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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

Fantasy Flights June Meeting - Urban Fantasy

Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older Owl and the Japanese Circus - Kristi Charish Zero Sum Game (Russell's Attic) (Volume 1) - SL Huang Drink, Slay, Love - Sarah Beth Durst Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes

The librarian usually sends out links for each months topic. This month, her links include an article titled something like "what is urban fantasy" that only says it's a marketing category and a list of "where to start" that has more male authors than female authors. I, just, I don't know, ya'll. If I were introducing someone to UF, I'd probably talk about the use of noir tropes in contemporary fantasy settings, broken vs unbroken masquerades, and Carrie Vaughn's theory, "these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power." But, sure, here's a dude saying it's meaningless marketing and a list of mostly dudes to read.


The other big UF reader in the group is going to be out of town for this one, so I'm trying to psych myself up to deal with a room full of guys all talking about Harry Fucking Dresden. 


I'm also bounding myself by recommending in-progress series or stand alone books. A few months back, one of the members asked for recommendations for completed UF series that weren't PNR, and I want to avoid repeats. Okay, he didn't say PNR, he asked for books that weren't all about vampire sex. So at least one person may have some non-Dresden. . . take a deep breathe, Saturdays, you don't want to start another fight in book club.


Whatever. I love this genre. 


Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older. So far this series has 2 novels and 3 novellas and is dynamite. The protagonist is an artist who discovers her legacy includes channeling spirits into physical forms. She makes her graffiti come alive. Yeah, that's right, I talk all that shit and then start off with a book by a man.


Owl and the Japanese Circus - Kristi Charish. Action packed with an unlikable heroine, this series follows an antiquities thief and her vampire hunting cat through endless poor decisions and explosions. I adore that she isn't good with weapons and doesn't have powerful magic abilities. I just recently finished the 4th installment, and the heroine is consistently a train wreck.


Zero Sum Game (Russell's Attic) (Volume 1) - SL Huang. Fast paced, plenty of violence, and her magic power is being really good at math. Do I need to go on? 


Drink, Slay, Love - Sarah Beth Durst. A teenage vampire gets stabbed by a unicorn and finds herself able to go out in daylight. Her family decides to enroll her in high school so she can lure teens back to the rest of the bloodsuckers. This is a lighthearted, almost rom-com book that is exactly as much fun as my first sentence indicates.


Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes. The protagonists are all human in this not-quite police procedural where strange murders point toward incomprehensible motives.


 And I think I'll stop there. I really want to add about 10 more books. We'll see where the night leads.

Review: Space Opera

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

File under "Appreciated More Than Enjoyed." 


The tag line for this is epic and perhaps I set my expectations too high. I expected the long asides, they're the glue that holds together the nonsense ride of a plot in HHGTTG. I liked the referenced, and recycled, but not quite stolen whole cloth versions of the babblefish and infinite improbability drive. I expected the spectacle of Eurovision as illustrated through wildly different alien species. I did not expect the talking cat, but I did like the talking cat. 


I also didn't expect that, after publishing The Refrigerator Monologues, a book dedicated to the female characters of comics who died to provide motivation for male comic book heroes, Valente would center the character motivations of her two male protagonists on the death of a woman and build the narrative around her absence. I thought Trillian got the short end of the stick in Adam's comedy, but at least she was there.


I have other complaints, that the asides are a little too long and the end a little rushed. Mostly, though, I think they all boil down to the same issue: If this had been a novelette instead of a novel length work, I'd probably have loved it. This is just too long for as little as happens, and I had too much time to think about what I didn't like while waiting for anything to happen.

Review: The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal

Alt-history &  hard SF where a meteorite crashes off the east coast, forcing the ramp up of manned spaceflight in the 50's. The main character is a computer with a doctorate in physics who wants to be an astronaut, but sexism.


This is excellent, warm, funny, sad, and everything in between.. This is a book I didn't know how badly I wanted until I got to read it. Great characters, great science and engineering, and great story! 


I read a manuscript that I won in a charity auction and look forward to reading the final book as soon as it is out.


Review: Under the Pendulum Sky

Under the Pendulum Sun - Jeannette Ng

DNF at 34%. Queen Mab has finally appeared on the scene, but I'm tired and bored and increasingly convinced that the narrator is going to either fuck her brother or reveal that they have previously been lovers.


Impending incest or not, this just isn't the book for me. The prose is great. There just isn't enough action for my bloodthirsty tastes. Like the narrator, I long to flee the grueling repetition of being stuck in the same manner with the same odd people and take to the wilds. Sadly, when she does finally break and make a run for it, she almost immediately turns around.


Probably great for fans of Goblin Emperor, another excellent novel I couldn't get into. 

Fantasy Flights May Meeting - Nebulas

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak

Every month, I go to a book club that meets at a local taproom. Rather than reading a specific book, each month has a theme. May's theme was the Nebula Awards because, well, they are awarded in May. The Nebulas are one of those awards I've always been vaguely aware of from stickers on books, though I do enjoy Ceridwen's Blogging the Nebulas posts. I was a bit surprised to see how many previous nominees I'd read. I had to cull down to just a handful of recommendations. 


Here's what I ended up bringing from this year's ballot:


Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty. I wanted to read something on topic for the month, so I compared this year's Nebula and Hugo nominees. The overlap included Six Wakes, which I hadn't read yet, and is published by Orbit. The Hugo voter packet includes whatever publishers provide, and Orbit has traditionally included excerpts of nominees, not full books. Strategery! Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. 


The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss. I read this one last year, and abso-fucking-lutly loved it. Great characters in an interesting concept, and there's a sequel out really soon. I was so happy to see it on an awards ballot. I won an auction for a signed copy that arrived a day before our May meeting.


I also decided, like I had when our theme was the Hugos, to bring some of my favorite losers. The awards hadn't been announced when we met, so I didn't even know my first two picks had lost. I would have brought Stone Sky, but I've rec'd to this group before. But here are some real losers:


A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar.  I adored this beautifully written fantasy novel about a book nerd's misadventures. The not-sequel is also amazing. Samatar's prose is just wonderful. My copy of this was signed here in Alabama, at a lecture she was giving MFA students in Tuscaloosa. Because if a master of the genre is going to make an appearance in my state, I can be a little late to work the next morning. Oh, since I'm late posting this, I can link to her recent AMA. This book lost to Ancillary Justice in 2014. But it did win a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, and a Crawford Award. Samatar also won the Campbell Award for best new writer. Her blog has since become private, so I can't link to her post about the WFA, but more on that in the next book.


Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor. My copy of this is technically a gift for my niece. I got it signed at Worldcon in Chicago. She's almost old enough to read  it. This is a different indictment/celebration of fantasy than Samatar's, but no less powerful or wonderfully written. It lost to Blackout/All Clear in 2011, and I can't even. It did win a Kindred, and a World Fantasy Award that year, sparking an essay that eventually resulted in a redesign of the award statue 5 years later.


China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh. I read this so long ago I don't have a review for it. It combines a vast scope with a well done character study. McHugh has done a lot of outstanding work, and this is no exception. This lost to Doomsday Book in 1993, but won a Lambda, Locus, and Tiptree.


Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny. This is one of those books that starts off firmly a fantasy, but reveals itself as science fiction, and the author is a poet. One of my favorite books. My current not for load copy is the leather bound Eaton Press edition. In addition to being a piece of goddamned art, this book was the cheesy sci-fi novel used as cover for the Canadian Caper, aka, the CIA operation in Argo. It lost to The Einstein Intersection in 1968, but won a Hugo that year.


All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak. Simak wrote at least three versions of alien invasions that followed roughly the same plot. This is the best one. A small town finds itself cut off from the outside world and some purple flowers are revealed to be extraterrestrials. Creepy and weird, it's worth a read if you're visiting that era of scifi. It lost to Dune in 1966, making it one of the first losers.


Next month's theme is Urban Fantasy.

Review: Ace of Shades

Ace of Shades - Amanda Foody

This book is like the inverse of Last Call; all the characters are compelling and the look and feel of the world is gorgeously envisioned, but the mythology is under developed and the resolution lacking.


My first Owl Crate book, a fast paced adventure in a dazzling world full of mystery. The first two thirds was great, loved the main characters and the setting. The pacing is good, and the heroine, while overwhelmed with a world beyond her experience, is smart enough to figure out how to survive.


The last third was more invested in setting up a sequel than in providing any sort of satisfactory conclusion. The game, alluded to throughout, when finally played, was underwhelming and told with far less intensity and detail than previous events in the book.


I'm on the fence about reading a sequel. I liked these characters a lot. I liked a lot of the concepts and visuals, but I can't tell if the lack of resolution is an issue of where in the story this book stops, or an issue with the author. Perhaps Moody is interested in different aspects of the narrative. 

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.