John Joseph Adams, ed., Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57. Kindle. This is the disadvantage to reading things on my Kindle in bits and pieces when I am waiting in line places etc.: it takes forever, and in the case of short fiction, I note what to recommend and then forget what was in that issue. In this case I mostly remember Bear’s reprint novella as really lovely. Very old issue of Lightspeed, but I am not the only one with a giant reading queue, so I think I will not stress about it.
Anil Ananthaswamy, The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self. Fascinating neurological cases focused (in some ways loosely) around disorders of sense of self. This is one of those books that makes me uneasy, because I felt it was fascinating and well-researched pop neurology, except for the chapter about autism, where I know the most from research and personal experience. That chapter had some statements that were utter bullshit. (Example: autistic people do not engage in imaginative play? The hell you say, they do it in my living room. In most rooms of my house in fact. Also, I continue to maintain that treating autism as all one thing is a major problem, and the fact that Ananthaswamy was willing to charge merrily on with the idea that autistic people have trouble with theory of mind when over a third of the autistic people in the tests he was discussing did not have any such trouble is only one example of why I think this is problematic.) And…when that happens, I have to wonder whether the people with other neurodivergences or neurological diseases and their family members are reading the book going, oh yes, great stuff except for the one chapter I know about….
Victoria Brehm, ed., Star Songs and Water Spirits: A Great Lakes Native Reader. This book does not divided along US/Canada borders for the quite sensible reason that the Native/First Nations tribes/groups did not use that national boundary for their cultural boundary. It has a wide variety of authors telling very different types of stories, some old legends, some poems, some talk about life in various eras. Very interesting reference book, good jumping-off point for further reading.
Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid. Interesting study of a semi-legendary figure that takes a brief and startling left turn into Saint Olaf, and if anybody should be incapable of being startled by that venerable personage it should be me. Goes into the contrast of the legend and the fact and how political needs shaped later stories. Probably not a great introduction to the legend of the Cid or to the Moors in Spain and the Moors going out of it again, if you’re looking for an introduction.
Reginald Hill, Underworld, Bones and Silence, Asking for the Moon, Recalled to Life, Pictures of Perfection, and The Wood Beyond. (Ed. note: only the last four of these seem to be in print.) So two things happened here. One: I got a cold, and rereading a favorite series felt just right, comfy and nice. Two: I hit the really good part, the part where I would recommend people start reading for the first time. That line happens at Bones and Silence. That book is still of its time in a few demographic details, but it is, in my opinion, the point in the series where Hill really cuts loose and starts playing with literary reference and structure; after that, the books have the reasons I wanted to read the whole series in the first place. Even a volume like Pictures of Perfection, which is structurally weak and gimmicky, is still essentially charming as a reading experience. The exception here is Asking for the Moon, which is a set of four shorter pieces and highlights why short mystery pieces are harder. It also contains a dead-end: Hill had no idea, twenty years in, how much longer his mystery series would stretch, so he had a 2010 moon base setting with an elderly, retired Dalziel, when in fact the last volume of the series was published in 2009 and…no moon base, not nearly so elderly a Dalziel, not nearly so cynical a relationship between the titular two detectives. The other thing that happens at Bones and Silence besides structural and literary complexity is that the role of Wield consistently continues to expand, and I love Wieldy; he is my favorite. His life improves and his role in the books expands and la la la yay Wieldy.
Nalo Hopkinson, Falling in Love with Hominids. Cannot lose with this volume of varied speculative short work from one of the modern masters of the genre. I don’t feel that the very short pieces are her strength, but otherwise just dive right in. Recommended. One caveat: if you have zero tolerance for horror or creepiness, this is not the place to start with Hopkinson, because some of these stories are quite effective at being unpleasant.
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest. Discussed elsewhere. I would like to talk about the title metaphor with someone who has read the book, please, if such a person would email me.
David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. Nineteenth century, mostly early. Oh lordy there is so much James Fenimore Cooper. You might think, “How much James Fenimore Cooper can there be?” And the answer is, “ARGH TOO MUCH.” There are other people who are more interesting than Cooper (LIKE EVERYBODY), some of them even crossing the line into actually interesting. But the pressing need to slay James Fenimore Cooper with a dull spoon pour encourager les autres really dampened my enthusiasm for this book. Especially since there were lots of 19th century American medical women who got short shrift thereby, and I was promised plagues! Promised plagues and received Fenimores! What a thing!
Oliver Sacks, On the Move: A Life. I am very glad that I read this eminent and chatty neurologist autobiography a few days before Dr. Sacks died, rather than having the fraught decision of whether to read it immediately upon hearing his death or having it hanging around being a thing I want to read but freighted with different meaning. Its structure is very much “here are some things I wanted to say about myself before I go,” and I’m glad he got the chance. I am gnashing my teeth in particular about the missing book about myoclonus (noooooooo)
Jonathan Spence, The Death of Woman Wang. This was just the sort of nice rural Chinese 17th century history, focused on a region and its inhabitants in ways that one doesn’t get often, that allowed me to brace myself for the titular darkness of The Dark Forest. I hold further volumes of Spence in reserve for future need of similar kind. I feel sure they will have famine and bandits and trials and other things like that, things that are quite interesting when happening far away to other people.
Charles Stross, The Annihilation Score. I didn’t want to put this down while I was reading it. Afterwards I felt somewhat less positive, though I still liked it. I guess I feel that Mo is not as successful a voice as Bob–her concerns are too similar to his, the details she notices too similar. Also the ending made me furious. FURIOUS. Not in a “haha the author sure got you” sort of way that one should feel smug about but literally incandescent with rage, and yet I did not dislike the book enough–and I love the series–that I am anti-recommending the book on the basis of the last few FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE pages. Somebody who has read this please email me and talk to me about this so that I can vent without harming the innocents. Breathing. Yes. Really, as I said, love the series. Did not want to put it down while reading it. Have hopes of further volumes. But those last two pages OH MY GOLLY. And really: do not start here. Do not. Start at the beginning of the series, there’s a dear. You have direct evidence further up the page that I am not a “start at the beginning at all times” purist, and I bet you don’t have to start with volume one here. But not this one. And not just because of the flames. Because there are all sorts of places where follow-ons and consequences matter quite a lot here.
Jeff Sypeck, Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of AD 800. This is a warm and charming book. It is a quite reasonable introduction, so it probably has things many of you won’t need. On the other hand, it talks about what we can know about Charlemagne’s relationship with his daughters and with the nascent Frankish Jewish community, which was awfully nice. And there was the poor fellow who walked most of the way from Baghdad to Aachen with the elephant. Which is bad enough, being him or being the elephant, but can you imagine being the Frankish peasant along the wayside? “Gran, there’s got to be ergot in the rye, you won’t believe what I’ve just seen.” “Na, lass, come look what it’s left behind as a gift, the fields will bloom for years. Get the shovel.” Give me a book about the Empress Irene and I still end up in the fungus and dung. Peasant ancestry woooo! Annnnnyway. I brought that bit with me, you can’t expect it in the book. There was the Empress Irene in the actual text, though, so that’s all right then.