So I haven’t reviewed books here in forever. So, a smattering of sentences on a shit ton of books:
nancy collins: paint it black & in the blood. i’ll call it horromance … there were some nice ideas buried between the tired tropes, but this was at its heart still deeply problematic urban fantasy. rougher than that genre’s usual fare though.
george r. r. martin: the armageddon rag. yeah i couldn’t even read this. eminently put-downable. presumably it aged poorly?
patricia a mckillip: riddle-master. this book does indeed have a grand scope and a poetic tongue to it, that brings to mind tolkien and le guin. it was less well realized for me than my previous experience with mckillip, the alphabet of thorn, and some of the characters’ motivations seem driven more by the plot than any discernable reason. but still worth a read if you enjoy lyrical, sprawling epic fantasy.
tanith lee: black unicorn. i hadn’t read this since i was a kid. still a great YA read, although there were plenty of times i was annoyed at the lack of agency of the protag. great imagery, memorable characters.
octavia butler: kindred. run, don’t walk, to buy/borrow/steal this book. i had turned my nose up at it before because i’d heard it was the least science fictional of her books, but its really one of the most thought-provoking, gripping and horrifying books i’ve read.
david foster wallace: infinite jest. i’ll confess, i couldn’t read more than a hundred pages of this. it was clever i guess? i didn’t think it was very engaging.
lois mcmaster bujold: paladin of souls. so this was an unexpectedly great fantasy with an older woman protagonist, interesting magic and great worldbuilding. my previous experience with bujold had been ethan of athos, which i didn’t love, so this was a very pleasant surprise.
lois mcmaster bujold: the sharing knife (book 1). this was less good for me. more original world, but sort of colonialist in some ways? and the gender roles were boring/tired.
david marusek: counting heads. this book was mad good. fast and futuristic, fun tech, strong women, interesting clones (i usuallly find clones really boring), really interesting AIs. one really interesting character who goes from fame/ascendance to something like untouchable status. i’m looking forward to the sequel.
octavia butler: the parable of the sower. not as good as the lilith’s brood series for me, but this was a strong, hardy story of a future that seemed startlingly close to now. worth reading. haunting and inspiring in turns, although the “religion” angle didn’t work perfectly for me.
susan palwick: the necessary beggar. this was an odd little book, of a peculiar kind of fantasy, that i wanted to turn my nose up to but couldn’t and instead found myself completely caught up in. the “ghost” parts worked the least for me, but the conceit as a whole (that a family from another dimension with other cultures/rules could be exiled to non-magical earth with very little bleed through from the other world) ended up functioning so well that i didn’t care. read it.
c. e. murphy: the queen’s bastard and the pretender’s crown. these should have have been my favorite books ever … tough woman assassin protag with Hidden! Magic!, a tough old broad queen, and SPOILERS ………… all the magical stuff is really from aliens? i mean, that sounds amazing. but its trite and sexual assault-y for no reason in a bunch of places and the protag has barely any autonomy and the other “strong female character” peer decides her life is over because of a dude and its just a mess. i only got a few pages into the sequel before i put it down.
catherynne valente: habitation of the blessed. after a slow and i would say almost inpenetrable intro, the book was pretty bloody amazing. just, lush and beautiful and fascinating. its a story told in quarters that grows exponentially more inter-related as you read … so good. the beginning was a little too dense with too little reward for me initially, but once you push past that its worth it.
salman rushdie: midnight’s children. this is another one i gave up on. first chapter had way too much going on, the second one was great and i was starting to get into it, but then the third became inexplicable to me. there were just too many places and names and events for me and i got overwhelmed.
Here are some thoughts on books I’ve read recently.
The Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip (2004)
This book was not only lovely, but unexpectedly original and well-plotted. I had frequently seen McKillips books in stores but never bothered to read any because they just seemed so faerie-tale florid, but I shouldn’t have avoided them. Fresh characters who either seem strikingly unique or fantastic riffs on well-traveled tropes. After a few chapters, the plot began to come together in a way that I hadn’t predicted and even when I knew things that the characters didn’t know I still enjoyed them realizing the greater truths at play.
Other stuff… Bechdel test: PASS. Also, well-rounded female characters in general. No queer characters. Touched upon colonialism and had some awareness, but otherwise a very White medieval setting.
Through a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman (1988)
I read this immediately after The Alphabet of Thorn, and they definitely had some similarities. Both handled women characters especially deftly and took place is a similar alternate medieval Anglo-Saxon sort of setting. Sherman’s setting was clearly more invested in staying true to the (seemingly deep) historical research she’d drawn from. The antagonist in this was really fantastic and made me wonder if she partially inspired Lillas from Jacqueline Carey’s Banewreaker (2004), another brilliantly flawed sorceress. The ending didn’t really hit the spot for me as far as stirring crescendos, but it fit the tale.
PASS on the Bechdel test. Some queer-esque material with clever handling. Only white Anglo characters as far as I could tell.
Sister Alice by Robert Reed (2003)
I tried to read this but couldn’t slog through it. Some interesting ideas about humanity’s role in the stars, and I enjoyed the titular character, but I never warmed to the protagonist.
Anyone else ever read this and fare better?
The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers (2008)
This anthology was a good idea that I think was pretty well executed. The premise is that the stories are about the heroes who don’t make the headlines, particularly heroes of color. The idea of what a hero really is gets played with and teased out in a number of really interesting ways. The stories themselves were a bit uneven, but most had a kernel that compelled me to finish them even if they didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. Some standouts… Tat Master by Naomi Hirahara, The Picket by Walter Mosley, Switchback by Ann Nocenti, In Vino Veritas by Peter Spiegelman, Housework by Doselle Young.