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: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
What I'm Reading
River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh - This is the sequel to Sea of Poppies, which I read and loved years back. The third book, Flood of Fire, came out this month and I got to hear Ghosh speak on the book, which was really cool! (Also the book is purple and he signed my copy!) Since I still hadn't read the second one, I got started on that. It's great, although with fewer female characters than the first book--necessarily, since large chunks of the action take place in and around the foreign enclave outside Canton, where women were barred--and with somewhat less of the variety of Englishes of the first as well. I told Ghosh that these novels are what history should be in my view, and I stand by that.

What I've Read
Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock (2008) - I don't think I can actually improve on [personal profile] skygiants' post on the book, but I quite enjoyed the way Melina Marchetta calmly flipped everything upside down by the end. It's very dark, I'm not sure the population numbers quite add up relative to the economic setup she's describing, but the book was pretty great.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (2015) - I liked this better than The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland, and it didn't have the structural problems of that book, and Thomas the changeling is actually a pretty charming protagonist. But really all it did was make me want to read The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, which is coming out next year, even more.

Zen Cho, Sorceror to the Crown (2015) - AUGH, it was great, and I did not see the ending coming even though in retrospect I felt like I should have! Prunella and Zacharias were great, but really the lamiae stole the show in my book, and I cannot wait for the next one.

Rainbow Rowell, Carry On (2015) - I loved Fangirl, and I devoured this book in exactly one day. It's making a lot of intelligent comments on the Harry Potter books, of course, but it's more than enjoyable in its own right. Simon is a tragedy and a hot mess, just like Baz says, and the perspectives of Baz and Penny on him were great, but also Baz and Penny were just great, too. The book is also something of a commentary on Harry Potter fic, of course, and in that respect I thought Agatha was particularly interesting, as well as the Mage. (Man, fuck that dude.) All in all, I loved it, and I would read many more Simon Snow books.

Kate Elliott, Court of Fives (2015) - Another great book from Kate Elliott, one that (because YA) moves along pretty darn swiftly too. I loved it, and unusually for an Elliott book I was 200% behind the love interest from the beginning. I cannot wait for the next one.

starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Ghosh, Amitav. Sea of Poppies. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2008.

I think I first heard about this novel from [personal profile] coffeeandink's review, but it was when [personal profile] dhobikikutti and others urged me to read it at a dinner that I finally moved it to my "to buy" pile. I finally read it because I've been invited to a summer book club for the follow-up, River of Smoke.

This is one of those books that I would strongly consider assigning in a history class, because it's about history--the history of the British Empire in Asia as it was lived by some very interesting characters--in the way that the best historical fiction is, at the same time that it's also unabashedly having fun with history in the way that the best novels do. I've made it sound stodgy, though, and it's anything but. (The story towards the end about the threesome who led the flotilla of pirates off the southern coast of China? Completely historically accurate!)

The novel is about, to try to summarize an intensely and consciously complex book, the group of people who will find themselves, by the end of the book, bound for the Mauritius Islands aboard the retrofitted slave ship Ibis. These people come from all walks of life and all corners of the globe: there's a half-Chinese, half-Indian convict, an ex-raja from Calcutta, several former poppy farmers from Bengal, a French naturalist and her brother, a Muslim boatman, a mulatto carpenter turned sailor turned officer from Baltimore, various British officers and empire-builders, various sailors and soldiers of fortune from around the Indian Ocean. They are of all faiths and genders as well as backgrounds, and one of the real joys of the novel is the brio and clarity with which Ghosh summons their various Englishes. The glossary of Anglo-Indian and laskari terms later produced by one of the characters at the back of the book is one of its sublimest pleasures.

How can catch cow on sea? )

It's a great book, though, hilarious and frenetic and heartfelt and a rollicking adventure yarn, and for all of you who are interested in families of choice, this is a story for you.
starlady: "I can hear the sound of empires falling." (burning empires)
Ghosh, Amitav. The Calcutta Chromosome. New York: Random House, 1995.

I wrote a paper on the influenza pandemic of 1918 in high school, as well as a paper on Clara Maas and the discovery of an effective yellow fever treatment (she was from New Jersey!) in elementary school, and ever since then I've had a sideline interest in epidemiology. (in point of fact I should have written that high school paper on the 1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic, but that's another story; you should read Laurie Halse Anderson's book Fever 1793 if you're curious). Thus, this book sounded pretty cool to me, and all in all it didn't disappoint.

The Calcutta Chromosome is a thriller following three semi-separate protagonists simultaneously: Antar, an Egyptian-born non-profit staff member in New York in the early years of the 21st century, who is looking into the disappearance of his former colleague L. Murugan, the world's foremost expert on Sir Ronald Ross and the discovery of the malaria parasite, in Calcutta in 1995; Murugan, who is looking into the details of Ross's research in Calcutta in 1995; and Urmila Roy, a Calcutta journalist whose reporting converges with Murugan's research and with Murugan himself.

As you might guess even from this brief summary, all three storylines converge by the end, and at separate points I was reminded both of Charles Dickens, for the complex web of coincidences and connections that conjoins the characters, and of Dan Brown, for the suspenseful writing style and some plot elements. But Ghosh is a better writer than Brown, and ultimately I enjoyed the book for its own considerable merits, particularly for its featuring chromatic characters in virtually every role, even in New York City. I could have done with a bit more at the end--more explanation, more demonstration of what secrets were revealed--but it was quite good, and a quick read. And then I opened Newsweek at breakfast and saw this story about the malaria parasite, and was reminded forcibly of the book's central premise: prescient? Scary.

Ghosh has written lots more books, which makes me happy.

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