redheadedfemme: (cringeface)
2017-09-13 09:46 am

The Asses Below

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

3 of 5 stars

There were a couple of times when this book nearly met the wall, especially in the earlier chapters. One of the characters (unfortunately, the main POV character) is such a vain, obnoxious, sexist ass that he made the book very hard to read. That is my main knock against this book: why, when you have such a wonderful protagonist as Josette Dupre, the first female combat airship captain, would you choose to tell her story through the eyes of the entitled male "fop" who is actively working to bring her down? 
This seems to me to be wrong authorial decision. And while said "fop" does grow and change a bit through the book, and eventually comes to respect and support Josette, the entire narration of this novel just feels like a sadly missed opportunity. I would much rather have spent more time in Josette's head. What caused her to join the air corps, disguising herself as a man? What obstacles did she face to get to where she is? The topic of sexual harassment is notably glossed over in this book; one would think that should have been a major plot point, given the ongoing problems of integrating real-world armies. (Indeed, this book's supporting characters are poorly drawn and almost indistinguishable.) Instead, we have such irritating bits as Bernat's wanting Josette to "smile more" (AAARRGH! I hate that in real life, and I hate it more in my books). This just comes back to the fact that he is entirely the wrong viewpoint character for this book, and he almost sinks it. 
Why then, you may ask, did I give the book three stars? Because of the fast pace, the tightly and carefully ratcheting suspense, and the thrilling battle scenes. I don't know if the author has ever been in the armed forces, but she certainly seems to know her way around a battlefield. The gore and the muck, the tedium and terror of war, are fully explored. The technology of a combat airship is well thought out, and there are exciting scenes of battles in cloud banks, and Josette's airship Mistral running silent like a submarine. Once we get into the actual fighting, the book picks up, and I raced through it to the end. 
This doesn't take away the clumsily written characterization, however. Unless "the fop" is gotten rid of, or at the very least sidelined in favor of Josette Dupre taking center stage, I won't be picking up the sequel.
redheadedfemme: (sorry you suck)
2017-09-06 09:00 am

Stinkers Ahoy

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 7 by G. Willow Wilson

3 of 5 stars

Any long-running series will have volumes of lesser quality. I own nearly all the Ms. Marvel paperback collections, and the last two, Super Famous and Civil War II, have been right up there in terms of quality, the latter less so than the former. The natural cycle of good/bad would dictate that we were due for a (relative) stinker...and unfortunately, this is it. 
That's not to say that this collection is all bad. Parts of it were interesting (especially the finale with Bruno in Wakanda) but it doesn't hang together to produced a focused whole. The "internet virus" storyline, in the middle, was particularly ho-hum, at least to me. There were some good points about compassion, and being true to yourself and standing up to bullies. Zoe's and Nakia's little side story was touching. But the villain, the malignant computer virus who tried to blackmail Kamala, was definitely underwhelming, and the result was that the entire story seemed to be spinning its wheels. I missed seeing Kamala's parents and brother; I've always thought that family dynamic was one of the cornerstones of the series. 
(Also, can we get rid of the "secret identity" thing already? It's straining my suspension of disbelief to continue to assert that Kamala's friends and family don't know who she is. Bring it out in the open and deal with it. That would seem to be a far better source of stories than this was.) 
I liked seeing how Bruno was adjusting to his disability and his life in Wakanda, and I can only trumpet over and over: MORE MIKE!! She deserves to be a full-blown sidekick, as far as I'm concerned. Hopefully the next volume will pick things up again, as this one simply missed the mark.
redheadedfemme: (aliens won't talk to us)
2017-09-04 07:13 pm

Kith and Kin In America

Kindred by Damian Duffy

4 of 5 stars

This is the graphic novel version of Octavia E. Butler's masterpiece. I read Kindred (the book) years ago; I need to read it again, as in a lot of ways I didn't really understand it. But I'm glad I picked this up, as this version of the story, condensed to its soul-shattering essence, shows the depth of Butler's enormous talent.

This is a story of slavery and oppression, and the psychology of both. The science-fiction, time-travel aspect is the most hand-wavey part of it, and I've seen other reviewers complain about how the mechanisms of both fell flat. Ignore these people, as the point is whooshing at skyscraper-like heights over their heads. Octavia Butler was not the least bit concerned with the how of Dana's arrival in 1815 Maryland. Her razor-sharp focus is on the characters, and what happens to them afterwards, and how the systems and mindset that made enslaving other human beings possible left its dark, ugly mark on everyone involved, a mark which echoes through this country's history down to the present day.

This story is also an examination of violence and abuse. Since the original storyline has been stripped down to fit in the graphic novel format, one can readily see the steady escalation in each successive chapter. In the beginning, Rufus is an innocent child, parroting the white supremacist mindset of his elders without understanding it. But as he grows, and continues to drag Dana back in time to save him, one can see the poison of antebellum society taking hold, despite Dana's best efforts to get him to see his slaves as people, not property. His obsession with Alice (and with controlling the slaves in general, as he's now the "Massa" after his father's death), who he rapes and fathers several children with (echoes of Thomas Jefferson), marks the point of his being past redemption, although Dana doesn't see this until the very end. She's remembering the child she rescued. But when Rufus states his intention to make Dana his sexual slave just as he did Alice, she resorts to what is, at that point, her only way out (since in that time and place she obviously can't expect help from the law or society in general)--she kills him.

By that time, the reader--or at least this reader--can't help but see the homicide as justifiable.

No doubt many people will feel the print book portrayed all this better. And this is, after all, pretty much an apples to oranges comparison, as a graphic novel necessarily takes a quite different tack. As I was reading, I thought at first that I didn't care much for the artwork. But after finishing the book and thinking about it some more, I find the art is growing on me. It's bright and harsh, all sharp lines and sometimes ugly sepia tones, but that's appropriate to the ugly story Butler is telling. Let's put it this way: it's about the furthest you can get from Marvel or DC Comics.

This book is tough to read, but don't let that stop you. And mourn that such a monumental talent as Octavia E. Butler was taken from us so soon.  
redheadedfemme: (Default)
2017-07-31 06:36 am

The Queen of Partially Good Books

The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher

3 of 5 stars

I had a rough time rating this book. Parts of it I liked, and parts of it I didn't care for. That may be because it's the third book in the series and I haven't read the other two. Copious references are made to previous events, but the author does a nice job of summing them up, so I don't think that's the problem. This book has two main characters and two timelines, and it seems to me what I'm having trouble with is the fact that one character and timeline resonated for me, and the other simply did not. 
Well, let's start with the character/timeline that absolutely worked: Anne Bonney. I would LOVE more books about her. She was a real person, a female pirate in the 18th century, and as far as I can tell, the author pretty much stuck to the facts of her early life. The branch point into the author's alternate history and universe begins in 1721, when Anne goes on a quest for her last great treasure, and falls into a world of gods, magic and vaguely Lovecraftian monsters. This quest takes her into the heart of Africa, where she meets a priestess of an ancient society of women called the Daughters of Lilith, who are fighting another ancient society of monsters called the Sons of Typhon. This priestess, Raashida, convinces Anne she is destined to take on what is called Lilith's Load, and protect the world from the Sons of Typhon. Anne does this, and her bloodline now belongs to the Daughters.
(A lot of Anne's story takes place in Africa. Since the author is a white male, this is a rather sensitive and potentially problematic storyline. He seems to have done his research and handles the various tribal cultures and customs with respect, and also tackles the racism and colonialism of the era. But I don't know enough about the real history to comment.)
Cue a hundred and fifty years later, with Anne's multiple-greats granddaughter, Maude Stapleton. In one of the previous books, Maude released Typhon from his prison, and this comes back to bite her, big-time. As far as I was concerned, Maude's storyline bogged the book down, because it felt like the author was losing control of his world. As just one example, Anne Bonney is still around when Maude is a child, specifically nine years old and several years after that, since Anne is mentioned as having given Maude her initial training. Which would have made Anne Bonney about 140-150 years old? Of course this is a fantasy, and there's several hints given as to how this might have happened (ingesting the Blood of Lilith), but all the people who have no idea this underworld of gods and monsters exists go around ignoring the fact that they're talking about Maude's great-great-great-great-grandmother? Who was still alive till 20-odd years ago? Come on, people. 
Also, Maude is damn near as invulnerable as Superman (at least until she meets the Sons of Typhon), and there's no kryptonite to be found. Now, I like a badass female fighter as much as anyone, but the Daughters of Lilith take this rather over the top (their fighting techniques supposedly inspired all the martial arts in existence). There's also a convenient metaphysical place known as the Record which Maude discovers she can tap into (fifty years earlier than any other Daughter being able to do it), where she can converse with the spirits of the previous Daughters (and her own mother, apparently), and solve all her problems. I could go on, but you get the idea--it felt to me like the worldbuilding was coming apart, and my suspension of disbelief stretched to the breaking point. 
Which is sad, because Anne Bonney was wonderful. I would love reading the story of how she rescued the tree people and acquired her sentient warship, the Hecate. She was a realistic, flawed, human character. Unfortunately, at the end of the book we're left with Maude Stapleton teaching and nurturing the next generation of the Daughters of Lilith, and after her disappointing story in this book, I'm not inclined to go any further. 
redheadedfemme: (Default)
2017-07-29 08:01 pm

The Hell Hath No Refrigerator Club

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

4 of 5 stars

In 1999, comics writer Gail Simone came up with "Women In Refrigerators," a comic book trope where female characters are injured or killed as a plot device to move the hero's story arc forward. I know she didn't expect Catherynne M. Valente to write a lovely little book about this idea eighteen years later, but this novella, or maybe short novel, both brings this repulsive idea to life and turns it inside out, to memorable effect.
I've been iffy about most things I've read from Valente so far. Sometimes her prose seems lush and lyrical, and simply purple and overwrought at other times. That is definitely not the case with this book: her writing here is tight and punchy, and the voices of the characters shine through. This is a series of six interlocking stories set in Valente's comic-book universe, where six (sometimes thinly disguised) wives and girlfriends of superheroes tell their stories. These women are all dead. Now they are members of the Hell Hath Club, and they meet in the Lethe Cafe in Deadtown to tell their stories, the deaths that provided fuel for the men left behind. As Valente puts it, in three scorching sentences that are the heart of this book:
I belong in the refrigerator. Because the truth is, I'm just food for a superhero. He'll eat up my death and get the energy he needs to become a legend.
(I'm trying to figure out which current or past characters these fictional women represent. Paige Embry seems to be Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man's dead girlfriend; in the second story, "The Heat Death of Julia Ash," by far the most unsettling story in the book, Julia Ash is apparently Jean Grey from the X-Men; Pauline Ketch, with her terrible dysfunctional relationship, is obviously Harley Quinn; Bayou is Mera, wife of Aquaman; Samantha Dane, in the last story in the book, is the stand-in for Alexandra Dewitt, the girlfriend of Green Lantern who was killed and stuffed in a refrigerator, thus starting this whole thing. The only one I'm not sure about is Daisy Green? From various comments I've read, her analogue is Karen Page, but I don't really know who that is.)
This is a powerful little book. It tears apart the idiotic "women in refrigerators" trope and shows it for the sad, sexist fail in storytelling it really is. (Yes, I know it's not restricted to superhero universes--vigilante tales often start with the deaths of the hero's wife and family to send him on a revenge quest to slaughter those responsible, although the recent film John Wick turned this on its head a bit by sending the retired assassin after the people who killed his puppy. Thus pointing out the stupidity of the entire idea.) It's the most tightly written story I've seen from Catherynne Valente, with the novella/short novel length being exactly right. It's well-thought-out and entertaining, but at the same time it gives you a lot to think about. Most likely you'll never look at a comic book story the same way again.
redheadedfemme: (Default)
2017-07-23 02:02 pm

The Art of TMI In the Rain

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

3 of 5 stars

This book constituted a break from my usual diet of SF and fantasy. I've never heard any of Amanda Palmer's music, or participated in her Kickstarters and Patreon, but I have followed her blog for years, after meeting her via Neil Gaiman (to whom she's married). This is a combination of a self-help book, an explanation of how she manages her free-for-all Internet business and musical presence, a discussion of Life and Art, and a memoir. The writing style is very freewheeling and stream-of-consciousness, so if you don't like that sort of thing, be warned.
For me, the book was most successful as a memoir: chronicling Palmer's marriage to Neil Gaiman and the illness of her dear friend and father figure, Anthony Martignetti. (Sadly, Martignetti has since died.) She reveals some pretty intimate details about her life and marriage, unusually so for a celebrity, but that is definitely Amanda Palmer--TMI is her middle name. Her writing has a coherence and an emotional punch in those sections that is not found, for the most part, in the more rambling sections about her music and art. That's not to say that the latter subjects are bad, just that they're not as interesting. The book does seem to get better and more focused as it goes along. 
All in all, this book was a pleasant enough diversion. It won't win any awards, but it's an engaging look at the life of one of the more unusual artists and musicians of our times. 
redheadedfemme: (wonder woman reading)
2017-07-11 06:52 am
Entry tags:

Hugo Voting: Best Fan/Semiprozine

 The nominees for best fanzine:

Castalia House Blog, edited by Jeffro Johnson
Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Helena Nash, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, and Erin Underwood
Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan
nerds of a feather, flock together, edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry
Rocket Stack Rank, edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong
SF Bluestocking, edited by Bridget McKinney
My ballot:
6) Journey Planet
The issues on offer in this year's Hugo packet didn't appeal to me at all, unfortunately. They were just all over the place, and dragged down by some seriously bad covers.
5) Castalia House Blog
Eh. This actually wasn't too bad, despite its association with a seriously nasty person and his publishing company. Enough so that I'm not putting it under No Award. But it doesn't have the quality of those ranked above it.
4) Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together
This fanzine runs along similar lines as other zines in this category: book, movie, game reviews. Joe Sherry seemed to write most of the better articles. However, there is a multitude of authors on this site, and they don't seem to have the unified vision and consistent tone that other sites offer.
3) Rocket Stack Rank
This fanzine is definitely for the mathematical and algorithm-inclined. It concentrates on short fiction, rating every single story in several magazines and anthologies published throughout the calendar year. The reviewers have well-thought-out standards and explain exactly what they're looking for. From what I've seen, the overwhelming majority of their ratings are three-star, or just "average," so when they mark a story as four or five-star, it makes the reader sit up and take notice.
2) SF Bluestocking
I have this fanzine in my RSS feed folder, and Bridget McKinney's Hugo packet well illustrates why: she's a thoughtful, incisive reviewer, with plenty to say about books as well as SFF TV shows. Her review of the best episode of The X-Files Season 10, "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster," is dead-on as regards both the characters and the show. She also does a great job of deconstructing some not-so-good Game of Thrones episodes. (I do love a snarky takedown, but an intelligent snarky takedown is a fairly rare thing, and that's what McKinney does here.)
1) Lady Business
I nominated this fanzine this year and last, and I really hope they get the rocket this time around. This is a fanzine of multiple authors, which can be a detriment if there isn't a strong unifying editorial theme. However, Lady Business, as its name indicates, has this strong editorial theme--looking at fandom through an incisive feminist lens. By doing so, what could have been, for instance, a fluffy article about the costumes in Star Wars turns into an interesting commentary on the female roles of the franchise.
The nominees for Best Semiprozine:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews
Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, edited by P. Alexander
GigaNotoSaurus, edited by Rashida J. Smith
Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Catherine Krahe, Vajra Chandrasekera, Vanessa Rose Phin, Li Chua, Aishwarya Subramanian, Tim Moore, Anaea Lay, and the Strange Horizons staff
Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
My ballot:
6) Cirsova
Cirsova harkens back to old-time pulp, or "heroic fantasy," magazines. It seems to be a good example of its genre, if you like that kind of thing. I don't, particularly.
5) Beneath Ceaseless Skies
This magazine (or at least the issue in the packet) only offers stories, not poems, reviews or articles. I find I prefer a magazine with the latter, as it seems more well-rounded. (That said, there are some good stories in this issue, the Kameron Hurley in particular.)
4) GigaNotoSaurus
This magazine is that rarest of beasts: a home for longer SFF stories. Rashida J. Smith picks some excellent stories, including "Brushwork," by Aliya Whiteley, one of my Best Novelette nominees this year.
3) Strange Horizons
Their offering in the Hugo packet is the delightful July 2016 issue, "Our Queer Planet," featuring the work of queer authors, poets and essayists. Standouts include the story "Her Sacred Spirit Soars," by S. Quioyi Lu, the column "Did You Mean A Romantic?" by Penny Stirling; and the poem "Sawa," by Karolina Fedyk.
2) Uncanny Magazine
Uncanny was the well-deserved Best Semiprozine winner last year. This year's quality is similar, but I think it's going to miss my #1 spot by a hair. 
1) The Book Smugglers
Stories, reviews, snarky X-Men and Mary Sue articles: I really liked this magazine. It surprised me a little, as I would've thought nothing could beat out Uncanny; but this magazine managed to do it.
Next up: Best Novella
(I just checked to see the Hugo voting deadline is midnight Pacific [US] time Saturday July 15. I think I'm going to need every minute of it. Wish me luck.)
redheadedfemme: (wrecked eyes)
2017-07-06 04:02 pm
Entry tags:

Hugo Voting: Best Graphic Story (or, "Comics Are a Gateway Drug To Literacy")

(Title quote from Art Spiegelman.)
These are the nominees for Best Graphic Story.
Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel)
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)

Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image)
Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image)
The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)
I originally thought this category would be one of the easier ones, as I have already read four out of the six, nominated them, and own them to boot. Nope. I'm still going round and round with the top three, and which one ends up at #1 depends on the day of the week.
Saga Volume 7 Paperback – April 4, 2017
7) Saga, Volume 6
I know this is a minority opinion, but I do not like this comic. The Eight Deadly Words applies, and has every time I've tried to read it.
6) No Award
5) Black Panther, Vol. 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
This is an admirable beginning, but you can tell Ta-Nehisi Coates is a comics newbie. I would call this first volume essentially a learning curve. All the pieces are there, and the plot has been set in motion, but the whole thing is a little disjointed. I expect the story to improve in Volumes 2 and 3, which are patiently awaiting me atop Mount TBR. (Brian Stelfreeze's art is quite good, however.)
4) Paper Girls, Volume 1
This surprised the heck out of me. I liked it far more than I thought I would (enough to order Vol. 1-2, and preorder Vol. 3). It's a story of female bonding and sistas doin' it for themselves; a sci-fi time travel saga; an alternate-worlds kill-the-monster horror tale; and a mystery wrapped and tied with a pretty 80's pop-culture bow. (As evidenced by the werewolf wearing a Guns n'Roses t-shirt.) It ends on a cliffhanger, which is something of a downer, but Brian K. Vaughn is telling a far better story here, in my opinion, than Saga.
(These were the three easy choices. Now I start gnashing my teeth.)
3) Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous
Kamala Khan is just a sweetheart. I love her family, I love her interactions with her friends, I love her endless struggle between being a superhero and a normal teenager, and I love her screwing up because of it. I also love the fact that both G. Willow Wilson and her character are unapologetic Muslims, which takes a lot more courage now than it used to.
(Argh!! Flip coins. Draw straws. Close eyes and point.)
2) The Vision, Vol. 1: Little Worse Than a Man
This is actually the first half of a complete, self-contained story (and on my ballot, I nominated both Volumes 1 and 2). As the title (from The Merchant of Venice) indicates, this is a Shakespearean tragedy in graphic novel form. It's dark and sad and thoroughly adult, with (fortunately) a tiny glimmer of hope on the last page.

Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie M. Liu
1) Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
Sana Takeda's sublime art and Marjorie Liu's worldbuilding are what tipped this one to the top. (At least for today.) This would be a damn fine fantasy series in written form, with its magic, Lovecraftian feel and Egyptian tone, and centuries of history, discrimination and bloodshed (and talking cats with multiple tails), but the outstanding art gives Monstress the edge.
Next: Best Fanzine/Semiprozine
redheadedfemme: (reader thousand lives)
2017-07-04 06:21 pm

Review: The Gate to Alien Country (The Expanse, #3)

Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey

4 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the Expanse series. I've been reading them haphazardly, due to availability issues at the library, and so missed book #2. I religiously watch the series, however, so I'm up-to-date on the overall storyline. 
(Having said that, if the third season of the TV series gets very far into this book, as I'm sure it will, it's going to be hellaciously expensive to film.)
In this book, at least for the first half, our familiar Rocinante characters don't make much of an appearance; three new POV characters are introduced. This was a bit of a drag at first, but the characterizations are done well enough that I came to care for all three new characters, even the sociopathic sister out for revenge. However, in this book the plot is very well done, the threads expertly braided to a slam-bang climax. The stakes are increased exponentially, and this is obviously a turning point for the series as a whole, greatly expanding the world and the potential for conflicts. 
(But damn, I miss Amos and Alex. And when are we going to get chapters from Naomi's point of view?)
This is a very solid entry in the series, and I can't wait to see the alien hub on the screen.
redheadedfemme: (taking book)
2017-07-04 03:32 pm
Entry tags:

Hugo Voting: Best Editor, Short/Long Form

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads."  ~Dr. Seuss
The nominees for Best Editor, Short Form:
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
Jonathan Strahan
Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
Sheila Williams
These are all legitimate nominees, thankfully. That will not be true in the next category.
My ballot:
6) Sheila Williams
Unfortunately, Sheila's sample in the packet--the Oct/Nov double issue of Asimov's Science Fiction--didn't particularly impress me.
5) Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow edits for, as well as original and reprint horror anthologies. Unfortunately, the list she provided in the packet included several stories I'd read previously and didn't care for very much.
4) Neil Clarke
Neil Clarke edits Clarkesworld, which I support via its Patreon. His entry in the packet included the Clarkesworld 10th Anniversary Issue, along with a list of works edited in 2016, and works in anthologies/nominated for other awards/on the Locus Recommended Reading List. He picks some good stories, but I didn't like them as well as the top three.
3) Jonathan Strahan
Strahan edited one of my favorite novellas from last year, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. His listings in the packet also include The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10, which featured quite a few stories I've read and liked.
2) John Joseph Adams
I don't know when this man sleeps. He seems to have his fingers in just about every pie you can name. When I opened his folder in the Hugo packet, I nearly choked--there was five hundred pages of stories he edited for Lightspeed Magazine, as well as a list of twenty-nine anthologies he has edited or co-edited. (Several of which I already own.) Obviously I couldn't read all five hundred pages, but I recognized several stories I'd read previously and really liked. Sampling a few others confirmed that I like his editing style and choice of material.
1) Lynne M. Thomas/Michael Damian Thomas
The Thomases edit Uncanny Magazine, winner of last year's Hugo for Best Semiprozine. I subscribe to this magazine and know its quality well, but in going through their packet I was particularly impressed by their nonfiction articles. Their editing makes Uncanny a tremendous, well-rounded magazine.
The nominees for Best Editor, Long Form:
Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale)
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Devi Pillai
Miriam Weinberg
Navah Wolfe
My ballot:
One name (can you guess who?) is going to be left off entirely. It's not only that he's an all-around nasty person--that is true, but it has nothing to do with his editing ability. (Such as it is, or rather isn't.) But everything edited by him I've ever read, including his own work, has pretty much melted my eyeballs with its sheer incompetence. (Also, as has been the case for the past two years, he used his "minions" to game himself onto the Hugo ballot. One would think he'd eventually get tired of finishing below No Award.)
I also must comment on the material included in the packet. Sheila Gilbert and Navah Wolfe included sample chapters from novels they edited, which gave a better basis for comparison as opposed to simple lists. Now, I realize copyright issues and/or publishing house policies may play into this. And goodness knows this year's Hugo packet has my computer bulging at the seams already. Nevertheless, this should be something for other nominated LF editors to consider in the future.
5) Miriam Weinberg
Same dilemma here as for Pillai (see next slot), with the only book of hers I've read I liked okay,  but not in orbiting sock territory.
4) Devi Pillai
She edited one of the best books I read last year, N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate. I've heard good things about Lila Bowen's Wake of Vultures as well, but when you've only read one example of an editor's output (and you're swamped for time to read everything before the voting deadline as it is) that editor is bound to suffer in the final rankings. (hinthint *sample chapters* hinthint)
3) Liz Gorinsky
Gorinsky has the unenviable distinction of having edited two books I really didn't like, Cixin Liu's The Dark Forest and Death's End. I'm afraid that had I been in her shoes, I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from beating Mr. Liu over the head with his pages upon pages of infodumps. Still, I suppose she deserves credit for shaping the latter mess into something that could be nominated for a Hugo (even though I sure as hell am not voting for it) and win the Locus Award for Best SF Novel.
2) Sheila Gilbert
Sheila Gilbert has edited several of my favorite authors, including Jim Hines, Julie E. Czerneda, and Seanan McGuire. She's equally at home with lighthearted fantasy, space opera, and steampunk.
1) Navah Wolfe
I like Saga Press; they publish quality books that seem to fly a little under the radar. (This opinion is in large part due to their having published Kameron Hurley's The Stars Are Legion, a book I will rave about to anyone who asks, or doesn't ask.) Wolfe's samples reveal several books that seem right up my alley. (Looks at Mount TBR, teetering haphazardly next to the ceiling. Sighs. Clicks over to Amazon.)
Next up: Best Fan/Professional Artist 
redheadedfemme: (Default)
2017-07-02 09:39 pm
Entry tags:

Hugo Voting: Best Novelette (or, the Great, the Good and the Ugly)

 Now we've reached the Novelette category, defined as stories between 7500 and 17,500 words.
The nominees:
"Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex," by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan (, July 2016)
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde ( Publishing, May 2016)
“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
“Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)

My ballot:
Let's get the ugly part out of the way first. The only reason there's an alien stripper, a T-Rex, and a lurid nastybone on the Hugo ballot is due to the petty spite of one Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, who was thoroughly thrashed in an online altercation twelve years ago and has had a vengeful hard-on for John Scalzi, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and Tor Publishing ever since. He's tried to wreck the Hugos two years running, but due to new rules that took effect with this year's ballot, he's reduced to wanking out incoherent nonsense nominations like this one. 
The one I feel sorry for (sort of) is Ms. Stix, who apparently doesn't realize she's being paraded around like a sacrificial goat for Mr Beale's ego. On the other hand, she could have turned down the nomination, so I can't find it in my heart to get too worked up over her inevitable loss. 
We don't need to discuss the so-called "quality" of her story, do we? Yes, I did read it, just as I read John C. Wright's bovine excrement, and that's thirty more minutes of my life I need back. Suffice it to say that national treasure Chuck Tingle does this sort of thing far better, and has a niftier sense of humor to boot. 
6) No Award
5) "The Art of Space Travel"
This is...okay. Not outstanding. It's the story of a daughter in search of her father, and her relationship with her mother, superimposed over what is essentially the background detail of the first manned Mars mission. The SF element is minimal. I suppose one could call this a "literary" SF story, but Ursula K Le Guin does it better.  
4) "The Jewel and Her Lapidary"
This is quite a grim little story, of sentient gems that have power, of Lapidaries that wield and control their power, and who in their turn are bound to the Jewels, the rulers of the kingdom. The focus is on the last Jewel and Lapidary in the face of an invasion, and what each girl is willing to sacrifice for the other, and for their country. I liked it, but not as well as the top three.
3) "Touring With the Alien"
I nominated this. It's an extremely well written story, with some fascinating ideas about consciousness and self-awareness that remind me of the work of Peter Watts. The only drawback is the ending, and how much of a letdown that is depends on your point of view--if the main character is the betrayer of humanity, or not. The moral complexity of the ending is similar to the recent zombie film, "The Girl With All the Gifts" (which I thought was really good).  
2) "The Tomato Thief"
My top two stories are both desert stories, Southwestern stories, full of myths and legends, and gods and death. This one is the quieter of the two, with the rhythms of folklore, which is Ursula Vernon's trademark. Grandma Harken, the hero of the Nebula-winning "Jackalope Wives," returns, and the search for whatever is stealing her tomatoes turns into something of an epic quest, with avian shapeshifters, folded realities, and train gods. The world is fascinating. 
1) "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay"
I didn't care much for Alyssa Wong's previous story, but this one is firing on all cylinders. A large part of that is due to her skill in using a rather difficult POV--second person, present tense. (I've done it. It is not easy.) She creates an entire distinct character out of all those "you's," and I slipped into the skin of that character on her beautiful flowing prose. This is a bittersweet weird Western, with rattling bones and living deserts, and a young boy who sacrifices his humanity to give his dearest friend a chance for a good life. I thought "Wow" when I first read it, and I think that even more so now. 
Next: Best Editors, Long and Short
redheadedfemme: (hipster)
2017-07-01 06:49 pm
Entry tags:

Hugo Voting: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (or, Hugo Goes To the Movies)

 Hugo Awards (rocket in front of planet(

To continue with my Hugo voting, here is my ballot for BDP-LF.
The nominees:
Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)
Deadpool, screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Marvel Entertainment/Kinberg Genre/The Donners’ Company/TSG Entertainment)
Ghostbusters, screenplay by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig (Columbia Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/Pascal Pictures/Feigco Entertainment/Ghostcorps/The Montecito Picture Company)
Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi (Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/Levantine Films/TSG Entertainment)
Rogue One, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards (Lucasfilm/Allison Shearmur Productions/Black Hangar Studios/Stereo D/Walt Disney Pictures)
Stranger Things, Season One, created by the Duffer Brothers (21 Laps Entertainment/Monkey Massacre)
My rankings:
deadpool fan art
(Would that he had stayed there...)
7) Deadpool
Sometimes a snarky asshole is just a snarky asshole. I watched about fifteen minutes of this before I decided this one had no redeeming value.
6) No Award
booyah ghostbusters holtzmann
(She should have been the real star.)
5) Ghostbusters
Laying aside the whole remake-ate-my-childhood kerfluffle, this was just...okay. I'm happy it got made, Holtzmann was awesome, and Chris Hemsworth stole the show with his end credits dancing. But it's not something I would buy and keep for repeat viewings (unlike, say, Wonder Woman). 

rogue one montage
(Hey, aren't you supposed to be blue, Felicity?)
4) Rogue One
This was a dark and gritty Star Wars tale, in the same ballpark as Empire if not the same rarefied air. That said, it was also a most egregious example of Smurfette Syndrome, and the more I think about it the more irritated I get. As much as I like Chirrut and Baze, there was no in-story reason for them to default to male. We could just as easily have had Chirruth and Bazi, or Bodhiya Rook. (I would keep Diego Luna, however, as he's cuter than a junebug.) Honestly, I can understand affirmative-action laws, as absent some stiff legal prodding (or public shame) Hollywood still reverts to the sausage-fest. 
stranger things kids
(The real stars, Winona Ryder notwithstanding.)
3) Stranger Things, Season One
I never played Dungeons and Dragons, but I remember the 80's, and I nominated this. Sometimes Netflix's series (looking at you, Luke Cage, and even the excellent Jessica Jones to a degree) sag and drag in the middle, but this series' eight-episode run is the perfect fit. Millie Bobby Brown is outstanding.
hidden figures real life women and stars
(I just realized two of the movie's characters are transposed in this photo. Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, is the woman in green on the right, and Taraji P. Henson, in the center, portrayed Katherine Johnson.)
2) Hidden Figures
For me, the best moment from the 2017 Academy Awards was when they wheeled 94-year-old Katherine Johnson out on the stage. Can you imagine, living long enough to see a successful and Oscar-nominated film about your life (and the lives of two of your fellow black women at NASA)? Who would have thought that a story about calculations on a chalkboard could be so riveting? 

arrival stars in orange suits holding whiteboard saying human

(It's a good thing this film was made before the election. Otherwise, we would've had the president* bleating out "Space Octopussy! Sad!" on Twitter.)
1) Arrival
If it had been any other year, Hidden Figures would have done it for me. But this is the year of Arrival, which has already won the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation at the Nebulas. (Also, Amy Adams was simply cheated out of an Oscar nomination.) Not only is it based on one of the best SF stories ever written, Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life," it does a very good job of translating that story's twisty concepts to the screen, in a manner that richly rewards a second viewing. It's a breath of fresh air to see a movie resolve its conflicts by talking, and understanding, rather than fighting.

(Also: Kee-ripes, Dreamwidth needs to be able to host images.)
Next up: Best Novelette
redheadedfemme: (tea/book)
2017-06-30 02:47 pm
Entry tags:

Hugo Voting: Short Stories

Hugo rocket in front of planet

I'm on vacation through next week, and I intend to use my time to finalize my Hugo voting. (The deadline is July 15.) Let's start out with  my ballot for Short Story.
The nominees:
"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," Brooke Bolander, Uncanny Magazine, November 2016
"That Game We Played During the War," Carrie Vaughn,, March 2016
"An Unimaginable Light," John C. Wright, God, Robot, Castalia House
"A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers," Alyssa Wong,, March 2016
"Seasons of Glass and Iron," Amal El-Mohtar, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press
"The City Born Great," N.K. Jemisin,, September 2016
My rankings:
Left off ballot entirely: "An Unimaginable Light"
This story is, to put it plainly, an abomination. It was a cliche-ridden, thesauri-exploding, poorly constructed, badly edited, stupid polemic mess. For an author who constantly decries "message fiction," the message (politically correct robots bad, humans good) is so in your face as to drown out what little qualifies it to be considered a "story." Ugh. After reading this, I need that fifteen minutes of my life back, along with a gallon of brain bleach.
6) No Award
5) "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers"
I generally love Alyssa Wong's work, but this one didn't quite connect with me. It was beautifully written, but in the end it just felt hollow.
4) "That Game We Played During the War"
This is a thoughtful exploration of war and its aftermath, and what it means to win and lose, as expressed through a telepath and a non-telepath playing a game of chess. (Although if we're talking about games expressing the human condition, it would have been much more interesting if Vaughn had had the characters play bridge.)
3) "The City Born Great"
Last year's Best Novel winner, N.K. Jemisin, wrote this as what she calls a "proof of concept" (e.g., a trial run) for a new series. It's a modern fantasy wherein certain cities in the world gain their own sentient life, and this story details the birth of New York. It's good in and of itself, but the series based on it (which I've had the privilege to see a possible outline for, as one of her patrons) promises to be fantastic.
2) "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies"
This is short, brutal, and unforgettable. The author obviously had in mind the Hamilton tagline: "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story." This story is for the forgotten, fridged women in so many tales, wrapped in a beautiful, shimmering, righteous fury.
1) "Seasons of Glass and Iron"
This story really spoke to me. It's a reconstructed fairy tale of female friendship and women saving each other, told with lovely, understated prose. As with all the best fairy tales, it says so much about modern life, about abuse and gaslighting and double standards, and the poison heaped upon beautiful people.
(I also wish the Hugos had a Best Anthology category. The Starlit Wood was one of the best anthologies I've read in years.)
Next up: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. 
redheadedfemme: (read a book)
2017-06-25 06:44 pm

"Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius"

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

4 of 5 stars

This is the eighth book in the October Daye series. I actually skipped ahead to this one because I'd heard so much about it, and despite my not having read some of the previous books in the series, it doesn't disappoint. Seanan McGuire has a nice, flowing prose style, with little to no infodumping, and does very well at revealing only what you need to know at any given moment. This avoids slowing the story down, and inspires trust in the reader. You know the twists are coming, but in the meantime, you've got a bang-up story to enjoy. 
What's outstanding here, however, is the worldbuilding, the characterizations, and the relationships. The world of Faerie existing concurrently with our modern world is a staple in urban fantasy, to the point of become cliche, unfortunately. However, few urban fantasy writers dive as deep into Faerie as McGuire. (I would say the only author to match her is Laurell K. Hamilton, but Hamilton's Faerie is much more pornified.) Toby's world is rigorously thought out and explored, with all its implications and potential (and real) nastiness. (Such as the racism exhibited towards changelings, for example.) This is a world that has left a deep mark on its protagonist, a world where Toby has suffered and has the scars to prove it. 
Toby herself, as the central character, is just lovely. She's deeply loyal to her friends, and if in the past she had a habit of charging off half-cocked, she's making a conscious effort to slow down and think. She's also working on accepting help from other people, in particular her boyfriend Tybalt. The foundations of her relationships and family--both her blood family and her found one--are dragged into the open and examined here, and like everything to do with family, the results are sometimes messy. Not all hurts can heal, and not all things can be forgiven. All of these little ins and outs of the people in this book are fascinating, and (as so many people have said) the Luidaeg is a delight. She can scare the piss out of Toby, and does, but Toby loves her anyway, and does something for her that will obviously have major repercussions going forward. 
This book is smartly plotted and paced, and very satisfying. Urban fantasy, as a genre, is not as popular as it used to be, and for good reason: in past years, the market was glutted with it, and a great deal of it was not so great. (I know, as I read quite a lot myself.) But this series is superior, and definitely a keeper.
redheadedfemme: (sparkle dragon)
2017-06-18 07:44 pm

The League of Extraordinary Dragons

League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

3 of 5 stars

This is the final book in the long-running and mostly worthy series. I've heard it referred to as "Patrick O'Brien with dragons." It takes place on an alternate Earth where there is a second sentient species--dragons--and said dragons are drafted to engage in aerial warfare, long before the airplane is a mote in anyone's eye. (Indeed, one wonders if air travel will even be invented in this universe.) Napoleon Bonaparte plays a huge role in this series, and in this last book he is finally defeated and exiled to the island of St. Helena, which is what happened on "our" Earth.
It's been evident for the last few books that the author is better writing her draconic characters than her human ones, and that pattern continues here. There is a surprising amount of humor in this story, especially in the chapter where Temeraire and Iskierka are arguing over which of their men will marry the peasant girl. We are introduced to a new character, the dragonet of Iskierka and Temeraire, Ning, who is a tart-tongued delight. Laurence is dealt with a little better in this book than some; at least he's gotten to the point where he'll refuse unlawful orders and stand up for dragonkind. (He also retires from the aerial service at the end of this book, which frankly he should have done at the beginning when he saw how Temeraire and dragons in general were treated by the British.) The overall running theme of this story is the dragons' fight to be recognized and treated as sentient beings, and the book ends with Temeraire planning to run for one of the twenty seats set aside for dragons in Parliament. 
Having said that, there were some serious pacing and plot problems with this book. Especially in the second half, the author developed the annoying habit of leading up to an action scene, coming to the end of a chapter, and in the next chapter skipping right ahead in time and completely depriving the reader of exactly how our crew got out of their predicament. I don't know if she thought she needed to wrap the book up right now or what, but I would rather have had a fatter book and those scenes left in. This is particularly exasperating in the final showdown with Napoleon and Lien--are we to believe Lien, Temeraire's primary antagonist throughout the series, wouldn't put up a hell of a fight at the last? I don't remember any of the previous books doing this, and I wish she hadn't written the book like this. 
Overall, this is an engaging series, and I do own all the volumes. Just be aware that the quality tails off at the end.  
redheadedfemme: (wonder woman reading)
2017-06-16 06:12 pm

"There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it"

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

4 of 5 stars

I'm a great fan of the TV series based on these books, The Expanse on SyFy. I watched the first two seasons without having read any of the books. Now that I'm getting into the books, I must admit it's been a bit of an education. I can see where this book's storyline was changed (although not all that much, fortunately) and compressed, and I applaud the producers' decision to bring in a character who actually isn't in the print series until the second book. The series has definitely captured the gritty, messy future described in this book, where humanity has spread within the solar system but still hasn't left behind its endless fighting. 
This series takes place about two hundred years in the future, when Mars, various moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the asteroid belt have been settled, and Mars is in the process of being terraformed. The point is made that these new generations born and raised in space have already started to tweak human evolution, as Belters are taller and thinner than Earthborn humans, due to living in lower gravity. Mars is the golden child, with plenty of pretty military toys, technologically advanced; Earth is the aging mother, overcrowded (with a population of 30 billion--I cannot imagine this) but still supplying the colonies with food and air; and the Belt and its denizens are the orphans fighting to survive in the solar system's dregs. This tinderbox, and its very uneasy and delicate status quo, is upended by the discovery of an alien nanotech supervirus, launched at our solar system billions of years ago and kept from settling upon the infant Earth by a fortuitous accident (Saturn basically getting in the way). Unfortunately, an Earth corporation discovers this ancient invasion, and since Earth corporations are still assholes in search of endless profit even hundreds of years from now, it takes this virus (dubbed the "protomolecule") and promptly starts experimenting with it...on individuals and eventually a million and a half people inside a settled asteroid. 
Our two viewpoint characters in this system-spanning disaster are James Holden and Joe Miller, the XO of the ice freighter Canterbury and a cop working on the asteroid Ceres respectively. Holden is an idealistic do-gooder in way over his head, and Miller the weary, hard-bitten soul who is just trying to solve a mystery and gets dragged into a mess. Of the two, Miller was the better character to me; I wanted to slap Holden several times. This is a very long book (561 pages) but unlike the last doorstop I suffered through, the pacing was good and the story flowed nicely, and infodumps were kept to a minimum. (No pages upon pages explaining how the Epstein drive worked, for instance. It's there, it uses fuel pellets at extremely high efficiency, it enables travel at high enough gees that drugs are required to keep people from blowing their organs and blood vessels, and we go with it.)
I'm glad I watched the series first, as it made for an interesting comparison and I don't mind spoilers. This is a gritty, dirty, lived-in world, and the politics are as interesting as the protomolecule. It doesn't envision a particularly nice future humanity, with schisms and prejudices and tribalisms that endure beyond this planet and into the stars, but these many shades of gray make for fascinating reading.
redheadedfemme: (Default)
2017-06-11 04:21 pm

Review: The End of All Things

Death's End by Liu Cixin

1 of 5 stars

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, as least as far as I'm concerned.
The first book in this series, The Three-Body Problem, was released to considerable acclaim a few years ago, winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel. I didn't care much for it or the sequel, The Dark Forest, only giving them (barely) two stars each. Looking at those reviews now, I realize I was trying to be nice, for some incomprehensible reason. Well, that's enough of that. I have no problem saying that this book is a clunky, bloated, godawful mess. 
I do wonder if this might be due to the different culture and language. (This is not knocking the translator, by the way--Ken Liu, the translator for the first in the series and this book, has done a masterful job.) Liu Cixin is the equivalent of a rock star in China, far more famous than hard SF authors tend to be in the US. The most affecting part of any of the books is the first section of The Three-Body Problem, dealing with the Cultural Revolution. I believe the author is a great fan of Arthur C. Clarke, and some of the other Chinese SF I've read seems to be quaintly retro, written for an audience fifty years past. All this adds up to a great whopping doorstop of a book that not only sends the human race four hundred but billions of years into the future...and unfortunately, felt like it took every minute of the universe's seventeen-billion-year lifespan to read. 
Look, if you like your hard SF laden with physics to the point where it feels like a textbook--or maybe a dreadful, dull, droning lecture--instead of an actual novel; if you like books with characters that have no more life and personality than the flattened, two-dimensional state our solar system is reduced to (lovingly described in every excruciating detail over the course of 26 pages); if you like clunky prose that only comes to "life," such as it is, when the author is delving into yet another way-out-there theoretical scientific concept; if you like stories with such grimdark bleakness that there is no way out for the human race other than to sit in a mini-universe, outside the passage of time, until the main universe contracts and is reborn; then go for it with this book. I do not. This is by far the worst book of the series, and I am glad it has come to its end.

redheadedfemme: (St. Bastard)
2017-06-04 02:48 pm

Review: Read 'Em the Riot Act

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

2 of 5 stars

This is the first book in the "Rivers of London" series, and based on this one, I have no desire to dive into any of the others. I suppose you could summarize it as "Harry Potter grows up and becomes an irritating, sexist London constable," but that would create a far better main character than this smarmy little twit. 
(I do not like Peter Grant. Can I repeat how much I do not like Peter Grant?)
Having said that, what good exists in this book is the secondary characters (especially Peter's boss, the wizard Thomas Nightingale, who I really wish this book had focused on), the worldbuilding, and the city of London itself. London and its culture was as much a protagonist as Peter Grant, and a far more interesting one. There was a competent murder mystery/police procedural at this book's heart, if the damned main character would just get out of the way. 
Bah. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to read this book, as that's a few days of my life I'll never get back.
redheadedfemme: (Default)
2017-05-29 02:29 pm

Review: I Will Not Go Quietly

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I've read in the Vorkosigan Saga, and somehow it feels appropriate to be coming in on the tail end of the series. I'm meeting the characters for the first time in their maturity, and in some cases the twilight of their lives (although Cordelia, at seventy-six, says she will live to be at least a hundred and twenty). There is a great deal of history here. These characters have weight and depth, and Bujold does a tremendous job of showing this, mostly through dialogue, as Cordelia Vorkosigan, her son Miles, and Cordelia's former paramour Oliver Jole (with her now dead husband, Aral Vorkosigan), reconnect, reestablish old relationships, and begin new ones. 
This is a mature book, written by an adult for adults. There are themes of aging, acceptance, moving into a new period in one's life (retirement, which means something far different in this universe and to Cordelia; for one thing, due to uterine replicator technology, she is going to be starting a brand-new family at the age of seventy-six, using previously frozen eggs and sperm from herself and Aral), and reconciling the past with the future (mainly in the person of Miles, who had no idea of the nature of his father's poly marriage). Cordelia is the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up: completely at home in her own skin, content with her life, and needing no one. She is delighted by the new turn in her and Oliver Jole's relationship, but she will not go with him to what once was her home planet, Barrayar, if he takes an offered promotion there, and she is not shy about telling him so. (This conflict is resolved at the end of the book; Oliver turns down the promotion, retires from the military, and finds a new career and purpose of his own, with Cordelia on Sergyar.)
There's nothing earth-shattering in this book. The fate of Sergyar and Barrayar does not rest on Cordelia's decisions, and no one dies. (Aral died three years before, but Cordelia and Oliver talk about him so much, he's basically a third protagonist. This is all done in a healthy way, however, as the fond reminiscences the two principals have about someone who was vastly important to both of them, while they have nevertheless moved on with their lives.) The tone is quiet and restrained, but there is a great deal of wry humor, all character-based, and I laughed out loud several times. One passage in particular made me chuckle, when the truth about Cordelia and Oliver is finally revealed to her son (p. 214): 
Cordelia perked up in the hope that this might lead into some more personal revelations, but instead Oliver went off into an enthusiastic description of the Serena lake life as observed through the crystal canoe. The flash of self-forgetfulness brought his considerable charm to the fore, and Ekaterin [Miles' wife] smiled.

"But you can't be planning development out that way," said Miles. "Mother is trying to get people to move away from the local tectonics." 

Cordelia abandoned patience as unrewarding. "Actually, Oliver and I are dating."

Miles stared. The silence stretched just a little too long, though Ekaterin raised her eyebrows, looked back and forth between Cordelia and Jole, and ventured, "Congratulations!" Miles closed his mouth.

In another moment, he opened it again. "Er...what exactly do you mean by dating? In this context." 

"Screwing, dear," Cordelia replied, in her flattest Betan tones.
Cordelia Vorkosigan is a badass, and everyone in this book knows it. 
These are, by far, some of the most fully-realized characters I've read recently, and it was a pleasure to eavesdrop on these pivotal moments in their lives. Now I'll have to go back to the beginning of the saga, and see how they got to where they are today. Given the author's obvious skill, I'm sure I'll enjoy the earlier books as much as I did this one.  
redheadedfemme: (one more chapter)
2017-05-28 07:32 pm

Review: A Sea-Change Into Something Rich and Strange

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

4 of 5 stars
This is the second book I've read in the Craft Sequence, and I liked it better than the first. Maybe that's because I'm more familiar with Gladstone's world (and an inventive, layered, complex world it is), and maybe it's because the setting for this book--an island, with the appropriate isolationist economy and worldview that the villain will repeatedly murder to defend--has a laserlike focus that the first book seemed to lack. In any event, I can see the improvement in the author's (heh) craft: the pacing and plotting are tighter (perhaps a touch slow in the first half, but necessary to set up and advance the storylines of the two protagonists), the characterizations better, and the ending is nicely landed.

Most of all, the author avoids dragging his story down with infodumps, despite this being an extremely complicated and unique universe. (I mean, hell, in Gladstone's world, gods and goddesses are literal beings that live by and through the numbers and fervency of their worshipers, and they can die. In fact, the death of an idol, which here is an artificially created deity that doesn't quite have the worshipers to attain full sentience, kicks off the book.) He reveals just what you need to know at any given moment while getting on with the story, which inspires trust in the reader. I assumed I would be able to figure everything out by the end, and I did. It was also and absorbing and rewarding ride getting to that end, thanks to the sparkling characterizations of Kai and Izza, the protagonists.

In addition, there's a nicely plotted mystery involved, which ties in with themes of change and the acceptance of the fact that your small, isolated piece of real estate and culture cannot, and will not, remain static forever. The villain wants to hold back that metaphorical tide, and does some terrible things in service to his goal. (He also has a seriously creepy police force in the Penitents, living stone statues that swallow people whole and infect their minds in an attempt to brainwash them.) In the end, he is defeated by Kai and Izza, in a hard-fought and very much earned victory. The book ends on a bittersweet but hopeful note: change is coming to the island of Kavekana, but thanks to the efforts of these two, the people are far better prepared to meet it.

One of the front blurbs on this book mentions it as belonging to the "urban fantasy" genre. This is a misnomer, as it is no such thing. Humans populate this world, but it does not reflect our continents and cities, and culture- and history-wise it is very much its own thing. Max Gladstone's excellent worldbuilding is just one of the attractions of this series, which I wholeheartedly recommend.