Tag Archives: sff

Addendum to 2019 reading

Finished Gideon the Ninth.  It took several tries to get past the first 50 pages or so, but then it was an engrossing read.  Having finished, I feel ambivalent.  It was very well written, with excellent world building.  And I didn’t see the end coming until just before it happened.  The ending is what I’m ambivalent about, but I can’t really explain why without spoilers.  Enough to say that I wish I had read the ending first, because my mindset about the whole book and characters would have been somewhat different.

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April reading!

I read enough in April to actually write a short post about it! It’s a miracle!

I’m still inching through Color of Law, but my progress slowed in the last week or so because I became hooked by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series.  So, right now the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt library, which is an absolutely gorgeous old building, is being renovated.  It’s still open, but all of the collections have been moved around as floors are done in stages; a copy of Ancillary Justice was on one of the very small displays and it caught my eye.  Back in 2014, I read rave reviews, but couldn’t get past the first 100 pages.  But this time, something clicked after the first couple of chapters.  I finished it in a couple of days and then went back to the library to get the other two books, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.  Which I finished on Wednesday and then this morning.  I’m not sure what about my reading style or taste has changed since 2014, but the dual timeline didn’t bother me at all this time around, and I enjoyed the default she, which made me think about how gender roles even in SFF are very traditionally driven.

Early in the month I tried and failed to read Patricia Briggs’ Burn Bright, but something mentioned casually early on squicked me so I DNF’d it and returned it to the library.  Done with Briggs, I think, unless she revisits Hurog at some point.

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February and March reads

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley – This is an older/earlier book, and it shows in the development of the plot, such as it is.  The ending of the baby mystery was out of nowhere and didn’t really fit with the tone of the rest of the piece.  It felt sort of wedged in, as if the author had written herself into a corner with the paranormal bit and then – voila! – came up with a practical/real solution that hadn’t been signaled in any way earlier in the book.

Echoes in Death by J.D Robb – Meh. Guessed whodunnit as soon as the character was introduced and the “twist” earlier on (during the post mortem).

The Chemist  by Stephenie Meyer  – Really trope-y heroine. Dreamy and not really believable hero. Split with twin to get all skills. Author had a couple of faux pas re: DC, especially re the Metro (there are no ladies rooms in Metro stops).

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs – Glad this was a library loaner, because paying for it would have irritated me.  Miscellaneous sloppy typos missed in copy edits (the for then, ambitions for ambitious, etc.).  Disjointed narration. If you have to tell me at the outset of each chapter the setting, then you are doing something wrong, too much telling. More everyone loves Mercy. More power pulled out of nowhere to serve the plot. Meh.

Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold – The writing was fine, but this novella felt kind of purposeless to me.  Penric’s situation wasn’t really advanced from the end of the last story, on the run with a potential ladylove and her refugee brother.  They are in a slightly safer locale, but the conflict isn’t resolved or even moved forward at all.  It was vaguely interesting to get a different personality of Desdemona has a role, but absent actual progression, I felt like the novella was a disappointment; I wouldn’t call in a money-grab, exactly, but it felt purposeless and like fluff or filler.

Currently reading Empires of Light (nonfiction) and a biography of Ida Tarbell.

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The Hanging Tree

This was better than the last book.  Primarily because it was set in London and was centered around the Faceless Man.

But there were still some irritating things.  First, the complete absence of direct address commas.  Where have they all gone, editors?  Second, references to events that occurred in the graphic novels.  Aaronovitch has spent a lot of time and creative energy on them, I get it, but they are a completely different media that not everyone enjoys, and it is irritating as hell to see something, and making a reference to them as canon is a way to alienate some readers. Third, a lot of the characters and events of this book felt like they’d retconned by Aaronovitch to me in some ways.  Tyburn suddenly likes Peter on a personal level?  And other stuff that would be serious spoilers.  But some of it felt really inconsistent with the world as previously established.  Unless, of course, Peter as narrator is even more unreliable that I thought.

Eh.

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The new Bujold book

When the new Vorkosigan book, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, was announced last year, I pre-ordered a hard copy for my brother-in-law.  He likes first edition hardbacks and there was a limited signed edition, so…  When his copy arrived last week, I quickly mailed it to my sister to squirrel away as a gift.  And then I downloaded a Kindle copy.

Although I pre-ordered and ordered copies, I didn’t actually read much about it.  Jole was obviously the fellow from earlier books, Aral Vorkosigan’s aide de camp, and the Red Queen would be Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan.  Set after Aral’s death.  But other than that?  Eh, I didn’t need to know.

I feel like maybe I had *expectations* for this book.  It isn’t a badly written book by any means.  It works as a bookend for the series, in the sense that it takes Cordelia back where the series began, Sergyar, and addresses topics came up in the first and second books but were left fallow when the series concentrated on Miles rather than Cordelia and Aral. [I could say a lot more about that but it would involve serious spoilers.]  But I kept waiting for an external plot to match the internal one, and it never happened.  As Miles went about becoming Admiral Naismith and then Auditor Vorkosigan, he got adventures to go along with the personal growth, while this mostly had Jole’s personal growth/change with Cordelia as…not puppeteer but conscience-nudger, maybe?

I don’t know.  I think I’m going to have to read it again.

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Do I dare start this book tonight?

My copy of Blood of Tyrants, the new Temeraire book, was waiting at home this evening when I arrived.

Do I dare begin it now?  If I do, will I be awake until 3am reading?  [If I’m awake then, I might as well stay up since I get up crazy early in time to get to the gym before work.]

Who am I kidding?  I have no will power.  *off to read about dragons and the captains who love them (in a non-creepy way)*

Tangent:  after a long stretch of feeling unenthused about new releases, the last couple of weeks have been pretty good to me.  Of course, nearly all the books are *not* genre romance, but still it’s nice to have a glut of good books.

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Recently read: Strange Fortune

Title:  Strange Fortune

Author:  Josh Lanyon

Publication info:  (c) 2009, Blind Eye Books

Format:  trade paperback

Genre:  fantasy

Back cover copy:

Strange Days Indeed

Valentine Strange, late of his Majesty’s 21st Benhali Lancers, needs money.  Happily, the wealthy Holy Orders of Harappu are desperate to retrieve the diadem of the Goddess Purya from an ancient temple deep in the mountainous jungle  — an area Strange knows well from his days quelling rebellions.  The pay is too good and the job seems too easy for Strange to refuse.  But when Master Aleister Grimshaw, a dangerous witch from a traitorous lineage, joins the expedition, Strange begins to suspect that more is at stake than the retrieval of a mere relic.

Grimshaw knows an ancient evil surrounds the diadem — the same evil once hunted him and still haunts his mind.  However, experience has taught him to keep his suspicions to himself or risk being denounced as a madman.  Again.

Harried by curses, bandits and unnatural creatures, Strange and Grimshaw plunge onward.  But when a demonic power wakes and the civilized world descends into revolution, their tenuous friendship is threatened as each man must face the destruction of the life he has know.

The blurb is somewhat exaggerated IMO.

What did I think?  I enjoyed the book as speculative fiction set in an alternative colonial India in which magic and witches are active.  The adventure was engaging.  But the back copy led me to believe that there would be more…introspection, perhaps?  The relationship between the two men was pretty ancillary to the plot.  TBH, while I grasped the larger context of the civil conflict between the Albans and Hindush, some pieces of the plot (like Lady Isabella, and the mutineers) felt not-well-integrated.  I wonder if I knew more about the Anglo-Indian colonial experience, would I feel like the book was more cohesive?  Or maybe it is fine, just not up to the standard of the book I was rereading before this one, The Curse of Chalion, which is my absolute benchmark for fantasy as alternate histories of sorts.

What about the book as object?  Blind Eye Books is a reputable publishers and the book’s presentation is lovely.  I especially like the colors and patterns used to decorate the book cover, although I don’t love the cartoon style hero.  There were a fair number of either copy editing or typesetting misses, mostly little things like quotation marks facing the wrong way or being doubled, some dropped punctuation and missed letters and the like.

Would I recommend the book?  Yes.  With the caveat that it is not at all like Lanyon’s other work, so readers should not expect Adrien English-in-India.

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Loved, liked, and meh

Book I read last week that I loved: Novik’s latest Temeraire book, Crucible of Gold 

Several years and books ago, Novik hinted about the alternate history of the New World as a result of the existence of dragons, and in this book readers get to learn more.  But better than that, the dull, dragging narrative and clunky pacing of the last book have vanished.  While I understand intellectually that Tongues of Serpents was a set up book, it needed better editing and pacing.  (Like the second and third books, which felt like a single long book chopped in two for marketing/business purposes, I wondered a little if it would have been better off coupled with either Victory of Eagles or Crucible for better pacing and plotting because it was a disappointment on its own — that seems to be the general consensus among the readers I know.)

Anyway, I love the way the Inca and Tswana dragons and their view of their human families are a foil for the European mindset about dragon ownership, and yet at the same time highlight the possessive natures of the dragons in Temeraire’s coterie.

One particular part left me goggle-eyed and startled, because I did NOT see that coming.  Not shocked or offended in any manner and it sort of fits in retrospect, but just startled.  Sort of the way I felt when JK Rowling casually announced that Dumbledore was gay.

And the ending was good, circling back perhaps to clear up some dangling threads in the next book.

The book I liked well enough:  Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

I liked but didn’t love this book and I haven’t quite figured out why beyond a few general quibbles.  First, Anna’s development from cowering and fearful in the first book of the series to organizing and managing in this third book.  Told not shown, and not particularly believable to me given how hard Briggs worked to present her as hesitant, self-doubting and reticent.  Second, in the early books, Anna’s delicacy and short stature were made much of IIRC but in this book she is average height or taller.  Did she suddenly have a growth spurt after maturity?  Lastly, I’m growing uncomfortable with serial killers and rapists in urban fantasy and Briggs’ use of rape and/or threatened sexual assault to the female narrators and characters in her books in particular.  It’s all down to personal taste and YMMV, obviously, since a lot of other readers really loved this book.

The meh book:  Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Some of the entries in this short survey are obvious (Joan of Arc); others are less so (Carry Nation); and still others are original and inspiring (Ida B. Wells).  The tone and style are extremely casual and informal, with the author making comparisons to Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, etc. — very pop culture referential, as if the author felt she had to equate each woman    It’s hard to condense the history of a complex character like Eleanor of Aquitaine to 15 pages or less, and the difficulty is very apparent here; in many of the biographies, the emphasis is on the trivial and the titillating rather than substance, which is an unfortunate waste of an opportunity.  There’s no significant analysis and the approach is not serious , and the bibliography and citations are somewhat lacking IMO.  Perhaps I’m the wrong audience; maybe a 20 year old who knows very little about history would be fascinated by this introduction to the wild women of days gone by.  Or maybe they could find the same information at Wikipedia for free.

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SBD: A Game of Thrones

Today’s SBD:  A Game of Thrones.  High fantasy.  

In case you’ve missed it, HBO is currently airing a miniseries based on George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.  I haven’t been watching, but I have seen all of the chatter on the InterTubes about the series, as well as screen caps of favorite actors and characters.  So I picked up a copy of the book — due to the miniseries, there were no used copies to be found, but plenty of reissues at B&N.

It’s 800 pages.  Which would be fine if it told the whole story.  But no.  The series (originally envisioned as a trilogy) is going to be seven books, of which only four are currently published.  In fact, the last book is actually half of one book, split because it was deemed too large.  Apparently Martin fans have been unhappy with him because he keeps pushing the publication date back.  

I get that a lot of people love this series; it’s won awards.  But I am not joining the legions of fans.  I trudged through the 800 pages and all could think for the vast majority of them was FFS, drop the puck, Martin. And become less enthralled with your own voice. Too many POVs, too slow yet simultaneously too busy.  One note characters for the most part.  By the end of the first installment, I wanted everyone except Arya Stark and Jon Snow to just die already.  Not prepared to invest any more time in the series, or even to watch it on HBO, despite the pretty pretty eye candy.

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Island of Icarus by Christine Danse

Title:  Island of Icarus  

Author:  Christine Danse (new to me)

Publisher:  Carina Press

Release Date:  November 29, 2010

Source:  Net Galley

Field Journal of Jonathan Orms, 1893

En route to polite exile in the Galapagos Islands (field work, to quote the dean of my university), I have found myself marooned on a deserted tropical paradise. Deserted, that is, except for my savior, a mysterious American called Marcus. He is an inventor—and the proof of his greatness is the marvelous new clockwork arm he has created to replace the unsightly one that was ruined in my shipboard mishap.

Marcus has a truly brilliant mind and the gentlest hands, which cause me to quiver in an unfamiliar but rather pleasant way. Surely it is only my craving for human companionship that draws me to this man, nothing more? He says a ship will pass this way in a few months, but I am welcome to stay as long as I like. The thought of leaving Marcus becomes more untenable with each passing day, though staying would be fatal to my career…

Why this book?  I was browsing at Net Galley by publisher and ran across this one.  I’ve had good luck with the Carina Press books I’ve read so far, so it’s one of the publishers I make sure to check periodically.  The "steampunk" subject also caught my eye — I’m new to steampunk romance but have enjoyed the little I’ve read so far.  Make it m/m steampunk romance and I’m sold!

What did I think of the book?  On the whole, I enjoyed it.  Was predisposed to doing so, given the category.

The story opens with our narrator, a biologist at an English university who has recently lost both his fiancee and an arm, being sent off on sabbatical to the Galapagos Islands.  At the end of an unremarkable journey, a storm blows up; venturing above decks unwisely, Jonathan is washed overboard and wakes on an island north of the Galapagos.  His rescuer, Marcus, is an American surgeon and engineer.  Once the survivor of a shipwreck, Marcus is now the lone occupant of the island by choice.  Marcus’s specialty is prosthetics (how serendipitous!) and he is able to repair and improve Jonathan’s prosthetic arm, which had been damaged at sea. Marcus’s obsession is flight — so many things can be mechanized, why not human flight?  Surely if he can design proper wings and the proper engine, he’ll be able to fly.  Jonathan is anxious to be rescued by a passing ship — they call in periodically and Marcus trades with them — but also intrigued by Marcus’s experiments.  

Since this is a romance novel, you can probably imagine what happens as they live together on the island with only each other as company.  The relationship development is slightly complicated by the fact that they are men:  part of Marcus’s self-imposed exile is his frustration with societal attitudes about homosexuality, while Jonathan has never really acknowledged that he is gay or at least bisexual.  In fact, one of the most irritating lines of the book is one of his musings that he "was a ruined man, destroyed by [his] affections for a woman."  Readers later learn that he lost his arm because he was distracted by his fiancee’s desertion and got caught in a "library difference engine", which might explain that comment.  But it smacks of self-pity and blame-shifting since Jonathan later admits that he neglected her, avoided her presence and hurt her, and that leaving him was the only thing she could do.   

The steampunk elements in the book were limited primarily to Jonathan’s prosthetic arm and Marcus’s inventions.  The library difference engine and Langley’s aerodrome are also mentioned, however it’s not clear that whatever industrial or mechanical or social changes that are usually inherent with steampunk exist in this setting.  There’s the Panama Canal (real); Darwin’s journey on The Beagle (real); shadowgraph (which sounds like an x-ray in context, also real).  Is that standard?  [The little steampunk I’ve read to date has taken a culture or society and completely changed it via the steampunk elements, which is why I’m wondering.]

Would I read this author again?  Certainly.

Keep or pass on?  This was an eARC from NetGalley, so I can’t do either.  But if I’d purchased a copy, I certainly would keep it.

Related only generally, take a look here for some gorgeous steampunk cakes.

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