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Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the sequel to last year's charming Flying. It's not a bad book, but it highlights the perils of sequels rather clearly. Flying has a clear emotional arc and core: Mana is figuring out what the heck is going on with aliens and enhanced humans and her place in the world, but her relationship with her mother and her friends is rock solid. In Enhanced, the central mystery is far smaller in scale. The basic facts of the world are known and we're down to figuring out the details. Mana's mother is out of commission, and her relationship with her friends is shaky for most of it.

Possibly worse, her combination of cheerleader and superpowered (enhanced, as in the title) individual really doesn't get a chance to shine for a full three-quarters of the book. Mana is scared, uncertain, and on the defensive--which is fine, but it's less fun to read about than Mana discovering, exploring, and kicking butt.

There are some new aliens, some new government agencies, some new developments in the world. But in general this feels like a little more of the same but less so. A de-escalation in some senses, a holding pattern. I still believe that Jones has somewhere to take Mana and her pals Seppie and Lyle, and this book is a fast read to get to the next step, but...we're not at the next step yet, and I don't really feel closer.

Please consider using our link to buy Enhanced from Amazon. Or Flying.
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Elizabeth Bear, The Stone in the Skull. Discussed elsewhere.

Sean B. Carroll, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo. Evo devo is, generally speaking, bullshit, but Carroll is someone I heard at Nobel Conference, and he goes beyond Just So Stories; he is a good egg. And he talked in general in this volume, stuff that one could find anywhere and probably already knew if one had the slightest interest, but then also about insect wing patterns, and the insect wing pattern stuff was interesting, so basically: skim to get to the insect wings.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance. Kindle. I had had such smashing success with 19th century novels lately! (Oh my Middlemarch.) And this one is set in a Fourierist phalanx and I thought, brilliant, lovely, let's do that then, perhaps I love Hawthorne now too! Oh. Oh neighbors. No. No not so much. Poor Mr. Hawthorne. I read all the many many pages of Middlemarch, and North and South and Framley Parsonage and so on, and never once did I think, well, poor lamb, I suppose you can't help it, it's like being born before antibiotics. And yet with The Blithedale Romance I caught myself thinking that on nearly every page. Because it was the only way through, the other alternative was to shake him until his teeth rattled and send him to bed without supper, two punishments that would not occur to me without 19th century novelists, thank you my dear Louisa. So: he goes on at great length about how men have no tenderness really, and there is a bunch of maundering stuff about women's work and the purity of women and how bachelors have to obsess about whether the women around them have known marriage before (hint: nope, obsessing on this topic is completely optional), there is a Dreadful Secret, he abandons all interest in the Fourierist phalanx except as background noise...oh Hawthorne. Oh Hawthorne no.

Ursula K. LeGuin, Searoad. Reread. I first read this when I lived in Oregon. I keep learning things about characterization from it, how she creates a seaside town one person at a time, how the stories link and twine and inform each other. This time, thanks to a conversation I'm having with Marie Brennan, I thought about how differently it would read if the stories were in a different order, how a character is shown novelistically though the structure looks like short stories.

Carter Meland, Stories for a Lost Child. This is a literary science fiction novel in an Anishinaabe tradition; the way that Meland uses the rhythms and patterning of language are not at all the same as the way Gerald Vizenor does in Treaty Shirts, and having more than one is really nice, I want more, yay. Stories for a Lost Child goes forward and backward in time, contemporary teenagers trying to figure things out, a grandfather writing with stories previously barely dreamed of, a space program, past pure water, all sorts of elements that fold together.

Mary Szybist, Incarnadine. This is a poetry collection focused--not in a religious-inspirational way, in a literary way--on the Annunciation. The image, the idea of the Annunciation threads through these poems, beautifully. They are beautiful poems. I was beginning to worry that they were all going to be beautiful poems and none of them were going to be heart-touching for me--that I was going to nod along and say, yes, beautiful, well done, but never, oh, oh, would you look at THIS one--and then, and then there was Here There Are Blueberries, so: oh. Would you look at THIS one.

Carrie Vaughn, Bannerless. I had previously enjoyed some of Vaughn's short stories but not really been the target audience for the Kitty books, so I was really excited at what a complete departure this is. It's a police procedural of sorts, with flashbacks to the (sorta) cop's young adulthood. It's also a post-apocalyptic novel, with a catastrophe that has led people to seriously consider their resource usage. And it's also a relationship story that, because of flashback structure, allows the protagonist to grow past her teenage relationship, to change and be an adult. For a short novel, there's a lot going on, and it all fits together and wraps itself up by the end. Pleased.
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Review copy provided by Tor Books. Additionally, the author has shown by his behavior that despite what I've said in previous review disclaimers about his books, he is absolutely no friend of mine.

However, quite often people who have made me sad, angry, and/or disgusted with their behavior write books that are too dreadfully written to bother to read, and this is not the case with Vallista. This is another entry in the Vlad Taltos series, and like the others it is not doing exactly the same things as its predecessors. It is expanding the universe of the series, it is messing with everything that has gone before and recasting it. It is definitely not an episodic "like this one, but more of it" entry in its series, and the trap-building nature of the vallista comes satisfyingly into play.

What was less satisfying for me this time around, and this may well come into reviewing the author rather than the book as I am trying not to do: everyone has tolerance limits on the First Person Asshole voice. It's no surprise that a substantial portion of a Vlad Taltos novel is written in First Person Asshole. Some people's tolerance is about a page and a half, some infinite; mine is, at this point fifteen books into the series, fraying. (I would also like it a lot if someone would write a study of how FPA voice shifts in a long series so that it always feels contemporary and therefore includes very mild contemporary phrasing that's almost but not quite invisible and ends up being the prose tic version of a long mystery series looking like it only spans two years and yet starting with the protagonist using pay phones and ending in them using smart phones. Someone who is not me should do that using several authors as reference. Thanks.) But Vallista also has, for very good plot-related spoilerific reasons, forays into other prose voices than that, which made it a lot easier to read just when some of the "look at me I'm clever" bits of narrative voice were not feeling quite as clever as hoped and had repeated the not-clever multiple times just to make sure you had a chance to not-laugh at it again. I liked...hard to describe for spoiler reasons...pieces of other prose voice, and the reasons why they were there.

There is quite a lot of Devera in this book. If you're here for serious forward momentum on ongoing plot arc and for Devera: here you go, this is the one you're looking for. Relationships among other characters in the series, a great deal less so, but there's a great deal of "can't have everything" going around in the world, inevitable that some of it would end up here.
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Friday night Mark and I took our ten-year-old goddaughter to her first jazz concert, a real grown-up concert in the atrium at Orchestra Hall, not a kids' concert, tailored to her interest in drums. It was a smashing success and I have been telling people the joyful parts of being able to share this with her, how captivated she was, how the other concertgoers were delighted by her.

There's another tiny piece I haven't mentioned, but it's the week it is, the year it is, the world it is.

When I went out to the bathroom at intermission, Orchestra Hall had the pre-ordered drinks sitting on a table completely unattended. No staff near the table, no staff even visible. People's names were under the drinks, patrons were milling around. I was appalled. And when I went back in, I mentioned this as a terrible idea, and I said to Lillian, "Sweetie, don't ever, ever, ever take a drink that's been left unattended. You always, always, always watch who has had control of your drink." And she nodded solemnly and said, "Yes."

She is 10.

I did not say "rape" or "rohypnol" or "GHB." At her age, she probably honestly filed it away as "someone could spit in that, gross." But...she is 10. She will be in high school before we know it. And you have to grab the moments you can. You have to take the opportunities. If you sit a kid down for a lecture, here is all the stuff you need to know, some of it will fly past, some of it will not go in. And you will forget to say some of it. If they only hear stuff once, some important stuff will be lost.

I was not that much older than she is when my cousin told me the same thing, always know who has had your drink, do not drink an unknown punch at a party, even if they tell you it's non-alcoholic, maybe especially if they tell you it's non-alcoholic. Watch them make your drink, keep your drink with you, do not leave it on the table if you go to the bathroom, finish your soda, get a new one after.

She is 10.

She is 10, and I hope no one has said Harvey Weinstein's name to her. She watches Big Bang Theory, and I wish she didn't, because it's full of toxic bullshit, and because Mayim Bialik is trying to tell her that if only she's good enough, if only she dresses the right way and wants to be a good smart girl it will be enough. It will not be enough. This thing I am telling her, at 10, about control of her drink, about how to hold her hand when she punches, about kicking for joints and soft places on the body and running like hell, about how she is worth it and never think she is not worth hitting as hard as she can, as hard as she has to: it will not be enough. I cannot promise that it will be. It is what I have. I can give her that my friends think it's amazing that she loves the drums, my friends want to introduce her to the lead percussionist and help her see all the cool percussion instruments. I can give her grown-ups who see a tiny pixie child intent on listening to jazz and want to give her more of the world, not less. Who say, when you go out in the world, this is what you do--not, don't go out in the world.

She is 10, and I told her, never take a drink that's been left unattended.

It will only get more like this, in the years ahead. As the adults, we always want to think it's too early to have to say the words, and by the time we're comfortable, it's too late, they needed to hear them already. We want to protect them from the words, and we can't protect them from the world. So the opportunities come in the strangest places. It's fun when it's "do you know what Cubism means?" This one was not a fun one. But you take the moments you get. She didn't have to dwell on it, she nodded and went on with her evening, which she declared to be joyful hours. It's still lodged in my heart, though. She's 10, she's 10, she's 10. I want that to be a magic incantation, but it isn't.
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Review copy provided by Tor Books. Also the author is a personal friend.

This is the beginning of a new trilogy for Bear. It's set in the same universe as Range of Ghosts and its sequels, which I loved, but it is not a sequel to them per se. As such, this is a great place to jump right in. Different things with different characters! Doing their own stuff with their own themes and foci! Readers famously--infamously--want "more of the same, but different"; this is definitely different, and I think setting it in the same universe will push enough of the "more of the same" buttons for many people.

What has it got in its pocketses? Well, the opener is an ice wyrm attacking a caravan on a frozen river. Frozen riverrrrr. So I'm in. The travelers there center on a pair of roving adventurers, who...don't share a lot of the traits you expect of the classic fantasy traveling adventurers. Like being alive in all senses and human in all senses--though they are more human than many of the adventuring pairs I've read whose authors meant them to be human in all senses. The Dead Man and the Gage are my new favorite buddy road trip pair.

But it's not just their book. There are also--for more than balance--two rajnis. Two princesses whose not-princess title matters, whose ruling roles are complex and who must make calculations about their own power, the power of those they care about, their people, their people's relation to the environment. The water divers, the snakes, the elephant and the lilies...these are some of my favorite elements in a modern fantasy novel, pulling in politics and setting as they do. The way that rajni Sayeh's life as a third sex person within her culture matters, the way that it does and does not change how she sits on her throne--but also the way that her motherhood changes everything she does. I love Sayeh best. There is always a risk that there will be one favorite character, with multi-POV novels, and I love Sayeh best--but not to the point where I was impatient to get through the other scenes, not to the point where I wanted to be done with Mrithuri or the Dead Man and the Gage.

This is definitely the beginning of a trilogy, so we have miles to go before we sleep. But I'm pretty eager to go those miles.

Please consider using out link to buy The Stone in the Skull from Amazon.
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Colin Cotterill, The Rat Catchers' Olympics. This is the latest in the Dr. Siri mystery series. Like many ongoing mystery series, it leans on "these are the people you already like having adventures," so The Coroner's Lunch is a better place to start if you're interested in historical Communist Laotian magical realist murder mysteries. In this installment, most of the gang heads to Moscow for the 1980 Summer Games. This is simultaneously very typical of long-running murder mystery series doing something "offbeat" to try to change things up and completely thematically appropriate for what Cotterill is doing with Laotian communism and Siri's crowd.

Umberto Eco, The Book of Legendary Lands. A lavishly illustrated book of Atlantis, Ys, and similar places. Eco makes sweeping pronouncements at the drop of a hat, often in ways that completely baffle me; the "we" and "us" he refers to certainly don't include me, but it's a beautiful book and at least mildly interesting. A highbrow bathroom book.

Max Gladstone, Ruin of Angels. A romp, a joy, a heist and a half, a family drama, doing completely different things with coexisting cities than The City and the City, a book that runs hot and cold very literally...it slices, it dices, it juliennes! Despite not having a number in the title, this is the latest Craft book, and I expect you'll be glad to have it around. I am.

Robert Holdstock, The Bone Forest. Revisiting this short story collection did neither it nor me any good. It was a situation where I feel that his handling of sex magic and the mythic has not aged well over the decades since I first read this book, and...look, I'm not saying you can never portray a character with loathsome pedophile reactions, I'm saying that I want a damn good reason to sit through that, and I don't feel like the last story in the collection gave me a good enough reason. I hope we've all grown as a field since these stories.

Jill Jonnes, Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape. This started out talking about which trees had been popular to plant in which eras and why, and it gradually decayed into a litany of tree diseases, and oh heavens diversify your plantings, people, diversify your plantings. I wanted to curl up into a ball and rock. Plant more trees and not the same ones as your neighbors. Don't be seduced by a uniform canopy. Aaaaah. Aaaaaaah. Look, maybe you don't cry reading about emerald ash borers, that's fine, not everyone is me. Statistically quite few people in fact. But still, plant more trees and not the same ones as your neighbors good grief.

Ursula LeGuin, The Compass Rose. Gosh the worries of the '70s are not the same as the worries of now. I tweeted about this, but...there was so much of "they will call everybody crazy" and then the assumption that there would be care for people labeled mentally ill. From the vantage point of forty years later, oh bless, if only. Some of these stories are great and some are not, but...I kept being reminded of my grandfather telling me that 90% of the things you worry about never come to pass. And that doesn't mean the future won't be worrying, as LeGuin well knows.

Kazuki Sakuraba, A Small Charred Face. Discussed elsewhere.

Vivian Shaw, Strange Practice. An urban fantasy from a medical standpoint, with a humane attitude towards groups and individuals that get treated rather more harshly in other urban fantasies. Structured neatly. This has an ending and yet leaves open the possibility of more, which is a good thing. I gulped it down in one eager night.

Laura Swan, The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women's Movement. This is a good starter history of beguines. If you already know something about them, it will not be greatly revelatory. Swan is earnest and passionate about her subject, and she's particularly clear and keen about the relationship between nuns and beguines, which gets very sweet and touching in spots without in any case making me doubt her accuracy.

Karin Tidbeck, Amatka. This is utterly unlike The Dubious Hills except the pace and style of the incluing/worldbuilding hit me similarly. It's a science fiction dystopia, more or less, sort of, and very Swedish, and very short, and I liked it, but it's very hard to describe how metaphysical this book gets. Very. It gets very, very metaphysical about very, very practical things.

Jenny Uglow, The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine--Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary. Brief and lucid biography of a fascinating figure and her even more fascinating church. Several works have noted that it anticipated the major ideas of Ruskin by a decade and could neither influence nor be influenced by him, existing off on its own as a singular work with ideas about nature and building and carving and art. The book also talks a fair amount about family and women's choices in the mid-19th century. I had just gotten to the point of thinking, this really is reminiscent of Middlemarch when I turned the page and Jenny Uglow had the same thought but more formally: Losh's reactions to Rome were not entirely disjoint from Dorothea's (but again it would have been very difficult if not impossible for them to be an actual influence on Mary Ann Evans/George Eliot)--it's just all zeitgeisty in the parts of the 19th century I like best.

Fran Wilde, Horizon. Discussed elsewhere.

Sarah Wise, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London. This did not remind me of Middlemarch. I honestly got it from the library when I was reading Middlemarch thinking, well, 1830s, there we are then. No, but that's what Middlemarch is like, it's going to be like that around here for awhile, some of you know what I mean. But! This is popular history, quite readable, talks a lot about how medical training was happening and its intersection with the sensationalist press and the end of some laws that protected apprentices in the UK at the turn of the 19th century. Interesting stuff.
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Review copy provided by Tor Books. Also the author is a personal friend and all-around nifty person.

This is the culmination of the trilogy that started with Updraft. If you're the sort of person who needs to know that something has a definite-and-for-sure ending before you buy that thing: here you are, here is the ending, it is a really-truly ending that ends. (I really want to encourage people not to do that, because it's a good way to make sure people don't get to have their endings published--especially people like Fran who have given you nice volume endings in addition to the larger series ending. But I know that such people exist, so! Here is the information you were looking for: ending!)

I don't recommend starting with Horizon. This is clearly a culmination, and there are only two books before it to give you the plot and character arcs Fran is weaving together here; it's not like you have to read twelve bugcrushers to get to what she's doing here. Kirit and Nat and their friends and relations--and grudging allies, and adversaries--are back and struggling for survival--trying to figure out, from page one, what shape their survival can even take.

For that reason, it's hard to review Horizon in very concrete terms, because there's so much that it's doing that depends on the previous books. It's exciting from the first page, it's all engineering and all social and all heart, all at once. Fran's weaving threads and perspectives together in ways that she didn't in previous books--rather than resting on previous successes, she's doing this book in a new way, and it works. It's the way this book would have to work, but I love to see that in a first series, rather than copying the structure of a first book that's had as much success as Updraft has, I love to see an author following the story and doing what it needs even if the structure isn't the same. The previous volumes didn't pull punches, and neither does Horizon, but it does that in its own way.

The ending is satisfying without being overly tidy, without being one-size-fits-all for characters who have spent this whole trilogy coming in different sizes. And...I really appreciate the way people with common goals don't always trust each other, don't always like each other--and are sometimes very grumpy at the compromises they have to make with each other. The world is like that; the world of fiction too often finds it difficult to be both satisfying and realistic, but I think Horizon manages both. With lots of astonishing creatures and feats of derring-do in between.

Please consider using our link to buy Horizon from Amazon.
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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by Haikasoru Books.

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve read in a long time. The Bamboo, the creatures in it, are described as vampires, but they’re really more grass monsters who eat human carrion. They’re described as scary, but I’m not particularly scared by them so much as baffled by their strange, secretive, hierarchical laws. (For me, this is a feature, not a bug.) And on basically every other page, I’m left saying, “What? What?” (Again, a feature, not a bug.)

There are three sections varying widely in time, with different protagonists. Even within the sections, the timeline swings wildly, spending pages on a conversation translated lovingly to attempt to show what level of formality the Japanese conversation used (oh, a losing battle) and then going over forty years in a single line. I would say that it’s full of plot twists, but that sounds very linear, very straightforward, as though things are following one upon another with logic–it is full of plot twists the way the dream you are trying to remember from two nights ago is full of plot twists. “And then you what? Why? Okay.”

And then the grass monster reached the end of their life and exploded into flowers. What? Okay. No, different section, they ate someone who they thought was abusing a prostitute. What? Okay. If that’s not okay with you, you should probably move along, because that’s what there is here, a whole lot of angst and monsters and randomness, and some of you are saying, gosh, no thanks, and some of you are saying, sign me on up.

Please consider using our link to buy A Small Charred Face from Amazon.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Alex Alice, Castle in the Stars Book One: The Space Race of 1869. Discussed elsewhere.

Hassan Blasim, ed., Iraq+100 Discussed elsewhere.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapter 7. Kindle. Plotty, moving forward, full of dust storms and schoolgirl antics, as one would expect for this project.

Marie Brennan, Maps to Nowhere. Discussed elsewhere.

George Eliot, Middlemarch. Kindle. And this is what happened to my early September. Middlemarch is surprising; it is delightful. It is one of the longest classics of English literature, and it is a joy to read. I kept thinking that I would want to leaven it with bits of something else, go off and take a break and read something in the middle of it. I didn’t. (I mean, I always have a book of short pieces going. But other than that.) While I was reading Middlemarch, I kept wanting to read Middlemarch, and when I was done reading it I wanted more of it. The only thing of its size that’s at all comparable in my attachment to it is John Sayles’s A Moment in the Sun, and that does not have the passionate following Middlemarch has–wherever I mentioned it I found that friends and strangers were ready to share my delight in this wandering intense chatty behemoth of a book. I’m discussing it with a friend who’s reading it with me. I’m not sure I have a lot to add for the general audience except to say, it’s funny, it’s intense, it’s gigantic emotionally as well as literally, it makes me want to read more George Eliot, it makes me want to read its giant self all over again. It is in some ways exactly what you would expect and in other ways nothing like what you’d expect. It is thoroughly itself. And oh, I love her, I love George Eliot so very much. I’m glad I read such a quotable thing when I was past the age of needing to strip-mine books for epigraphs. I can do that later. I’m glad I could just relax in and read this first time.

Masha Gessen, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. I enjoyed another of Gessen’s books and picked this up because the library had it, more or less on a whim. And it gave me a perspective on modern Russia that nothing else has, particularly on its criminal justice system. What the prison system is doing there, what trials are like, what sorts of things are prioritized, what and who counts, what and who does not. Enraging, illuminating. There are some things Gessen just takes for granted you will know about feminist art theory and punk, but I think it may still be interesting if you don’t? but even better if you do. Also, if you have a very strong high culture/low culture divide, read this book and have that nonsense knocked out of you. Not that I have an opinion about that.

Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. Discussed elsewhere.

Steve Inskeep, Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab. This is very much in the popular history category: short chapters, many things explained on a fairly straightforward level. Not a lot of delving deep into the obscure corners. However, Inskeep does a fairly good job of switching back and forth between the lens of the European settlers turned recent Americans and the lens of the cultures of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and especially Cherokee people in the region he was discussing. One of the things that this particularly underscored for me is how quickly the European/American settlers viewed the land as traditionally theirs in that part of the south: the beginning of the Cherokee Trail of Tears was twenty-three years before the US Civil War. Even the earliest of the resettlements was only thirty years before. So in some parts of the Deep South, there were indeed plantations that had been going for generations–but in large, large swaths of it, the land they were fighting so hard for was land they had just taken from its previous owners basically five minutes ago. References to traditional way of life in that context are basically like talking about GameBoys and other hand-held gaming devices as our traditional way of life: they are bullshit. I think the way we are taught this period of history in American schooling encourages us not to think of that. I will want to read much deeper works on Andrew Jackson’s presidency. In this case I will say: Inskeep is not trying to paint him as a great guy or not a racist…and I still think he ends up going too easy on him. But it’s a good starter work for this period, I think.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night. Reread. The last time I read this was before I was keeping a book log, which means also before I was selling short stories regularly. I was a lot less prone to argue with assertions about fantasy not needing to compromise then. (Oh nonsense, of course it does.) But one of the things that makes Ursula LeGuin a great writer is that she argues with her past self, too. She evolves. She evolves in the course of this collection. And I think she’d be far happier with people thinking and arguing than uncritically absorbing anyway.

Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch. So…I didn’t mean to go straight from Middlemarch to a book about it, but the other thing I had from the library, I bounced off, and…I wasn’t ready to be done. This is Mead’s memoir entangled with a bit of biography of Eliot. There are places where Mead is bafflingly obtuse (some areas of gender politics and the writing of sexuality, notably, but also the difference between a character who is fully human and a character who is generally sympathetic), but in general it is short and rattles along satisfyingly and tells me things I want to know about George Eliot without telling me too many things I actively didn’t want to know about Rebecca Mead.

A. Merc Rustad, So You Want to Be a Robot. This is a solid and heart-wrenching collection. It’s impossible to pick one true favorite because there are so many good choices. Definitely highly recommended, Merc hits it out of the park here. And they’re just getting started.

Gerald Vizenor, Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles. This is when Vizenor was just getting started, and gosh I’m glad I didn’t get started with his early work, because…why, oh why, did so many men of the seventies–particularly men who wanted to claim they were ecologically minded without doing much about it–pick the same direction for their demonstrations of their own sexual daring? Well, Vizenor grew out of it. But it’s a one of those. The person who wrote the afterword was sure that objections to it would be because people thought Indians couldn’t be like that! and no, it’s that it’s trite, it’s exactly the kind of trite sexual objectification of women–especially Indian women–that you’d expect from “seventies dude trying to be sexually shocking.” He got better. I’m glad.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

New story out today! Nature Futures is giving you Planet of the Five Rings. This was a Christmas present to my father, who is a deeply serious person, so you know that it will be a grim and somber read. If that’s not enough, there’s a story behind the story blog post where you can read more about it. Hope you enjoy!

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

The cover describes this as, “The first anthology of science fiction to have emerged from Iraq,” but “emerged” seems insufficient to describe the work the editors did to make this project happen. Without an established science fiction community, editors definitely can’t just call for submissions and put their feet up. From what’s in the introduction, Hassan Blasim, with the help of Ra Page, approached writers from many regions of Iraq, generations, and writing styles, coaxing and cajoling them to approach the idea of Iraq a hundred years after invasion, doing with it whatever they saw fit. That’s not just emergence. That’s beyond even encouragement.

My favorite part of the stories themselves is the focus on Iraq as a future setting: this square or that city taking pride of place, this saying or that legend being the focus. I love fiction in translation for that reason: for the shift in perspective. I want more of it. And in order to get more of it, I’m willing to deal with stories that are not what I would ordinarily like best: stories with more sexual threat, stories that retread similar ground to previous work in other languages/cultures, stories that don’t seem to be able to find any thread of hope in the entire world. Which is not this entire volume, but it is some of this volume. If what I really want is works in translation from all over the world–and it is–I need to let the people actually from those places tell me what stories they want to tell, not tell them that their stories don’t fit my preconceptions of what they should want to tell. So while in some ways this was a bumpy reading experience for me, with some delights and some difficulties, I’m very glad to have the opportunity for the bumps.

Please consider using our link to buy Iraq+100 from Amazon.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

When a person who mainly reads prose expands into reviewing graphic novels meant for children, suddenly the form factor of the book starts mattering a great deal more than it ever did before. This book is a large, slender hardbound, the sort of book I don’t see regularly outside picture books. Its production values are glossy and very high–but it’s not a picture book, it’s a watercolor graphic novel translated from the French.

The paintings are lovely. The layout is sometimes quite busy for my eye, having extra rows and columns of illustration compared to a “standard” size of graphic novel.

Seraphin’s mother is an explorer of the aether, a scientist in her hot air balloon. When she disappears on a dangerous flight, Seraphin and his father try to balance their own explorations with a desire to keep each other safe–and to find out what happened to her. They wind up in Bavaria, at the court of King Ludwig, whose swan-shaped aether-ship is promisingly bizarre.

The “book one” in the title is not merely an indication that this is a series: the story is not complete in this volume. What adventures will our young etc. and his daring friends etc. etc. I think comics readers are pretty used to that sort of thing, and there is plenty of adventure, excitement, swashing, and buckling. It’s a fairly old-fashioned sort of adventure–maximum of one girl character at a time, apparently, and the gratuitous startled-in-the-bath scene–but airships and 19th century science jokes do have their charm; I would definitely read further to see how this comes out.

Please consider using our link to buy Castle in the Stars Book One: The Space Race of 1869 from Amazon.

Blue Ribbon

Sep. 5th, 2017 06:54 am
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Today's reprint has particularly good timing! Lightspeed is running a story of mine that has never been available online before, Blue Ribbon. (It previously appeared in Analog and in Year's Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction.) Why is this good timing?

Well, for non-Americans, it's a story to enjoy on a Tuesday, okay, sure. For most Americans, it'll be something to ease you back into your work week after the Labor Day holiday weekend. Who could argue with that kind of timing? I hope you enjoy it!

But for those of you who are missing your State Fair now that it's over. For those of you who were 4H kids in particular. Yes, this is my story of 4H kids in space. It's not the perky tale of "and then I won the prize, hurray!" that that thumbnail might suggest, but I'm pretty proud of it all the same. And the day after the State Fair seems like just the right time for it to be more broadly available for the first time.
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Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Ben Hatke is a favorite of mine, and I was excited to get this sequel to last year's Mighty Jack. I darted through it--it's definitely a page-turner, following the cliffhanger ending of the first volume into strange new spaces full of goblins and giants and creatures who live in pipes. Jack and his friend Lilly are out to save his mute little sister Maddy from who knows what fate--although we soon find out, and it's pretty gruesome.

Along the way they get separated. Jack has to whack things with his sword, bravely and boldly. Lilly has to actually figure things out, stick up for herself, and also whack things with her sword. But Jack's name is on the cover, so even the dragon tells Jack he has saved the day when Lilly does some A+ prime grade day-saving.

Also Maddy speaks a crucial word at a crucial moment. I feel like having a mute character who did cool stuff was entirely fine, and having a character who speaks for plot convenience when the author feels it's RULLY IMPORTANT is really less fine. Maddy goes from opinionated and nonverbal to rescue-bait. I know that Jack is going to be protective of his little sister, but I am considerably less thrilled with how much the disabled girl (intersectionally here; both elements) has basically one moment of agency in a plot where she's the object.

It's not the worst example of this stuff out there. It just could have been better. There's room for more here, and I hope Hatke takes the opportunities to do more with these characters, particularly with the girls, rather than taking the path of least resistance.

Please consider using our link to buy Mighty Jack and the Goblin King from Amazon.
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Review copy provided by the author, who is also a personal friend. Also the title is a Fire and Hemlock reference, which, come on, how can that not bias a reviewer.

If you've read any of Brennan's work before, there are through-lines to it: anthropology, history/quasi-history, and adventure fantasy. These are clearly visible in this short story collection, although the adventure fantasy is the smallest strain in this bunch. I think it's in some ways hardest to write something that feels like adventure fantasy and still has plot at this length. In any case, if you haven't read Brennan's work before, that's the place where this collection is least representative of the spread of what she's doing.

Other than that, there is quite a lot of what Brennan does. There are bits with faeries and bits with odd artifacts, stories of self-discovery and stories of community relationship. There are funny bits and deathly serious bits. There's a lot of range here.

What there is not--and this was important for me the day I read this book, and it may well be important for you--is a lot of gratuitously depressing or cruel material. The characters are not all sweetness and light--some of them are basically no sweetness and light--but what this collection is unlikely to do is leave you numbed and helpless in the face of an uncaring world. I feel like when I ask for things that are not staggeringly depressing, people think I want books in which the teddy bears have their picnic, and this is not one of those. This is just...balanced. Sometimes we can use some balance.

Please consider using our link to buy Maps to Nowhere from Amazon.
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Susann Cokal, The Kingdom of Little Wounds. The author of this book apparently described it to people as "a fairy tale of syphilis," and this is pretty accurate. It's also about mercury poisoning, madness, and abuse (both sexual and non-sexual). And a Ruritanian Scandinavian/Nordic kingdom. It's really well-written. It's really grueling and horrible. I recommend it. I recommend it very, very selectively. If you're not going to be put off by something like 500 pages of the above, with very little relief from any other topic whatsoever, then rock on with this book.

Curtis Craddock, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors. Discussed elsewhere.

Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. I was not hitting good luck with the cheerful books this August. Demick did a lot of interviews with people who had escaped, a lot of stuff about everyday life, personal experiences, some stuff about starvation and terror but in the context of just getting by, school uniforms and trying to cook what you have and trying to have a job you don't totally hate and...human things. Utterly, utterly human things. It's worthwhile not to look away from this kind of reporting...for some of us, some of the time. It's okay for you to choose whether this is going to be one of the horrible bits of knowledge you're going to endure right away, right now.

Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth. An alternate history novella with hippos in the lower Mississippi. Diverse on the axes of gender and race. Hippos are hippos, not anthropomorphized, and while they have been domesticated, they are not notably sweet. Nor are they notably mean-spirited in all cases. They're, well, hippos. Sometimes bad things happen to characters, but it's not a crapsack world where nobody cares about anybody. I had fun with this.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams. This is an essay collection whose jacket copy talked up the author's job as an actress teaching med students patient empathy. Only the first of the essays touched on that, and it only in very shallow terms. The rest of the essays were much more random-essay-collection fare about her travels to various places and what she hopes to have learned from their inhabitants, what she is thinking about herself and society and the world. Given the title I feel that I am failing a bit when I say: this did not strike me as an outstanding collection of its type. It was fine. I am not sorry I read it; I cannot particularly commend it to you as more insightful than another randomly selected set of essays that managed best when focused on their own author.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season. The worldbuilding in this is just outstanding. There is so much geology. I don't know when I've seen so much passionate geology in worldbuilding. I think never. I can see why this series is winning so many awards, because it has both physical and social ramifications. It is just plain impeccable. The social ramifications are substantially on the front of "fractal implications of the structures of oppression," which means that it can be a horrifying thing to read over and over again. The characters' interpersonal relationships have only small positive moments punctuating long stretches of grief, despair--not horror as a genre, but horror in how humans treat other humans. Brilliantly done--but another one to time very carefully.

Simo Laakkonen, Richard Tucker, and Timo Vuorisalo, eds., The Long Shadows: A Global Environmental History of the Second World War. This is an academic volume of essays, of the sort where each chapter takes a different focus and is by a different author or authors. So there will be a bit about Hawaii and the Pacific, a bit about the Arctic, and so on. I found that a few too many of the chapters equated ecology a bit too strongly with managed environment for my tastes--farms and managed forests are important but are not by any means the only systems to consider--but on the other hand I do want them considered, I want the impact on them considered. And most of the contributors appeared to be Finnish and Canadian, giving the overall authorial voice a cool tone outside the superpower assumptions that was beautiful, great, well-done.

Leena Likitalo, The Five Daughters of the Moon. Exquisitely done worldbuilding, based on the last days of the tsar. I'm not sure I understand the decision to make this into a novella duology with a cliffhanger in the middle instead of, y'know, a novel. But I was invested enough in some of the characters (and all of the worldbuilding, amber and machinery and all) to pick up the next when it comes out.

Josh MacIvor-Andersen, ed., Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction. The pieces vary quite a lot here, from things I would classify as prose poems to more standard essays. Also in length. Not a lot of it was directly about trees either scientifically or more poetically. It was mostly about people in tree-adjacent ways. That surprised me, but it was still interesting. There was a bunch of stuff about religion, a bunch about families and relationships, a little bit about math...it was quite an interesting mix. (And I was only half-joking with a friend about doing a Best New Arboreal Fiction. That would actually be more than tree-adjacent, I would hope.)

Anton Treuer, Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe. This was actually really very positive for a people who have been through quite a lot. And the structural trick for writing an uplifting book about a nation of people who have had a lot of oppressive crap dumped on them without whitewashing the oppressive crap appears to be focusing on positive community leadership. Not every book can be like that, but this book is like that, and I think it's quite good for it to be like that. I'm glad I read this. I'm glad it exists. Recommended if you have even a little interest in this topic.

Phoebe Wagner and Bronte Christopher Wieland, eds., Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. Mismatch of writer and reader expectations is a well-known phenomenon, and it's generally a good idea not to write a bad review of a book that is not bad but merely not what was expected. I do want to flag, though, this specific thing: for me there is a difference between something that's labeled optimistic and something that's labeled optimistic ecological science fiction. When almost none of the SF chosen is SF that connects in a solid speculative way to the present--when it's not anywhere we can see a path to get from here--the optimism feels less optimistic to me in a way that it wouldn't if the stories had not been labeled ecological SF or eco-speculation or even solarpunk. It actually ends up feeling pessimistic: as though to get an optimistic emotional tone we have to have a complete departure from this reality, which I don't think is the case, and I don't think is at all the position of the editors or the authors. And it's the sort of thing that an anthology can fall into without clear intent, if solicited authors deliver stories with a particular bent. So: setting that consideration aside, I felt that A.C. Wise's story was a clear stand-out, and I also felt that Lavie Tidhar executed very well. I also particularly enjoyed poems by Chloe N. Clark (both!), Sara Norja, and Brandon O'Brien.

Caroline Yoachim, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World. This collection has both breadth and depth, in both ideas and tone. Seriously one of the best collections I've read in years. I can't call out favorite stories because there are just too many of them. It's funny, it's serious, it's fantasy, it's science fiction, it's got everything. You really want this collection. Highly recommended.
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I have a new story out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies today! Across Pack Ice, a Fire. This one was inspired by a fragment of family story on my trip last year. Go, read, enjoy!
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One of my friends has gone through a deeply unpleasant divorce and continues to struggle with custody, and an unfortunate thing that I keep observing is that it's almost impossible to write civil law around people whose main interest is making other people miserable. Almost every piece of family law assumes that people will act in their own interest or, if they are parents, ideally at least somewhat in their child's interest. Structuring a law that will protect the vulnerable and allow for people in the structurally identical role who are purely destructive forces to not act destructively is incredibly difficult.

Which, given what I do for work, makes me think of dystopias. And specifically it makes me think of what I do and do not find interesting in structuring them.

There's a certain school of writing, of teaching writing, that claims that we're all the hero of our own story, and sure, I buy that, but that doesn't mean that we're all heroes with great or even good motivations--even internally. Not all of us even bother to lie to ourselves about our motivations. There are people in the world like my friend's ex who will be very up-front about their desire to hurt. They are, however--and let me be very clear about this--quite boring. They are boring in real life. They are not particularly more interesting in books.

So if you choose them as your core dystopian power structure--if the heart of your dystopia is that some genuinely mean jerks have come to power, not because of an ideology or a clear set of concrete goals beyond themselves but just to screw with people in ways that aren't even all that effective compared to what they could do if they were more rational--well. I can't tell you that never happens, can I. But for me--for me personally as a reader--the fact that it's real doesn't give it a lot to grab onto. Especially if there's a speculative element to the meanness.

Here's where "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" contrasts for me with N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season--where they're not doing the same thing and not trying to. The children in torment in the former are in torment for the sake of the point being made. (Perhaps that point is walking away from utopia in fiction writing. There are worse points, if so.) But it is not, I think, intended to be practical; it is metaphorical, poetic, nonlinear. You are not supposed to be able to draw a line between the single child's suffering--and the next one when it dies, and the next--and what, exactly, about that suffering makes Omelas a supposed paradise. It Just Does. In The Fifth Season, on the other hand, it is very explicit, very extremely clear, how the suffering creates--not a paradise--but a livable society--what the consequences would be for ending it. What is being purchased and at what price.

There is value in making a general, stirring point, in rallying people to the cause of Goodness And Truth In The Larger Sense. But it's also pretty easy. Not...not as easy as we would have hoped, is it? "How do you feel about Nazis?" is supposed to be the canonical easy question: I AM AGAINST THEM. Still. Still, even with people failing easy mode, this is easy mode. Pushing a bit harder on people, handing them a decision that's made for heartbreaking reasons instead of dreadful ones, giving them characters who are trying to figure out where their compromises become counterproductive instead of characters who never had any morals to compromise...that's not the only reason to write dystopia. But it's a pretty solid one.

Last week one of my friends was saying on Twitter that he wants more of basically everything, more variations at every scale, so that there are more chances for it to lead to something cool, and I'm with him on that. And I think this is where the mechanism of Omelas comes in: I, personally, tend to default to thinking that it matters how and why your dystopia exists and is maintained. I tend to think that's relevant to its stories and its downfall--on average. But there are going to be times when you have a particular story that is just not accounted for in the laws of people behaving according to their own interests. Or when that just can't show up in the story, when the story is very short or very distracted into something else quite specific. It's worth asking yourself about the mechanism of Omelas--you can wind up with a geologic masterwork like The Fifth Season. But occasionally the answer to that question is nope, nope we're not answering the mechanism, the thing I'm doing is worth doing without poking at how. And that's okay too. Some people will--yes, sorry--walk away from it. But--variety, more, more. Humanity is impossible to account for under one set of "I'd like to see more of" or "I really prefer it when." So is its fiction.

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