Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

What I've Been Reading, Early August

Elizabeth Bear (matociquala), Blood and Iron. Someone on my friendslist (yhlee, maybe? or maybe Bear herself) linked to yendi saying, "It's not as good as War for the Oaks, but it is much, much more ambitious." This confused me mightily, and I had to sit and make scrunchy faces at the monitor for awhile: why on earth would someone think to compare those two books? Oh, right: the our world/Faerie thing. But -- still why? This is the problem with categorizing books by element instead of by feel. They do not feel even remotely alike.

Anyway, War for the Oaks changed my notion of fantasy novels and thus my notion of what I could do with my life when I was 14. There was no way B&I was going to do that -- I don't think any other book can ever do that to quite the same extent -- and it's not its fault that it didn't. But I think describing them in terms of ambition does both a disservice. They're trying to do different things, but both are hard things, and both are important things. And both, I think, succeed pretty well -- at least for me. There were a couple of spots where I think Bear would do better today, but the river flows onward and all that. I'll be waiting eagerly for the next.

Steven Brust (skzbrust), Dzur. This is another time when I heard other people's reactions and went, "Huh?" Apparently there are people who don't think Dzur is resolved enough. I think they and I have different priorities, maybe. Or different ideas of what "resolved" even means. Take, for example, the activity Vlad is about to perform at the end of the book (please do not put spoilers for other people in the comments): the fact that he's about to perform it is quite resolved enough for this book, and adding the activity itself to the end of this book would make it pull all out of shape and wobble funny.

Of course, this is a middle book in a series. Definitely, not everything is resolved. This far into the series, no one should have expected anything different. But it's a book, not an installment -- it has its own feel, and the next one won't feel the same, and the beginning and the end were purposefully placed. And timprov and I were talking about it, and I think the thing that lets me know it's like that more than anything else is that if the next book has to be something besides the chronologically next bit (as has happened elsewhere in this series), I will be totally okay with it -- whereas if he'd stopped in the middle of this one and not gone on, I would not have been okay.

The structuring element of this one -- the menu -- charmed me, but it also left me hungry for Hungarian food. Really, really hungry, actually.

Also, the new person who showed up was good, and the old person who showed up was even better. It is what I wanted it to be.

Colin Cotterill, Disco for the Departed. This is the third in the series, and it shows every sign of being a good long-standing mystery series. It's historical Laotian magical realist murder mystery. The main character is Dr. Siri, the national coroner, an old man who has been "rewarded" for his service to the Party with this position he doesn't especially want -- he would just as soon retire quietly. He has an amibitious young nurse, Dtui, and a morgue assistant with Down's Syndrome, Mr. Geung, for his sidekicks, and they're all very well-handled. This book has pretty high stakes from early on, and it brings in some Cubans with their attendant traditions. I think it's magical realism. It may be fantasy. Hard for me to say, unless one is applying the "white people have fantasy, brown people have magical realism" definition, which I think sucks. Someone else read something from this series and tell me what you think about this point.

Antonio Damasio, Descartes's Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. This book...oof. There were some interesting points in it, but I felt that Damasio confused "writing for the lay audience" and "writing for the total idiot audience" a bit too often. Lots of hand-holding. And since this was neuropsychology, I couldn't help comparing it to Oliver Sacks's work, which was a million miles superior in prose and content, or with Luria's, which was still much better even in translation.

Patrick Dillon, Gin: the Much-Lamented Death of Madam Geneva: the Eighteenth-Century Gin Craze (: The Book With Too Many Subtitles). This book would have done better, I think, if it had gone a little further beyond the Gin Craze itself. As it was, several elements were clearly the author's favorites, because they kept showing up over and over again. Perhaps for a slower reader this wouldn't be as noticeable, because the book would get read over a week or more. I read it in about a day. I was heartily sick of the, "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence, straw for free" sign by the end of that day, no matter how clever Mr. Dillon found it. On the other hand, there's all sorts of stuff about historical heavy drinking in Britain I didn't know before and now do.

Patricia Fara, Sex, Botany, and Empire: The Story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks. Pretty little slim volume, very fast read, discusses different approaches to botany at the time. And as scottjames said of the title when picking it for my birthday present, "Three great tastes that taste great together." Seemed to have a firm handle on the small details I know about (Saami stuff and a bit of evolutionary biology), and therefore I trusted it on the things I didn't already know.

Ellen Kushner (ellen_kushner), The Privilege of the Sword. It had girls in it. Girls! This is one of the ways in which my brain is totally unfair: if a modern male author had been writing books so lacking in girls, I would be deeply unhappy with them and possibly wouldn't have read this far. Is it fair that Ellen Kushner can get away with it and they can't? No, of course not. But it's how my brain works, all the same.

But -- okay, I'm going to be totally my age and sex for a minute, so bear with me. You know how when you were five years old -- almost five, anyway -- and "Return of the Jedi" came out, and for whatever crappy reason it did not feature Princess Leia with a light saber? And you felt stunned and betrayed and a little sick in the pit of your stomach, but you told yourself that when the next trilogy came out, it would certainly feature girl characters with light sabers? And then it didn't? And it didn't really even feature anything else good to make up for it, but you knew that that was your price, that you could have been bought for a girl character with a light saber, that all the midichlorian bullshit needless comic relief nonsense lack of coherence would all have wormed its way into your heart if only there had been a girl character with a light saber, and then you felt dirty and cheap as well as gravely disappointed?

Ellen Kushner didn't do that to me. Not only did she not deprive me of my girl swordsman, but she didn't try to force Jar-Jar down my throat with it. Thank you, Ellen Kushner.

Jay Lake (jaylake), Rocket Science. I went zooming through this book. Whiz! Bang! Etc.! We have Nazis, we have Communists, we have the US Army -- I know, let's bring in the Mafia! The problem is, the only arc that felt resolved to me was the one that interested me least. I don't know if there's supposed to be a sequel, and I'm not even sure there should be. It was just the opposite of Dzur in that I haven't heard anybody else complaining about resolution, but I kind of felt like maybe they ought to. Still: whiz! bang! etc.! The whiz and bang is not to be denigrated.

John D. MacDonald, The Scarlet Ruse and The Turquoise Lament. I was not conscious of a reason to put off reading these next books in this series: I liked the series, and they were quick, fun reads. But A Tan and Sandy Silence, which precedes them in the series, had spooked me pretty well, I think, because every time my hand paused over that section of the book pile, it moved on elsewhere. Anyway, while these two are not happy-chipper books, they are still fun, fast reads, and they're much less alarming than A Tan and Sandy Silence. I probably won't wait so long for the next volume. (These are borrowed from dd_b, so I have the next books sitting on the corner of my desk -- I don't have to track them down when I want more, I just have to ask.)

Sharyn November (sdn), ed., Firebirds Rising. This one started out slow for me. There were a few authors I knew I liked whose stories I liked, and there were a few good stories I either expected not to like due to author or didn't know anything about. There were also some stories I expected to like (due to author, again) and didn't -- not because they were bad, just because they felt done to me. Still, the sum is better than an anthology can expect to do, I think, and some of the doneness is probably not a problem for much of the target YA audience.

Sherwood Smith (sartorias), Wren's War. I am still partial to the second book in this series -- I think I am a middle-book person in many ways -- but I also think it's fun to watch sartorias become a better writer over this series. Even if I am late reading them. I'd definitely lend them.

Rex Stout, Not Quite Dead Enough, The Silent Speaker, and Too Many Women. Again borrowed from dd_b. This is more Nero Wolfe. It's very Nero Wolfey. In fact, it could hardly be Nero Wolfer.

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller. For me, the question with this book was, how much of it was going to be personal history of Kate Wilhelm or the genre as a whole, how much history of the Clarion workshop, and how much writing advice? Sadly for me, it was mostly the last two. I won't say I'll never make elementary mistakes again, because we all still sometimes trip, but having someone tell me "make the story matter" is not particularly useful any more. What I'm saying is that most of this book was not aimed at me. Which is fine, but be aware that it might not be aimed at you, either.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Troll Bridge. Butterheads! Well, the butterheads didn't play as much of a role as I'd hoped, but they were there, and I was happy. This is the one I heard them read from at their joint reading at World Fantasy, and so I had Jane Yolen's troll voice firmly planted in my head. Which was a very fine thing indeed.

And now I'm reading scott_lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, but I'm not very far into it. Actually I'm on the first page. So really nothing to report there.

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