this much detail while it was in draft. I’m all ready to talk about how it makes me hungry for gelato, how I thought of this book when people my age were moaning about how it didn’t feel like twenty years since Kurt Cobain died and I blurted out, “Come on, not only had I not had sex then, I hadn’t even had gelato,” and then I thought of My Real Children and whether there was a branched-off universe in which I never had gelato, not even once. I don’t think so. It doesn’t sound like me. But then it wouldn’t have sounded like Pat, either, so there we are, not knowing which column it goes in, the unchanging fundamentals or the large looming things that get oddly swept aside as a result of small perturbations. And now it’s coming out soon and the rest of you can read it and see what I mean about the gelato and how Bee is the best but Bethany is pretty good too, how we make the best lives we can in the worlds we have to deal with and sometimes the best lives and the best worlds are not at all convergent.


I love this book because it’s doing more than one thing I like at once in ways that nobody else is doing, and even if other people start doing more of it, it’s full of concrete specifics, so I will still love this one, the way the children are in passport control and the way one experience in college informs two evolutions of viewpoint in entirely different ways. I love the bits of this book that don’t go the obvious places they might have. It has wrenching horrible pieces and is not always easy to read, but it would not have the impact that it does on me if it didn’t. Most of all, though, the overlap of influences gives it such rich context that I really enjoy, and I will be interested to see how people who come to it from only one part of that context or another find and enjoy it.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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