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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

Currently reading

The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Upcoming projects

I did actually finish a couple of books this weekend, and now have a small backlog of reviews to write, but I want to take a moment to discuss some projects projects for this blog.


2018 Hugo Ballot Project


This year's edition of the same series I ran last year: a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so. Last year, Series was ratified and YA is also now on the ballot, though the name hasn't been finalized. I'm working on these posts right now, but they may not all appear until after voting has formally closed. There is a lot to write about.


Fantasy Flights Project


I joined a book club last year that meets at a local tap room. Beer and speculative fiction, what could go wrong. Rather than getting together to discuss a specific book, we have a theme each month and trade recommendations. Each month, I've spent a bit more time thinking through what I want to bring, and pulling odd bits of trivia for titles. I'm not sure it's enough for a monthly column, but may as well give that a try. 


Year in Review Project


Seems like I should have topics for next year's Year in Review. I'll do the same summary style post (with counts, best reads, and basic stats), the rape post, and a post comparing planned to actual 2018 titles read. I may also do an Owl Crate review after having the service for several months (but not the whole year). Any other topics I should be tackling?


All that, plus still trying to get at least a small review for every novel I read and keep up with the gardening. Ha.

Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation - Justina Ireland

Finished this one a while back, but somehow dropped the ball on writing a review. 


This is excellent, but a case where I liked the first half more than the second. An entire book set during the lead's time in zombie hunter training school would have worked for me.


At the same time, though, I appreciate Ireland not lingering on any one place to long. This book moves. The protagonist is clever, quick, and good with a range of weapons, but has a lot to learn about the world. And a lot to reveal to the reader. The long, slow lead up to her back story really worked for me. And the world is almost as openly racist as our current administration. A world where people openly believe that the dead started walking all over the world because of the civil war - now there's some delightful American exceptionalism.


I didn't love some of the side characters. The scientist, for example, I wouldn't trust further than I could throw.


It ends in a place that both works as an ending, and is in no way the end of a story. I hope there's a sequel in the not too distant future.

Hello, May

I appear to be doing that thing again where I keep starting books without finishing books. So sorry about the lack of reviews. I'm incapable of finishing anything at the moment.


Oh, look, two new, shiny books just appeared on my Kindle. Maybe I should also start those without finishing anything else first.

Like Time Travel But With No Hope Of Paradox

I was at a conference for my job on Thursday, and the popular swag item was small bound notebooks. I probably collected six different ones, all different sizes. On the way out, my phone locked up, restarted, and kept trying to restart until it's battery died. It is now completely dead.


My spouse was on the opposite coast for his job, so I was completely without any form of phone. Completely disconnected from my hand held calendar and email, with a weekend packed full of stuff. 


It's like I woke up in 1997. Sleeping alone, checking email the rare times when I am home and not already working on something. Writing shit down so I can remember it. Good thing I picked up all those new little notebooks. Singing along to Fiona Apple playing way too loud in the car.


Okay, that last one was gonna happen anyway.


I had to go to three liquor stores yesterday because I couldn't call to see if they had the gin I wanted in stock. 2 parts 27 Spring gin, 1 part lime juice, 4 parts Fever Tree tonic water, I don't need to look that up at least. And Hendricks will do just fine if after three stops, I haven't found the bottle I'm looking for. And I couldn't call the stylist to let her know I'd be a few minutes late to my haircut appointment. I mean, really, she's lucky that I happened to log into a computer and notice it at all. Not like I got her reminder text.


I went to a nursery today to pick up herbs. Last weekend, I did some research to see what would grow well in a part shade bed. I stared at a row of plants for 10 minutes trying to remember any damn thing I'd read a week ago, unable to either access the list I made or redo the internet search on the fly. Parsley? 


I am beginning to think not springing for express shipping on the replacement phone was a mistake.


Also, hey, I still own an alarm clock for some reason.

Review: Six Wakes

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty

A fun read, with well constructed reveals, and a space ship with a twisted sense of humor. The crew of a ship all wake up in new clones to find the ship has lost gravity, the ship AI is off-line, and the cloning lab is a zero-g abattoir containing the mutilated corpses of most of their last clones. And apparently decades have passed, but those memories are lost.


A lot of this book has a my-kind-of-odd sense of humor. From the pun in the title to basically 3/4 of Hiro's dialog.  It was also kind of interesting, so soon after watching Altered Carbon, to see such a different take on cloning and stored consciousness. In the universe of Six Wakes, cloning is inexpensive, but becoming a clone alters the rights a person has. In exchange for immortality, you can't have children, and if there are duplicate clones, the older version must die. Also, with identity being so much code, hacking has been outlawed completely, even for hacks that eliminate genetic diseases.


The clone laws are listed at the front of the novel, and explained via flashbacks to relevant portions of each character's life prior to boarding the spaceship this murder mystery is set on. It's almost reminiscent of I, Robot, except that all these vignettes are integrated into a single narrative to discover who done it and why.


I didn't love the ending. The solution was satisfying, but something about the actual end of the novel felt abrupt.


Overall, though, quite a good book. This is on both the Hugo and Nebula ballots, and I can definitely see why.

"That's the smell of opportunity. And maybe a little piss."
Ace of Shades - Amanda Foody

I got my first Owl Crate yesterday. Here's all the swag that came with Ace of Shadows:


Book, preview booklet, coffee, soap, button, pencils, vinyl sticker, post cards, etc. on a Crooked Kingdom inspired pillow case.


The soap is berry scented and the coffee is chocolate, salty caramel flavored. The pencils are marked "PROPERTY OF THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE" (black), "MISCHIEF MANAGED" (gold) and, "I SOLEMNLY SWEAR I AM UP TO NO GOOD" (red).

Review: Wrong to Need You

Wrong to Need You: Forbidden Hearts - Alisha Rai

This sequel to Hate to Want You is a wonderful, exhilarating read about a woman struggling to get by reconnecting with a childhood friend who skipped town a decade ago.


I adored this novel. I loved the heroine's at odds, but still involved in family relationships. I loved the hero's quiet competence and patience. It also doesn't hurt that she's a cocktail nerd who likes sex or that, while baby sitting, he explains Japanese internment camps in America to her kid. Or that these were my favorite two characters from the previous book.


Excellent, satisfying.


The only downside is that I'm not interested in either of the leads for book 3.

Review: Obsidio

Obsidio - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

Not as wild a scifi concept as book 2, but just as action packed a ride as the rest of the series, Obsidio concludes the Illuminae Files detailing how the files were constructed and what happened on the illegal mining colony after the initial attack. Great illustrations, great graphic design, great writing. I've really enjoyed this series.


I'm also kind of glad it's over, as the longer it goes on, the more it stretches my suspension of disbelief that so many key characters are still alive. And not because they're mostly teenagers; fucking teenagers can do anything. Just, you know, that's a lot of crits in a row even for weighted dice. Like, a cat is introduced just so we see the building it's in get demolished, but the cat's fine.


But what ever, it's a better story that way.


Also, I know this isn't much of a review, but The Book Smugglers live tweet of reading this is already a far better review that I could hope to write.

Review: Whipping Girl

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity - Julia Serano

I don't generally rate nonfiction, so the lack of stars is not an indication of quality.


This is a very interesting compilation and analysis of research into transgender women's experiences, written by a trans woman. The earlier section deconstructing media portrayals of trans women has fundamentally altered my viewing of that content. Some of the other sections, though, I don't know that I have the background to grok. And some of her depictions of concepts, like gender as a construct, do not match my own in ways that make reading some sections quite challenging. I would put both of those in the positive category, though. No point reading to rehash what I already know.


This book took me ages to read. I wouldn't read it when I was too tired to pay attention, which is apparently a lot of my reading time since changing jobs. I think I learned a bit. I hope I did, anyway. 

Review: Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome (The Arcadia Project) - Mishell Baker

Book 3 of the Arcadia Project trilogy. I wasn't actually sure how many books would be in this series, but this reaches the kind of conclusion where, even if more books were added to the series, I'd still call the first three a trilogy. 


This book has the same excellent pacing and unreliable narrator as the previous two, but adds more locations to the mix. Both other parts of Earth and extended periods in Arcadia. There are also some new great characters and some excellent returning characters. And Caryl cannot handle any of it. Jesus, Caryl, what the fuck.


One of the things I love about this book is that I can't explain the story to you. In spite of the fast pace of the whole series, Baker has managed to integrate a ton of world building, and the plot in this one is constructed so deftly from those constructs that a summary would be unintelligible without having read the first two. There are heists? And high jinks? 


Another of the things that I love about this series is that it's heavily character driven. Even if watching the pieces of the plot come together weren't superb, I'd still be all over this series for the narrator. I'd read her narrate fucking up an Uber ride to the airport. 


The only thing I didn't love about this book was the interior vision quest sequence, but if Life Is Strange couldn't sell me on that concept, I doubt anyone else can.


A solid conclusion to a fun and interesting series. I'll be interested to see what Baker writes next.

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective

The Tea Master and the Detective - Aliette de Bodard

I ordered one of the limited edition hardcovers, even though it was stupid expensive for a novella, and I have no regrets. The book (the actual physical object) is lovely. The material covering the boards is a sort of sparkly antique copper and the end paper is a lovely, textured orange. Together they form a lush wrapper for a gorgeous set of pages. 


The ebook gets either the same gorgeous cover or another that is so very cool I kind of wish I had the painting. Here's the Hardcover and US ebook cover (and an alternate cover by the same artist). And the worldwide ebook cover is here, but doesn't appear on the artist's website yet.


 But enough about how pretty it is. This is also a very good read. A gender swapped Sherlock teams up with a tea-brewing spaceship Watson to solve a murder. If that sounds like a fun time, this will work for you. The prose is solid throughout and lovely in some places. I hope there are more of these. Not just more stories in the Xuya Universe setting, but more with these two characters.

Review: Stone Mad

Stone Mad - Elizabeth Bear

Same great narrator as Karen Memory, but too short and too straightforward for my tastes. I really do struggle with novella as a length, y'all. 


There are some great scenes in this one, but I definitely wanted more. More gadgets, more dialog between the three strangers she meets at dinner, and far, far more of her trying to build a successful life with her wife.


It put together some pieces that could possibly lead to another story. Or I'm just being optimistic. I'm not even sure.

Hugo Finalists Announced!

I am so excited to see All Systems Red on this list!

Review: Monster Portraits

Monster Portraits - Sofia Samatar, del samatar

The latest lovely from Sofia Samatar and illustrated by her brother, this is a short jaunt down strange lanes, reminiscent of Ogre of East Africa or any number of other Samatar stories. The fantastical elements blended with sharp observations of real life.


I really wish I could find the quote from her about her style being research paper with personal oversharing.


The illustrations are lovely and the whole thing a beautiful, sad delight. My only complaint is that I'd have liked a hardcover copy.

Review: Victor LaValle's Destroyer

The Sundial - Shirley Jackson, Victor LaValle

I don't seen the omnibus edition cataloged here, so be warned that this review covers the six issue run, not just issue #1.


I don't think there is anything not good about this. The art is great, the characters are compelling. The introductory essay is a thing of beauty. I loved the novella LaValle had on last year's Hugo ballot and I love this even more.


This is Frankenstein revisited with an eye towards modern times and inescapable pasts. The protagonist inspired more by Shelley than V. Frankenstein, but entirely her own character with her own driving desire. Grief turned inside out and revenge inevitable, every page a masterpiece. 


This is just great.

Review(?): The Bride

The Bride - Julie Garwood

So I had a few drinks at a fundraiser masquerade and got into a conversation about romance novels with a friend. I asked her to recommend some titles that featured smart women and consent, and for some absurd reason, this was one of the two titles she dropped.


I . . . feel we have different definitions of consent. And possibly smart? But I DNFed this at the second non-consensual sex scene so maybe she does turn out to be smart?


I mean, I had my doubts when it was a forced marriage plot with an alpha male, but surely, with only two criteria in the selection process . . . no. Just no. My definition of consent doesn't include "he wanted to be able to control himself, but couldn't." It doesn't include no's that don't mean no. It sure as fuck does not include a woman waking up to find a man having sex with her. That was about the time I remembered that this friend was so pumped for me to read Twilight that she put a copy in my hand.


I don't know if I'm going to even try the other title she suggested.