February 7th, 2014


What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton

Review copy provided by Tor. Also I am a friend of Jo’s.

Also in personal connections to this book: Jo quotes me as saying that the physics in Anathem is no good, which it true, and which pleases me, because this is just the sort of book I would have read when I was an undergrad doing summer research and trying to find books in Library of Congress system libraries, and having the aside from me and Chad Orzel about the physics might well have saved me from diving enthusiastically into Anathem based on the rest of Jo’s essay only to find out about the physics with dawning horror. I shout through the world of letters to younger versions of myself and people like me: “You’re welcome!”

I read most of this book in its original blog post form, but for me it reads very differently in book form. I’m not sure why. Partly I think that it flows when there’s stuff to go on to: there is the sort of clear path from one essay to the next that is the sort of sensible train of thought that is the exact opposite of what my own reading does, that is how I would construct someone else’s reading if I was going to do it but is not how it actually works out for me. (I am more likely to say, “I’ve just finished Dragon, what do I want to read next, oh, I know, this photography book on the First Nations people of Northern Canada,” than, “I’ve just finished Dragon, next I’ll read Issola.” And I love Issola; it’s my favorite.) (Yes, even more favorite than Tiassa even though I am a Tiassa.) (Yes, even more favorite than Teckla even though it has barricades.) (I digress.) (But so does Jo’s book! So it’s thematic.)

Despite Issola (a graceful sweep, not a trap door!), Jo and I are quite a lot alike in the bits of this that are not about the specific books: the reading in sips throughout the day, the conviction that there are never, ever, ever enough books, and the whole thing is great fun to read. I have seen other people saying that What Makes This Book So Great is going to be an expensive book for them, and it might be that, if you don’t have a good library either in your home or close by. But for me it was mostly a book that made me have to stifle email impulses. The Cetagandans aren’t effete, they’re decadent, it’s not the same thing! And like that. There’s a lot like that. But I like doing that. Genre is a conversation; well, this is a conversation about a conversation. The last essay in the volume is about criticism versus talking about books, and how what this book is doing is talking about books. Well, most of what I do here is book posts talking about books, too. (None of it is criticism, but I reserve the right to talk about food and my dog and so on.) And if you want more of that, here’s a whole lot of more of that, all at once, with Delany and Bujold and all sorts of cool books talked about. Fun, and somehow different fun in book form.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


A Darkling Sea, by James L. Cambias

Review copy provided by Tor.

This is a sort of book I don’t get enough of: the sort of book I refer to as planets-and-aliens. (I know there are other planets-and-aliens fans out there reading this and doing a little happy dance.) There are two kinds of aliens in this one, the Ilmatarans and the Sholen, and they are in quite different relationship to each other and the humans, and everyone is trying to figure out each other and the universe. And that is just the sort of thing I miss and don’t get enough of hurrah go team. And! And and and! It all takes place under the surface of a frozen alien planet! So there is ice and lots of water and two kinds of aliens!

The down sides are fairly small. There is a small incident of sexual violence, noted for those of you who may, after the last five years or so of the field, be fed up enough to be avoiding all such. There is also a moment wherein a character asks another if he could please make his reply to a question a bit less bathetic, and this criticism could in fact be leveled at the human interactions in general. And this may be part of what makes me not attach particularly strongly to any of the human characters.

But bah, humans, who needs ‘em? You can pick up nearly any book in the store and find humans. Thick on the ground, humans. Can hardly dodge ‘em. This book has two kinds of aliens, one of whom is entirely blind and it doesn’t matter in the least because they understand about tasting things in the water and using sonar so thoroughly that we are most of the way through the book before it occurs to them that the funny monkeys have a silent head sense that sneaks up on them. And every time you go thinking that one of the aliens is acting awfully human, something happens that…well, no, really, they’re not.

So I am quite pleased and satisfied. More aliens, Mr. Cambias. More. Humans only if you feel it entirely necessary. But ice and water and aliens: more.