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Books read, early July. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early July. [Jul. 16th, 2012|09:37 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Wow, was it a big fortnight for bouncing off books. Uff da. But some good stuff got in there too, so it's not just that I was cranky. I will pretend that we can call it discerning instead.

Margaret Blackman, Sadie Brower Neakok: An Iñupiaq Woman. This is a biography of an influential woman in Alaska's far north in the mid-to-late twentieth century. The subject worked closely with the biographer in interviews and the like, which has a lot of advantages but also a few disadvantages: unless Margaret Blackman is a complete moron, she almost certainly saw that the subject's white father was being a racist jerk about her non-white mother and the rest of the non-white part of his family on more than one occasion, but "WOW YOUR DAD SUCKS" is not something you can write in a biography without your subject's approval. Despite Charles Brower's general need for a good kicking, his daughter Sadie grew up to be pretty interesting, serving as magistrate and generally useful personage up there. This is not an amazingly written biography, but if you're interested in the far north beyond standard explorer narratives, it helps to fill in the picture.

Douglas Botting, The Giant Airships. This is one of those big picture books. It ends with the Hindenburg. Which is nicely dramatic, but feels a bit unfortunate as endings go. Unless you're of a macabre turn of mind, which...okay.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano, Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession With Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science. This had all kinds of cool tidbits about things floating in the ocean and how they float and why and like that. However. I really feel like Scigliano, the journalist in this pairing, didn't do his job very well. This book was marketed as a book about ocean flotsam, and it kept getting away from him and becoming a partial book on flotsam and a partial memoir for Curtis Ebbesmeyer, which...seriously, he's done a lot of cool stuff about flotsam, but I am just not that interested in what year his daughters were born or how he met his wife. (It was not a funny story.) I am interested in left shoes and right shoes floating differently enough that they end up on different beaches. That part was cool.

Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Huge and cool, talked about how even with as much as people talk about the printing press, they still underestimate it, particularly in its effects on science. Talked about it ushering in the age of the autodidact, which I just loved. Very much worth the time and wrist strength to hold up and read.

Haikasoru editors, The Future is Japanese. The down side here is that this was done by Haikasoru, a press that specializes in Japanese speculative fiction in translation, so I'm not about to get a whole series of anthologies of stories by and about other nationalities, because I could really dig The Future is Chinese and The Future is Indian and The Future is Kenyan and The Future is Romanian and like that. The up side is that this was done by Haikasoru, a press that [see above], so they know what they're doing with picking and translating, and this keeps clumsy shallowness about the culture in question at a bare minimum, which I don't think would be nearly so easy if you were trying to do it all from scratch without a background in both speculative fiction and the language/culture in question. For me the standout stories were the ones by Rachel Swirsky and Project Itoh, but the content is varied enough that mileage will probably also vary.

Raechel Henderson, editor, Spellbound Sampler 2012. Kindle. I make a practice of not reviewing collections I'm in, and I'm in this one. I'm not sure whether you can still get a copy or whether it's only for Kickstarter supporters.

Naomi Kritzer (naomikritzer), Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories. Kindle. This reminded me a lot of the Diane Duane short story collection I read recently. I'm not sure why. I think Naomi's stronger at longer lengths, but there were interesting corners to fill in here, and the title story was a...I don't want to say fun per se. It's not rompy. But sly perhaps? A sly take on the myth it was using.

Ari Marmell (mouseferatu), False Covenant. Second Widdershins book. I wish more of the characters had some focus outside Widdershins. At the time I felt like it was too much "everybody loves Widdershins," but with some distance I think it's that everybody thinks too much about Widdershins, even the people who heartily do not love her. On the other hand, she is pretty fun and charming, so I can see why they'd want to think about her for--oh, say, the space of a YA novel at a time.

Greg Rucka, Alpha. This is one of the best thrillers I've read in ages. It's got good infodumping. It's got underlying political assumptions that aren't loathsome. It's got a bit where you do not underestimate the deaf teenager! It's got the fairly realistic-looking workings of an amusement park. It was nifty and went fast. I recommend it.

Karl Schroeder, Ashes of Candesce. So he was going somewhere specific after all, and not just going on indefinitely, which is both good and bad, in its way. I think on the whole I am more eager to see what Karl Schroeder does next than I was to see what he did last with this, but it was still a reasonable wrap-up.

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. The title is using not-governed and anarchist in fairly specific technical ways. Some of these--why, for example, the author feels that the distinction between taxation and tribute is so key--don't get really fully explicated until halfway through the book. On the other hand, he's fairly convincing about the tension and balance between a state with pre-WWII levels of technology and its border regions, with people moving in and out between them. And the stuff about which kinds of farming work towards whose ends, state and small-group, was really fascinating. I was worried about this one, since Scott's previous book was not at all what it said on the tin, but this really was, and was quite satisfying and recommended to those with interests either in Southeast Asia or in politics.

Sherwood Smith (sartorias), Blood Spirits. The second half of the Ruritanian fantasy story started in Coronets and Steel. This feels a great deal less like it's directly inspired by The Prisoner of Zenda, possibly because the vampires have come more to the fore. Usually I would prefer Zenda to vampires, but in this case I feel the balance was necessary between the two books. You always have to choose, with a Ruritanian fantasy, how much fantasy content there will be, but in C&S there was a promise of more, and that promise was fulfilled here. (Along with other promises. Um. Spoilers. Right then.)

Mark Traugott, The Insurgent Barricade. What it says on the label, more or less: this is a discussion of the barricade as a tool of insurgency in Europe before the First World War, how it started and how it spread and when it was most common and why. I am a big sucker for barricades, and having the complete appendix of barricade events by itself made my heart sing, even without the rest of the analysis.

Ian Tregillis, The Coldest War. Discussed elsewhere.

Dan Wells, The Hollow City. Discussed elsewhere.

From: swan_tower
2012-07-17 03:18 am (UTC)
I pretty much looked at the title of The Insurgent Barricade and thought, hey look! A book just for Mris!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-17 01:42 pm (UTC)
That is what Mark said, too, but I said no, Timprov is going to read it also.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2012-07-17 03:19 am (UTC)
Ooh, so many of these sound so interesting, it makes me sad that the only one I've read is Botting's. If my memory serves (my copy is in the imprecise location of "around here somewhere, dangit" thanks to my most recent move), his emphasis is on airships with a rigid framework, which had a sufficiency of mishaps to be abandoned as a technology. There have been attempts to create lighter-than-air ships of similar size post-publication, though none have actually been put into service yet, that I am aware of.
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[User Picture]From: netmouse
2012-07-17 10:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks as always for the interesting reviews. I've read a bunch of things lately but only standout one was Joplin's Ghost, by Tananarive Due. Half historical novel, half modern ghost story (the narrative goes back and forth between two time periods) featuring an interesting if not as strong as I'd have liked female musician protagonist.

I thought the book was really strong until near the end, where I got the impression perhaps the author wasn't sure what she wanted to do with the device she was using, so she got vague with it and I think I liked an earlier notion I'd had of where she was going better than what she did. Expectations, they can mess with you. It was still engrossing but on the whole the long past is a mostly tragic story and I guess she decided to stay true to that instead of cheering everything up, which seems honest.

Anyway, I'd be interested to know what you think of it. A subplot about the protag's relationship with her father was particularly well-realized, and the historical parts about Joplin and his musical compositions and fellow musicians was fascinating.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-18 01:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks for pointing that one out. I had kind of flagged Due in my head as "too horror for me" but the combination of not flinching from the tragic and actual Joplin (I had assumed from the title that it would be a metaphor! I like actual Joplin!) pushes it over into wishlist territory for me.
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[User Picture]From: netmouse
2012-07-19 07:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, when I mentioned on a panel at Renovation that I loved her and her mom's shared autobiography Freedom in the Family but am not a Horror fan, someone in the audience recommended Joplin's Ghost, and it was a pretty solidly non-horror experience. There's one sort of "possibly possessed" item in the book, which is an angry and resentful piano with a violent past, but I liked that for the most part it just does creepy things that are completely in line with being a haunted piano. There's one tiny bit in the end where she gives it a slight characteristic that was more Standard Evil Thing than creepy piano, and I could have done without that, but it was very brief and doesn't escallate into anything nasty.

I'm also planning to check out her historical novel about madam CJ Walker, America's first female millionaire, which is called The Black Rose.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-07-19 11:42 pm (UTC)
Dang, my library has neither of those. But a bunch of her more horror-y stuff.
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[User Picture]From: nancylebov
2012-07-22 06:10 pm (UTC)
Perhaps a publishing house could commission people from various countries to create a series of The Future Is [A Place Other than the Usual].

Edited at 2012-07-22 06:11 pm (UTC)
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