starlady: Galadriel in Caras Galadhon, with an ornate letter "G" (galadriel is a G)
Which is to say, it's a normal Wednesday around here. I wonder if in future my students will better understand how I feel about history thanks to #Hamiltunes?

What I'm Reading
James Tiptree, Jr., Brightness Falls from the Air (1982) - Tiptree's second novel about a motley group of people who show up to view the passage of a nova front on a very isolated planet. I'm about 25% in and already the outlines of the inevitable doomed ending are becoming clear, but it's good--compelling, with interesting worldbuilding, and things move along tautly.

What I've Read
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy (2015) - Well, I loved it, but I think in some ways the first two books are still my favorite. Structurally, the pivot in this book I think comes a bit late, and a lot of the definitive action is reported by Breq rather than actually participated in by her, but these are in the end minor complaints--the same awesome things happening and crunchy thinking about identity and empire are here in spades, and all in all the book was great.

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings (2015) - A novel of postapocalyptic Paris, with the twist that the Great War was caused by warring Houses headed by Fallen angels; decades later, Vietnamese former Immortal Phillipe runs into a newly fallen angel, Isabelle, and is taken with her into House Silverspires, formerly led by Morningstar himself and now just struggling to hold on. I've liked everything I've read by de Bodard, and I liked this book quite a lot; I think her writing has gotten even stronger, and the whole concept is the sort of thing that really tickles my hindbrain where my Catholic worldview will never be fully extirpated. That said, more of actual Paris next time, please! 

Diana Wynne Jones, Witch Week (1982) - A Chrestomanci book set in a world very close to ours but not and following the misadventures of a motley crew of students from class 6B (at least in this edition) at Larwood School, whose lives all get decidedly complicated when someone writes a note to their teacher saying that someone in the class is a witch. Jones is hilarious when she wants to be, and the humor in this book is pretty freaking black, but I was struggling not to burst into laughter on my train repeatedly even though it's definitely on the slighter end in terms of thematic material. (It's a real gem of plotting, though.) I loved it.

Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (2006) - It's been a while since I've read biography, and I absolutely devoured this one, about the long and frankly pretty tortured life of the woman who was James Tiptree, Jr. This old post by [personal profile] coffeeandink gets at a lot of what I thought made the biography so good--Phillips is very clear-eyed but sympathetic to just about everyone, and she explains Tiptree to the readers in a way that makes it clear that she was all too human and all too trapped by her constraints, self-imposed and otherwise.

Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce, eds., Letters to Tiptree (2015) - It's the centenary of Tiptree's birth this year, and this is the book that started it all for me. The bulk of it is letters from contemporary SFF writers to Tiptree, and it's sometimes painful going, given everything that's happened in the field over the last year. I also think some of the letter writers misread the Phillips biography in ways that were necessary and productive for them. But all in all, it was a really interesting work, and it accomplished its goal of making me want to read Tiptree.

Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (2011) - This is, ultimately, a painful and necessary and brilliant novel about the costs of imperialism and the impossible choices forced on people by colonialism. Ghosh does an excellent job bringing the free trade mania of the British and American traders to life (just as horrific and incomprehensible as the gold fever of the Spanish in the 16thC), and he succeeds as well at reanimating the strange vanished world of Canton in a prior age.
starlady: the philosopher's garden (obligatory china icon)
Bodard, Aliette de. On a Red Station, Drifting. London: Immersion Press, 2012.

It wasn't until after I'd received my copy of this book in the mail that I realized that Aliette de Bodard had sent me a copy of the manuscript along with the copy of Master of the House of Darts. I've written before about how I really enjoy de Bodard's writing, and this novella was no exception.

I wish I'd read A Dream of the Red Chamber before I'd read this book, because I know that it is drawing on that classic for inspiration, but even without that extra background knowledge, I really enjoyed the novella. It's certainly a well-deserved Hugo nomination, and very deserving of a Hugo vote.

The story is the story of a subtle conflict between two strong-willed women, Linh and Quyen, both distantly of the same family but of very different status. Linh flees to the family hold, Prosper Station, after having submitted an arguably treasonous memorial to the Emperor of the Dai Viet Empire and the planet she governed, as a licentiate of the imperial examination system, having been overrun by the rebels. Quyen is acting Station Mistress in the war-driven absence of all the station's best and brightest, called to serve the empire. The third woman in their triangle is not human at all, but the Honored Ancestress, the AI who runs the station…and who is, slowly but surely, losing her grip on her own processes, and the station itself.

De Bodard is Franco-Vietnamese, and I really liked the world building in this novella--if I'm not mistaken, it seems to possibly be set in the far future of her Xuya verse, but either way, it was really interesting to read a space opera in which the human diaspora isn't dominated by white people, to be quite frank. I also thought it was super cool to see a plausible non-sexist Confucianism! For any and all of these things, you should totally check the novella out. Although the paper copies are all gone, you can still buy the ebook.
starlady: (abhorsen key)
Bodard, Aliette de. Master of the House of Darts. London: Angry Robot, 2011.

I actually won a copy of this book from the author (with this delicious "Aztec gold" brownie recipe), who is one of my internet acquaintances whom I most hope to meet some day. I have really enjoyed her other books, and I cannot recommend highly enough her short fiction.

The final volume of her Aztec mysteries is set a few months after the end of Harbinger of the Storm, and largely deals with the ramifications of the denouement of that story. It's not a major spoiler to say that the new Revered Speaker's coronation war was more or less a total bust, and the consequent dearth of captives has real political and indeed, existential consequences for Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, and the rest of the imperial elite - particularly in light of the Revered Speaker's accelerating instability and the unmistakable signs of a renewed conspiracy targeting the highest echelons of imperial politics.

I was struck by how much, even as the trilogy does follow some of the genre conventions of trilogies, the overall politics of this final volume are much more ambiguous and decidedly non-triumphalist. There are no easy answers for any of the characters, and several major characters end with their interrelationships significantly strained. All the same, one gets the feeling that the book ends the only place it could have ended, and de Bodard's depiction of Aztec society and the nuances of its history, politics, and religion remains strong and sensitive throughout. I also continued to enjoy the characters' growth and interactions with each other - comparing where the major players stand in this book with where they stood at the beginning is instructive - and I continue to like Acatl and his sister Mihmatini and the way they've proven themselves.

Really, I'm sad the books are over, and I hope Bodard writes more novels soon. Until then, her wonderful short fiction should be more than enough to keep me satisfied, and for those looking for an "urban fantasy" that is pretty far outside the realm of the usual in the genre, this should fit the bill.
starlady: (abhorsen)
Bodard, Aliette de. Harbinger of the Storm. New York: Angry Robot, 2011.

I'm a big fan of French-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard's work; this is the sequel to her debut novel Servant of the Underworld, and just like Servant, I enjoyed it a lot.

The action resumes about a year or so after the events of the first book and centers around the succession to the crown of the Revered Speaker of the Mexica, the ultimate monarch of the Triple Alliance, better known as the Aztec Empire. Bodard is really good at marrying what we know from history and archaeology with magic and fantasy elements, and I continue to sympathize with the tribulations of her protagaonist Acatl, whose elevation to High Priest of the Lord of the Dead before the start of the first book continues to structure his life, and his problems.

Remember, the gods are already dead. )

The first three chapters of MoHoD are up here, and if you'd like to check out some of Bodard's other fiction (I love her short stories), she has a Chinese postcolonial space opera story out this month in Clarkesworld, "Scattered Along the River of Heaven." It's painfully good.

Also, the book trailer for Harbinger is under the cut.
Book trailer under here )
starlady: (abhorsen)
Bodard, Aliette de. Servant of the Underworld. New York: Angry Robot, 2010.

At long last I received my copy of this book in the mail last month, and it did not disappoint.

Long-time readers are probably already familiar with my love for Aliette de Bodard's writing, particularly her short stories, since this is her first novel. Bodard, who is French-Vietnamese, is remarkably good at writing chromatic fantasy that derives from cultures not normally drawn on in English-language fantasy in Europe and America, particularly China and the empires of Central America (I particularly like her Xuya universe, in which China colonized the west coast of North America in the 15thC and the Triple Alliance, or Aztec Empire, survived to coexist with European colonists east of the Appalachians).

This book, however, is set squarely in a fantasy world that is much more closely linked to our own, during the reign of Axayacatl in the Triple Alliance, i.e. the Aztec Empire. Acatl, the Chief Priest of Mictlan, the Underworld of the Dead, the lowest priesthood in the hierarchy of the Mexica cosmological order, is called on to solve a locked-room mystery in which a priestess of Xochipilli disappears from her quarters while in the presence of Acatl's own brother, a parvenu Jaguar Knight, with the possible assistance of a jaguar spirit. What Acatl finds leads him to a confrontation with some of the oldest powers and most resentful gods in the empire, as well as with uncomfortable knowledge about his own self, and his family.

Like all good mysteries, this one is compelling and hard to put down, and Bodard excels at explaining and bringing to life Tenochtitlan and its society without info-dumping. I liked Acatl a lot, despite or because of his very human flaws, and I sympathized with his resentments over the arrogance of his brother and the warrior class, and the unsustainable prestige allotted to them. I also especially liked Acatl's sister Mihmatini, because she is awesome; in fact, I was impressed with the parts the female characters play. I've read posts on Bodard's blog ([livejournal.com profile] aliettedb) in which she points out that in historical fantasy giving women ahistorical agency is, well, ahistorical, but the women in the Triple Alliance are able to exercise a great deal of power and agency without exceeding their societally allotted gender roles. In particular, Mihmatini is a prodigy at magic, even better than Acatl himself. The ending stands on its own, but happily it also sets up the sequel, Harbinger of the Storm, which comes out in the U.S. in February (this is the virtue of the long wait for the first book here). So have the trailer for Harbinger below, and read the first chapters of Servant here.


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