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I've had Cotillion in my to-review queue for a bit now and all I really have to say is that unlike Civil Contract this is pretty much a classic happily-ever-after. I find Heyer fascinating as the bridge between Jane Austen and the modern historical-romance genre - there are aspects of Heyer's characterizations like the class snobbery and notions of propriety that feel much closer to Austen than to modern romances that often use the historical setting with pretty contemporary mindsets. Anyways, Cotillion is basically Jane Austen fake dating and if you're the kind of person who likes the sound of that, you're not wrong.
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I thought Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country (2016) and Ruthanna Emrys' Winter Tide (2017) would make a good reading pair-up, and they did. I'm a longtime Ruff fan and I had quite liked the Emrys novelette, The Litany of Earth, that Winter Tide is based on, although I didn't end up Hugo-nominating it. (For my own reference, my relevant notes from that year are here and here, and my initial brief review was "An awesome Lovecraft story, surprisingly humanist." It didn't make the ballot because the short fiction that year got entirely crapped on by rabid dogs, but would have, perhaps losing to Seanan McGuire or to Kai Ashante Wilson's "The Devil in America", who can say.)

Lovecraft Country is the best thing Ruff has written since Set This House In Order (I found my review of The Mirage here; all I could remember about it was that I had mildly liked it but didn't love it, which sounds about right.) Lovecraft Country is about a black family dealing with white bullshit, both the conventional casually murderous Jim Crow kind and the arcane ritually murderous evil magician kind, which is an excellent use for Lovecraft. The novel is highly episodic - I seem to recall Ruff was maybe originally developing it to pitch as a TV series, but ended up novelizing it instead, which I now can't find any evidence for, but it is actually being turned into an HBO series produced by the Get Out guy and run by the writer of Underground, neither of which I've seen, but who seem based on descriptions of those things like the perfect team for it. Anyways, the episodes are all pretty gripping in a "this will make great TV" way, good action and puzzles and little mysteries, and the portrayal of different aspects of the Black experience in America seemed powerful to me as a white person (and at least one reviewer of color agreed who reviewed it for Tor). And I learned about the Tulsa race riot, which I'm sure I've seen mentioned before but had never really understood what it was. Anyways, I highly recommend it even if you don't have any particular interest or background in Lovecraft. (And there's a fun cameo for Swarthmore, including one of the few non-terrible white people in the book, which is certainly how Swarthmore likes to think of itself...)

Winter Tide I liked less well than I was hoping based on the novelette, although I think that was mostly because I thought it was going to be a slightly different kind of book than it was. There is, nominally, sort of, a plot about the main character (a Lovecraftian-human whose people were also in the Japanese-American internment) helping the FBI with a Cold War threat, but really this is a found-family romance in which the coming together and development of a web of relationships between a number of people is the core of the story and the jacket-copy stuff is just a pretext. We don't have as strong genre conventions for that story as for couples romance, or at least I don't, despite consuming a fair amount of it... writing it in fic... okay, I dunno, maybe I have no excuse, but anyways I kind of missed for awhile that some of the character introductions were "and that's how they met"s, and some of the turning points were the things that would be the story of these people. Well, and some of it is that this book is extremely *non*-episodic; having just finished it I'm already hard-pressed to say what exactly *happened* in it, there aren't a lot of really vivid events to point to like "in the bathroom with the troll" or whatever, until the very end. People read books and get to know each other better and cope with the sadness of the past and deal with horrors from beyond the stars, etc. I did like it, and would recommend it if you like slow-paced character-focused stories, but definitely read the novelette first to get the power of the original concept in its more concentrated form. It happens to be FREE as an ebook until noon on Friday here, so, hey.

(I feel slightly awkward for liking both of these better than "Ballad of Black Tom", which is Lovecraft-used-to-interrogate-American-racism as written by an actual non-white author, but I don't think there's much to do about that other than to keep reading as much as I can by authors of color to find the ones who do click with me, and keep asking myself what kinds of biases I'm bringing to my reading.)
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Hi Yuletide Author! Yuletide time again, yay! I like a wide variety of stories (gen, romantic, funny, fluffy, angsty, smutty) and there is very little I categorically won't read (no triggers or squicks you'd be at all likely to stumble into from any of these requests). If you enjoy the writing, I'm going to enjoy the reading!

1. Paper Girls
Erin Tieng

I would love a story where something weird is happening! And someone has an emotion?

This comic is such a mishmash of elements, but I love the girls. I picked Erin to request because I was so struck by her encounter with her older self but really I'd be happy with a story about any of them.

As of writing this, I have read the first two trade paperback collections, and will read the third one soon. I'm not worried about spoilers, if you want to incorporate stuff from more recent issues; I'm also happy for you to ignore everything recent and just base your story off of volume one. Whatever part of the canon made you think you'd like to write in this fandom, feel free to focus on that. I feel like a good way to write a Paper Girls story might be to not worry about trying to fit your story into canon, or trying to make the plot make sense, but just to drop some or all of the girls into the middle of some sort of situation without explanation. I will 100% buy anything as completely plausible - sure, they're riding a mammoth now! They found a baby! They're on a gameshow! They're hiding in an abandoned amusement park! They're in space! Why not! Or else the Six Months Later approach (or however long). I would prefer that they've all survived their adventures.

In my heart, none of them are straight, even if they haven't all realized that yet, about themselves or each other. Lesbian? Bi? Ace? Nonbinary? I'm happy with a story where they still don't know, where figuring out names for their identities is still some time in the future (and I certainly wouldn't think 12 year olds in 1988 would have even heard words like asexual or nonbinary yet, based on my own memories of being 10 in 1988). Or a story where that's irrelevant because they're too busy fighting robot squid or playing with a shrink ray or a transmogrifier or whatever. But I would love a kiss or some hand holding, or two characters talking about a third (in a gossip way? in a crush way?). Please nothing beyond kissing, if they're 12.

2. Wonder Woman
Diana Prince, Isabel Maru

I would love to know more about Dr. Maru - how much of what we saw in the movie was her innate personality, and how much was the influence of Ares? What might she do with her scientific gifts once she's on her own and away from that influence? I would be happy with a story where Wonder Woman has to fight her again or a story where they team up or a story where Diana tries to seduce her over to the side of good (or into seeing her own potential or beauty or something). I also really love Etta Candy so something like Etta meeting Maru or Diana talking to Etta about Maru could be interesting.

As far as shipping, I am very fond of Diana/Steve, but I like to think of Diana as having inherited some of Zeus's tendency to get around, except that unlike Zeus Diana would find it unthinkable to do anything without positive consent and is good for her lovers, like, anyone she's with is going to end up feeling good about it. But I see her as being able to find something to love in many people and as liking to have one-night stands, sex friends, longer non-exclusive relationships, etc. It's completely fine to ignore this if this is not your Diana, but I would rather there not be an emphasis on the language of monogamy, one true loves, etc, if there's any sex or romance.

3. Home Again

So I don't have a fixed idea about what happens after this movie, but the one future I *don't* believe is "and then none of these people ever had sex with each other again, the end". Does Alice ever see George in a different light? Do Harry and George hook up and talk about Alice? One of the guys comes to Alice with a newly-discovered kink they only feel safe exploring with her? Alice gets a threesome or foursome with the guys? Harry and Teddy realize they like being sister-wives? Who is the first of the three to successfully take Alice on a date outside the house, and how many other failed attempts are there first? I love the wish-fulfillment aspect of her having this harem of nice, attractive young men, and their attraction to her competence and energy.

If you really don't want to write anything with sex or relationships, maybe something about an interior design job that Alice is really proud of, for an interesting client? Or Alice and the guys all dropping Isabel off at her first school dance?

I would prefer that Austen not appear or be mentioned in this story, boo Austen.

ETA: I mentioned kinks so I feel like I need to name some kinks. Something BDSM or pegging seem like the obvious choices. :)
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Not actually related, that is, these are two separate works, not a team-up. But doesn't it scan nicely? (Murderbot and Squirrel Girl, walking through the forest, laughing back and forth at what the other has to say... okay maybe not, but now it's in your head too...)

All Systems Red is the first novella of the Murderbot Diaries, a new series by Martha Wells (who also wrote the Raksura books). I loved it - great character, snappy plot, perfect amount of story for its format. I can't wait for the next one, and I'll be shocked if this one doesn't make the Hugo ballot.

Squirrel Meets World is a prequel novel to the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic series, written by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (Shannon Hale: Princess Academy, Rapunzel's Revenge, Book of a Thousand Days, the Princess In Black series). It has both the prequel problem and franchise problem of the character and ending already being really pinned down, so there isn't a lot of space for anything really interesting to happen, and thus felt pretty missable. But it was sweet, and funny in spots (the bad: way too much of a running gag about the squirrels' slang, which was obviously vastly more fun to write than to read; the best: anything involving SG's thoughts about/interactions with other Marvel characters), and hit a couple of good beats on the perennial "who is the truest self, the wallet name or the cape name" question. And, you know, I am entirely in favor of the existence of more kid-friendly girl-centric superhero stories, and totally intend to see if Junie likes it (she's really into the Super Hero Girls series right now, which I haven't read any of yet, but I think she read the Squirrel Girl comics so might be interested). (Doreen is 14 in it; it read like middlegrade to me rather than YA, and that's how our library shelved it, but I've seen reviews calling it YA.)
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The worst thing about Audrey Coulthurst's Of Fire and Stars is that it was a 2016 book, so I'm a year late to the party. This is classic YA fantasy, now with 100% more gay: princess trained for an arranged marriage finally travels to her betrothed's kingdom... and falls in love with his sister. Their chemistry was so good, the tension of the slow build was exactly why I love YA romance, and this book did everything right: forbidden-but-unsuppressable magic is a clear metaphor for queerness, but there's also actual queerness; in the crowd of ladies-in-waiting our princess manages to befriend another lesbian (who I totally need the side novella about pls) so it's not the One Lone Gay trope. One does maybe wonder at points how this kingdom has survived this long but I live in the US so I can hardly complain about political stupidity and incompetence being unrealistic. Anyways, recommended; it's a standalone (but I want mooooore...) but her next book, Inkmistress, next spring, is a prequel in the same world, 200 years earlier, also a girl/girl couple. I look forward to it.
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Meh. I really liked both the Lego movie and the Lego Batman movie (best Batman movie in ages) but not so much this one. They lampshaded the "only one girl and she's The Girl" thing but I feel ready to move past lampshading this and just stop doing it. I guess they felt constrained by prior canon (we haven't watched/read/played with anything Ninjago, but I have the impression there's a bunch out there) but a movie seems like a good time to shake things up. Even worse was the whole "boys can only learn physical skills from their dads, single moms can't possibly teach their sons to catch or throw or anything" gag. Kinda want to strap everyone involved to a chair and make them watch "Rookie of the Year" a few times, like, how is a 25-year-old movie so much more progressive?

But actually shitty gender politics weren't the thing that bothered me most. So, spoilers, the big resolution is that Lloyd forgives his evil-overlord dad and his dad decides he wants to be in his life and moves back in and they're one big happy family, and... aww, that's heartwarming I guess? Except, I don't know, I felt like it was totally throwing the possibility of having a *genuinely not-okay parent* under the bus. I mean, I don't have personal experience here, and I guess that in a kids' movie everything has to be basically fine and genuinely abusive or neglectful parents are adult topics, but, like, what about actual kids, in abusive family settings, who don't have the luxury of waiting until they're older to confront that topic? Don't they exist? What is it like to go see this movie, watch the dad character be repeatedly violent, break and destroy things, express flat-out that he doesn't care about his kid, steal from him, and then be told that reconciliation will heal all that, if you actually have a dad who has been violent, who has stolen from you, etc? What is it like to take your kids to this movie as a mom, if you had to leave your kid's dad to give your kid a safe and stable life, like the mom in this movie, and see it end with the dad welcomed back to the family? Maybe it's just fine! I don't know! Maybe I'm being a total concern troll here and it's none of my business how survivors of abusive dads feel about anything! But, like, the alienated dad in the first Lego movie was basically a good guy. Batman in Lego Batman has to connect with the Joker, but they still call each other enemies, it's more of a recognition that they're both in this game they've been playing, and the movie ends focused on the Batfamily. I can see where they thought they were just doing the same plot for the third time and it would be fine, but this time it felt over the line, in different emotional territory. Meh.

On the other hand the animation was *fantastic*, like, the textural detail was just gorgeous.
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The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden, 2017, recommended by someone at Readercon although I'm not digging out my paper notes to see who.

Pros: I read this in a day, couldn't put it down. Nifty feudal-Russian setting - I thought it was vague "fantasy Russia" but it turned out in the author's notes that a few of the people are actual historical figures and it's set in the 14th century. (I reread Josepha Sherman's The Shining Falcon a lot in the early 90s, definitely recommended to anyone else nostalgic for that book.) It isn't quite any one fairy tale but a combination/remix of fairy tale elements in a way that gives it a lot of resonance without making it predictable. Turns out it's the first of a trilogy but it stops in a satisfying place, no cliffhanger.

Content notes: rape and rape threats. These characters are in a context where consent for women to or in marriage isn't a thing, and Arden doesn't soften that. Animal harm. Deaths of parents/children.

Cons: behind spoiler cut. Read more... )

Genre note: I'm not sure whether this is being marketed as YA or not, I think maybe not. We're maybe in enough heads of enough characters who aren't young adults that this is more like an adult fantasy novel that happens to have a young adult protagonist than a YA? I wouldn't reject it if you don't read YA, but if you *like* YA fantasy this might seem like a particularly good one?
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So I love it when themes or parallels spontaneously pop up in my reading, but sometimes I choose books deliberately that have something in common, and this was one of those sets. Meg Howrey's The Wanderers is about three candidates for the first manned mission to Mars going through a realistic simulation of the mission on Earth. Gina Damico's Waste of Space is about teenagers chosen for a reality show set in space - fake, but the teenagers aren't told that. Anne Corlett's The Space Between The Stars is about the survivors of a catastrophic plague that it was only possible to survive by being alone. So, wanting space, wanting Space, and getting along with other people in constrained environments and circumstances.

Quick opinions, then I'm going to go into more detail about each book, and then a spoiler cut for Waste of Space, some filler, and a spoiler cut for Wanderers. Wanderers: really good but you have to be okay with literary fiction. Waste of Space: fast read, lands a couple of good hits. Space Between: do not bother.

Wanderers. The other day we had to go to Target, but Q announced that we were actually going to Space Target, which is like Target but you take everything that goes in a Target and bring it to space. Space Target is obviously way better than normal Target, right? Likewise, I'm mostly not interested in the long explorations of people's thoughts and relationships of literary fiction, but make them people who want to go to *space*, and suddenly I am so into it. (Aside: I've realized that I use "literary" in two different ways - one is when I want to talk about books where the language is particularly complex, well-crafted, or beautiful, or that employ devices like recurring imagery and metaphors, and the other is "literary" as a genre referring to naturalistic character drama/portraiture without speculative or "heroic" elements. Hm.) Wanderers is a deep, slow imagining of what kind of people want to be astronauts, what kind of people make *good* astronauts, how their being astronauts affects their families, and how a long-duration mission could change them and their relationships. You might like it if you like Atwood or Chabon, or if you thought KSR's Mars trilogy would have been fine without all the cool engineering bits, or if you think you'd still like The Martian if it had vastly more introspection and vastly less peril.

Waste of Space is mostly heavy-handed satire of the reality TV industry, and a little bit of the kinds of people who might get involved in space-themed reality TV specifically (the incredibly gung-ho wannabe astronaut, the obsessive Trekkie). It's done in a found-footage format combining transcripts of "aired" footage from the show with "behind the scenes" documents like emails, unaired footage, diaries, etc. It's a mix of comedy, some very YA bits about how none of the kids are quite as simple as they first appear, and mild mystery/slow reveal about More Going On. Breakfast Club In Space meets Comedy Hunger Games meets Lost.

Space Between The Stars dreams of managing the sharp character insight of The Wanderers, but doesn't. Also this is the most inaccurately titled book ever: the protag spends all of three days alone, has found other survivors by page 25, and by page 100 they've been to like three different planets, which the ship can apparently just bop between in a day or two. How does that convey a sense of the real size of space. It really wanted to be set in the post-apocalyptic UK but I think the author got enamored of the title phrase and was like "let's do it in The Future even though I don't want to do any worldbuilding and all the clothes and tech and cultural references will be 20th/21st cen". Also the survival rate is supposed to be "one in a million" - or maybe it's more, but not *much* more - but includes *two* key people from the protag's former life? Like, no, you are not earning my buy-in here. A good enough book could pull it off as essential to the allegory but this is just a muddle.

Spoilers for Waste of Space:Read more... )

This paragraph is filler, in case you don't want to be spoiled for Wanderers. I would strongly suggest not reading the spoilers if you intend to read this book. Like, seriously, turn back, back button, blah blah blah,
carriage return
carriage return
okay I think everyone's eyeballs had a chance to stop?

Wanderers spoilers. Read more... )

Oh, they are all three 2017 books.
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First, the funerals: the Inexplicable Logic of my Life is a contemporary YA by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Three friends and one of their dads compare paths to the dead moms club. Definitely a crying book, I kept being reading this in public places and regretting it. I liked this less than Aristotle&Dante, probably because it's not a romance, and also Sáenz' teen voices worked a little better for me when they were set in the 80s than set now. The texting in this never sounded quite right, in particular. But Sáenz writes some powerful moments, and captures some subtle and complicated feelings. He's at his most interesting to me when he's exploring identity issues like what it means to be born Anglo but adopted and raised by a Mexican-American family, interesting stuff there. The main character chooses something at the end that bothered me, but I can see what Sáenz was getting at and it made sense for the character, just, eegh.

And then, the dinner parties. A Civil Contract (1961 Georgette Heyer Regency novel) and Home Again (2017 Reese Witherspoon film) might seem like an odd pair of works to want to pair up for reviewing, but actually they're perfect, because Civil Contract is a difficult novel because it refuses to give in to the pull of wish fulfillment, while Home Again is an enjoyable movie because it's wish fulfillment all the way down, and they both involve the male romantic lead standing up the female romantic lead for an important dinner party.

Civil Contract's dude hoped to be career military, but dad/untimely death/aristocratic responsibilities, you've heard this before if you read Regencies at all. He's in love with someone, but he's broke, so he has to marry her friend, the daughter of a rich businessman, instead, to save his estate. If Courtney Milan is writing this plot, he would discover that she had some kind of awesome interest or compelling backstory, he would fall in love with her, yay. Heyer, however, doesn't let us have that fantasy - while he does come to *appreciate* his wife's comparative lack of drama, and the comfort that he gets from her catering to him, there's no real indication that he finds her attractive, or is interested in her as a person. (She's been in love with him all along, which is why she's so willing to completely shape her life around his comfort, and do all the emotional labor of managing her feelings without ever bothering him with them.) In theory, I like the idea of a romance novel pairing that focuses more on in-jokes and child raising than bodice-ripping sex, but in practice, it doesn't even really feel like a romance. I am interested in the decentering of *desire* from the narrative, but what I really read romance for is the mutual passionate admiration! That's the stuff! It doesn't feel like a happy ending to me if she's in limerence with him and he's not with her. (There is a long and excellent discussion thread here with, among others, Courtney Milan herself basically making this argument.)

Home Again, in contrast, delivers passionate admiration in spades. Our 40-year-old recently-separated mom heroine has *three* nice young men fall for her; she's only ever romantic with one, but she gets to bask in attention (and emotional and household labor!) from all three of them. It's not just a fantasy of still being desirable, although that's obviously part of it, it's a fantasy of getting to enjoy the excitement and fun of a new romance even after already having had one good marriage. (Although her ex as we see him onscreen is awful, I think we're supposed to have the impression that it was a good relationship for a long time, until it wasn't anymore.) She eventually decides that the life-stage gap between her and her young man is too big for a relationship, but they all three will still be around as part of a found family with her and her kids and her mom, yay - she may have given up the sex, but she gets to keep the admiration.

Oh, and the dinner parties? I had curiously opposite reactions to them. In Home Again, the missed dinner party is the precipitating event for the end of the relationship - it's supposed to be their first "real date" beyond their fling at her house, he's going to meet her friends, but he stands her up rather than risk offending the guy he's hoping will help them get their movie made. She decides that this means their priorities are just too different, but I found myself more sympathetic to the dude than she was - the movie pushes how these guys are these aspiring filmmakers who Really Believe In Films, and he's young and new to navigating Hollywood, and believes this is an important chance. And unfortunately it falls into her ex's pattern of blowing her off for flimsy work reasons, so it makes sense that *she's* just like "I'm not doing this again", but it didn't make *me* think they wouldn't work. Civil Contract dude on the other hand has promised to be home for his sister's engagement party but instead borrows a ton of money to gamble wildly on a military outcome so that he can have money of "his own" instead of his wife's money - it turns out he's right but, ugh, he takes this enormous risk for no real important benefit, I lost so much sympathy for the character and of course his wife is just like "that's all right honey you know best, nice work honey". It's the climax of the book and I guess the idea is that now that he doesn't "owe" her he's more able to realize that he's fond of her and doesn't resent her for having had to marry her. In a way, these stories end the same - with a friendship rather than a romance - but what a difference, coming to it from opposite directions.

Salt Roads

Aug. 26th, 2017 03:33 pm
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The Salt Roads, Nalo Hopkinson. I was surprised early in the book by a few scenes that seemed weirdly familiar - I think I must have started reading it once before and given up before I got very far, and then forgotten I did that. In fact, it didn't really work for me this time around either, but this time I finished it at least. The book follows three characters in different times and places, and various things happen to them, but there isn't really a plot in terms of wondering or anticipating how events will lead to other events? I kept waiting for the reveal of some sort of bigger connection between the three characters but that also doesn't really happen. It reminded me a bit of Everfair (my review here) in its directionlessness, which it turns out is not entirely a coincidence or a case of me lumping together black women writing sffnal historical fiction, Hopkinson and Shawl have actually co-written together, and might plausibly belong to the same artistic movement that I just don't know how to read or isn't to my taste or whatever. (But Everfair at least had a lot of awesome elements, so much of Salt Roads was... honestly just ugly? Like the Haiti parts were powerful in the way that anything about the reality of lives under chattel slavery is, and had a few vivid moments, but so much of the other two threads were cringeworthy, or squalid, or just so random...) Hopkinson said in an author's note that she "finds most science fiction/fantasy horribly badly written", so I think this may be a case where I just fundamentally disagree with this author about how stories work or what makes them good. Not every book needs to be for me, of course (white woman doesn't like book for Black audience, who the fuck cares) but I can only read as me. (And I feel like I don't need remedial reading on believing that black/queer/disabled people have existed throughout history, or that the whole "whites and castles" genre of historical fantasy is ahistorical and racist.)
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(Is that still a spoiler at this point?) Anyways, yeah, The Stone Sky, NK Jemisin, conclusion of the Broken Earth trilogy.

Before I summon the spoiler cut, I want to mention the somewhat-relevant information that I looked up recently that there are two previous back-to-back Hugo winners, Bujold for Vor Game and Barrayar and Card for Ender's and Speaker, and there has never yet been a consecutive threepeat.

And now spoilers. Read more... )

Six Wakes

Aug. 18th, 2017 08:16 pm
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Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty. I'm a huge sucker for this kind of thing - six clones wake up on a spaceship in deep space, their previous iterations murdered, what happened. The combination of the train/island murder mystery and the amnesia hook, And Then There Were None, They Were Eleven (which I hardly remember now, except that I was into the premise), the first season of Lost where they figure out that someone wasn't on the plane - and a couple of y'all may recall that I once ran a one-shot along similar lines. :) It's hard to say much else without undercutting the suspense, when part of the suspense, I think, is "is this well-constructed, is it going to be satisfying". So I will just say that it reminds me a lot of what it seemed like Lost wanted to be, with backstory character-revealing flashbacks and a foreground mystery, but is a nice standalone book instead of six seasons of inconclusive ad hoc bullshit, how about that?
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Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. My note on my to-read list was just "prioritize this already", one of those must-reads I just kept not getting to. It is very powerful and well-done but I can't exactly say I *enjoyed* it; I admit I like the plucky survivalist fantasy of "fun" takes on the apocalypse like David Palmer's Emergence (a longtime favorite) much more than Atwood's realistic squalor. The world is too bleak right now to read anything this remorselessly non-escapist. Dubious choice, me.

The Human Division and The End of All Things, John Scalzi. I had read the rest of the series and always sort of intended to finish it, and I ran out of library ebooks and I had them on my phone because Josh had bought them, so. Scalzi is very, very good at writing books that keep you turning the pages, and then at the end you think, sure, that was fine, I would buy another one of these. I don't mean this as a criticism, I really admire Scalzi's professionalism and skill in producing A Satisfying Reading Experience. He - spoilers - did something so interesting in the Old Man's War universe, creating the United Federation of Planets and not letting humans be part of it - I can think of lots of stories where 20th century humans find out there's a League of Planets out there, judging them or whatever, but not a lot of future-set stories where aliens are doing the big good thing and spacefaring humans are left out or the enemy. Creates a good built-in tension to the world, that things are not how we would want them to be, and yet ultimately he has to either undermine that premise or leave it unsatisfying. I felt like in the end he tried to split the difference and it was kind of a meh ending. (Also, whatever happened to the whole "Special Forces want more rights/recognition" thread? I kept expecting that to come back in but it was just dropped.)

It's sort of funny, I was thinking of Oryx as a classic from quite awhile ago (I would have guessed the 90s) and the Old Man's War books as "recent", but Oryx is actually from 2003 and OMW from 2005. Of course Human Division and End are more recent, 2013 and 2015, but the world is still pinned down by the worldbuilding from 2005... I wonder if more "literary" works automatically seem older to me, hmm.


Aug. 14th, 2017 01:07 pm
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I'm not sure if that's funnier if it's like "yeah, yeah" or like "get your ya-yas out". Or neither. Anyways, books.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee, is a 2017 gay teen historical romance, written by someone who I would be shocked to learn was not in/formerly in fandom somewhere. Not that these particular characters ring a bell as fileoffs of any particular fandom; maybe it's just that it seems impossible that a person who likes this sort of thing wouldn't have discovered fanfiction. A young man pining for his best friend has his Grand Tour of Europe take an adventurous turn when he gets caught up in a plot that requires them to travel through various locations and action sequences, accompanied by bookish little sister and ultimately culminating in personal growth etc. Good stuff, recommended if you like Courtney Milan (Lee is doing some similar stuff with writing non-whitewashed historicals that don't erase race/disability/queerness/etc), or possibly, hm, I'm less sure about this comparison, but the Assassin's Curse books, or Meg Cabot? Meg Cabot did a couple of teen historicals I remember liking... anyways, I suspect that most people were either like "gay teen historical romance YES" or "nah", so I won't keep on. There is one minor speculative element, but I wouldn't call it enough to consider this an SFF work - it's more like the way some romance novels happen to have a helpful ghost, or the way Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has minor supernatural elements but is mostly action-adventure. (... although it turns out both Raiders and Last Crusade won the Hugo Dramatic in their years, so, gah, maybe this is an SFF work after all. Genre is hard.)

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is unambiguously not speculative at all, just a teen contemporary novel. Trans teenager finally living as herself explores friendship and romance in the American South. Definitely felt like an "issue book", there's a lot of stuff here about What It Is Like for this girl to be trans, which, while very well done, felt more like it was aiming for people for whom this might be their first encounter with the topic. Given my personal areas of ignorance I actually felt like I learned more about stuff like what "mudding" is and the interior layout of a trailer home (... yes, my privilege is blinding) than the trans stuff. But, you know, put it in every school library in America and it might end up in some hands that could really use it. Well done and there was some good chemistry in the romance. Content notes: suicide attempt, forced outing, violence and threatened sexual violence against trans characters.

(I realize I didn't feel obligated to do a content note for the other one. Uh, period-typical attitudes? Genre-typical violence?)
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See the winners and links to detailed results here.

Overall, I think it was a strong ballot and I'm pretty happy with most of the results. Disappointed about Splendor&Misery, but as we'll see in the detailed results, I think the answer to "can an album compete with series television" is "I guess not".

So, yeah! Analysis and reactions, behind this cut for length! Read more... )
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Yeah, so when they said "great visuals, bad writing", that was not anti-SFF snobbery talking.

Let me complain at length.

But first! Previews! I got the Wrinkle in Time preview and I can't believe the world has to not blow up until *March* for us to get to see it, augh. Looks so good. I am also tentatively interested in the romantic comedy where Reese Witherspoon plays a 40-year-old mom who trades in her husband for a small harem of twenty-year-olds... ok, I'm sure in practice it will be terrible, but I want to see what fandom can make of it? Like there's some interesting stuff there with interplay of Mom Identity and sexual identity, where she's momming two of them and fucking the third, and it's nice to see films with middle-aged ladies getting to Renew Their Lives With Youth(s), a traditionally dude-dominated genre.

Okay, now Valerian spoilers. Read more... )

So, yeah. Cannot recommend, alas. I always want the big SF films to be good but... too many of them are not. :(
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I liked it! I'm very excited the 80s are now past enough to be a period to stylize, and I'm a forever sucker for badass women. It's no must-see like Wonder Woman but if you like spies lies and ultraviolence I would definitely recommend it.
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The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi. The opening of this was terrific - starts in a kind of classic YA set-up (although in a neat India-esque fantasy kingdom instead of Generic Faux-medieval Europe) but rapidly escalates/pivots until we're somewhere else entirely. I didn't think the rest of the book quite lived up to that opening, but I still enjoyed it - some good imagery, an unusual and funny talking animal sidekick, and a much more ambitious and original story than some YA bothers to try to tell. Very flowery language - we're definitely in the, like, Romantic/epic register here vs realistically developed characterization - but I thought it was worth it for the interesting setting and story. Would maybe rec to fans of Holly Black's Faerie books or N.K. Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This was a 2017 Norton nominee (2016 book).

The Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein. This is a classic from 1989, the start of a series still in progress (four so far, two more in theory). Amusingly, Kirstein spoiled the main plot for me while speaking on a panel at Readercon, although I had already pretty much figured it out (and if I hadn't read a 1989 book yet I have only myself to blame). This starts off looking a lot like General Faux-medieval Fantasy Europe but It's Not, although we're only starting to see the whole picture of that as of this book, and I'm not sure if I'm going to read more of them to develop it further or not. I don't know, I really like the concept, and I think I probably would have *adored* it if I had actually read it back in the 90s, but it felt a little clunky to me? (In a way that makes me second-guess my reaction, like, would I cut a male character more slack with all of the "Rowan brilliantly counted the number of things and ascertained their number, she observed observationally" narration? I would like to think NOT AT ALL, but I can't prove that.) Anyways, my younger self would have been thrilled by a book where the hero bangs on about rationality and honesty and she's a woman, and my current self is pleased for another entry in my collection of books by women authors I can bring up in any possible conversation about SF, so, hey. (Niven, Heinlein, Vinge.) (Two female leads and 7 stories on AO3, o femslash fans.)
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The first two of these share the property of being things that went on my to-read list with an eye towards possible interest in Hugo-nominating them and then I didn't get to them in time.

Runtime, by S.B. Divya, is a 2016 novella Nebula finalist that I would very happily have put on my Hugos list instead of "Every Heart" or "Census-Taker" (and I would guess we'll see on the long list in a few weeks). Near-future, our cyborg protag is running an extreme race over the Sierras, it's the kind of perfectly-done small scope of plot that weaves together its survival-story strand, a look-at-society, and some bigger themes/questions about fairness and opportunity. Really interesting gender stuff, imagining a world where nonbinarity is becoming the dominant gender - I am automatically sympathetic to a protag wanting to ditch their gender but I thought Divya did a good job of showing how (like any gender orthodoxy) this is great for some people and less so for others. Anyways, recommended.

The Girl In The Road, by Monica Byrne, was a 2014 novel, so clearly I'm a little later catching up on this one. Coincidentally it also couples survival-story elements with its SF and dramatic themes - in this case a trek story, putting its protagonist on a floating bridge between India and Africa (and a secondary protagonist on a convoy across Africa). I think the last setting I found this striking might have been in Forest of Hands and Teeth except this one does so much more with its dramatic linearlly-constrained setting. It's possible that there's something suspect in my hunger for stories that don't center white people, something exotifying/appropriative or whatever, but I really liked that I had to go look at maps because this story took me through parts of the world my dumb ass could barely find on a map, that inter-national and inter-racial encounters were so much a part of the story without any Europeans or Americans around. It's definitely on the literary end of SF - unreliable narrators, recurring imagery and symbolism, references and foreshadowing - although not so much so that I felt like too much was going over my head. Recommended, but I feel I should mention that this is a pretty upsetting book, involving rape, child abuse, intimate partner violence, violence against trans people, self-harm, child harm, animal harm, and POV characters in manic, dissociated, and hallucinatory states. (I am always happy to have a more specific/spoilery conversation about content stuff if that is useful to anyone.)

The Djinn Falls In Love, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, is an anthology from this year. Although the name might make it sound like a YA anthology in search of this year's sparkly vampires, there is no YA or romance here, this is... how do I put this. "Serious adult SFF" makes it sound like I don't take YA or romance seriously. But, you know what I mean, it is tonally/thematically mainstream SFF on the Lightspeed/Clarkesworld type axis. Standout stories to me include "Majnun" by Helene Wecker, about a djinn who has converted to Islam, "Black Powder", by Maria Dahvana Headley, taking djinn into a tall tale/fable/Western context, "Reap", by Sami Shah, an unforgettable tense classic ghost story updated to drone surveillance and simultaneously a very contemporary story that could only be about drone surveillance - "Reap" is the one I'm putting a star by - and "Bring Your Own Spoon", by Saad Z. Hossain, about djinn and human survivors in a post-apocalyptic/dystopic future. The Gaiman piece here is in fact the djinn story from American Gods (only reprint in the collection) which on the one hand is the best thing in American Gods and on the other hand is not a new Gaiman story about djinn, phooey. Other authors I've recced stuff by before: JY Yang, Monica Byrne, Amal El-Mohtar, Usman T. Malik, Nnedi Okorafor. Content notes for intimate partner violence, child harm, maybe some other stuff... there was one in particular near the end that went somewhere really upsetting.
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Paper Girls 2, comic. The main new conceit of this volume (as set up at the end of volume 1) is a hugely compelling premise for me. I kind of wish they'd been able to hit it harder/dig in deeper... I mean, the emotional tone was in keeping with the rest of the comic, but. Dude. Way to concretize what happens to be one of my core emotional conflicts. Maybe there'll be fic? Maybe I'll write some?

Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee. My reaction is under the cut, as is a GIANT MASSIVE PLOT SPOILER. Sufficient warning? MAJOR SPOILERS HERE? Read more... )
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