starlady: roy in the sunset at graveside (no rest for the wicked)
What I've Read
Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings - This book, my friends. This fucking book. It wasn't a DNF for me, but I did have to nope out for five days after one of two named female characters in the book to that point was introduced and then killed in a very sexist way after two pages just before the 50% mark. People have said that this book is innovative in terms of the epic fantasy genre. Well, kind of. If what you are looking for in epic fantasy is a return to the pre-modern writing styles of epic poetry, heroic sagas, and historical chronicles--spiced with just enough modern things like characterization to keep it interesting--then this is for you. But if, like me, you have struggled through epic writing in five languages as well as countless others in translation, you may be damn tired of all this already. If, like me, you have learned classical Chinese, you may be struck how this book reads exactly like Sima Qian's work, among many others. Without qualifiers, you may also be offended by the sexism of the book's structure as well as its content, in which the idea that women can play a crucial role in societal production beyond the invisible, denigrated women's work (to say nothing of women's relationships with each other, of any kind at all) of which Liu, or at least his narrative, has precisely zero consciousness from beginning to end. "Liu is playing a long game with the women!" Yeah, and the idea that you can take women out of this or any kind of story about a society in general and "play a long game" with them is fucking offensive.

Liu described this book as "silkpunk" a long while back, and because of that I was expecting things that are vastly different than what I got, such as…female characters who do things. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) It is punk, as I was discussing with [personal profile] seekingferret a while back, in that it's one of the most heterogeneous writing styles I've ever encountered. Someone else compared the book to Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy in terms of both authors' willingness to roll with verbal anachronisms, but having read both and knowing just as much about the 17th and early 18thC as anyone but a professional historian specializing in the period can--and ditto for Chinese history--I am here to tell you that Stephenson renders a much more credible facsimile of the speech of his chosen time period. Liu just doesn't care. People fight "mano a mano," he quotes Milton's "On His Blindness" (!) and various famous Chinese poems verbatim, there are "kids" running around--Ken Liu don't give a shit. This punk spirit of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix extends to the landscape of the setting and the bits of Chinese history on which he is drawing; at times it's a clear mixture of the Spring and Autumn periods, the Qin dynasty, the Han dynasty, the Three Kingdoms period, and the Song dynasty, as well as being its own thing. The thing is, the book is completely readable despite or because of all this heterogeneity. But if I'm going to invest this much of my life into reading a book of epic fantasy, I'd much rather read a book by someone who knows that half the human race exists and goes about its own business even if men don't care about them. I could name names here, but this isn't a zero sum game, and the point is that Ken Liu has not won a fan in me with this book. (I want to be clear that despite the relentless violence, again right out of classical Chinese texts, this is a much less grim and depressing book than The Mirror Empire, and between the two, both of which I disliked in different ways, I'd be hard-pressed to pick, but I'd probably take this one. It has fewer onscreen rapes than TME, for one thing.) So, that happened. And as far as I can tell, there's not actually that much revolutionary here.

Genevieve Valentine, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
- I started reading this book in the middle of The Grace of Kings because it featured not one but twelve named female characters, in that it's a retelling of the story of the twelve dancing princesses set in Jazz Age New York City from the princesses' point of view. And in fact, there are more than twelve named female characters! Shocking! What ludicrous delusion is this! In all honesty and not just in comparison with Ken Liu, however, this is an excellent, engrossing novel. The twelve Hamilton sisters, led by the eldest Jo, are kept shut in by their father and their only freedom is sneaking out to speakeasies to dance all night. The book is excellent and engrossing, and even though it's told from Jo's perspective, Valentine manages to make all of the sisters individuals in a believable way. And though the girls literally only know their bedrooms and their regular hangout, the Kingfisher Club, there's more than enough drama inherent in what they do to survive, and how they find their freedom, to fuel the narrative. It was great.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 8 - This one took a while because it's when some of the heavier stuff starts happening, and I feel bad for the characters. I continue to love this manga, and I did want to mention that one of things I appreciate about it is Hachiken's strained relationship with his parents and with his older brother, who is basically a self-interested flake (as well he might be at 20, to be honest, but he's a huge contrast to his younger brother). Anyway I need to read the next two volumes so I can read the new ones.

Kate Elliott, The Very Best of Kate Elliott - This anthology collects all of Kate Elliott's short fiction and a few of her essays, and I liked it very much. Some of them are set in the universe(s) of her novels, but only the Crossroads story was really intensely spoilery, I thought. And as much as I liked the stories that tied in with those larger universes, I thought the stand-alones such as "In the Queen's Garden" were some of the most effective pieces in the collection in terms of showing off Elliott's strengths as a writer. In any event, I loved it.

Laurie J. Marks, Water Logic - I think I liked this book the least of the three books, but that's partly because I am half air and half fire and find water logic totally incomprehensible. (I don't much understand earth logic either, but by earth logic, action is understanding, so reading that book on some level brings you to the understanding of its logic.) And to say I liked it the least is merely to say that it was not quite as transcendent as Earth Logic, which I think is my favorite (not least because it is secretly a Twelfth Night book), or Fire Logic, which of course is amazing. I will say that I also thought that what happens to Clement in Water Logic was actually harder to read than much of the injuries that Zanja endures at various points in the narrative. Other bits are equally tragic. I was also interested that it was in this book that Zanja's difference came back to the fore, and I don't actually think it's coincidental that this book is about the legacy of colonialism in much more overt ways. I fear that Air Logic will be a difficult and merciless book, just as air logic is. And finally on a more meta note, I'm disappointed in myself that it took me this long to realize how New England--and really specifically western Massachusetts, honestly--these books are, or Shaftal is. But once you see it, you realize it's everywhere.

What I'm Reading
This is kind of a hard question. I'm at the point of having just started a few different books but am not definitively in the middle of any of them except for Silver Spoon vol. 9. I've been busy. And jet lagged. Very jet lagged.

What I'll Read Next
I just got Comixology finally, and Ms. Marvel vol 1 is in my future! :D
starlady: Peter, Susan, Edmund & Lucy foment a revolution in Narnia (once & always a king or queen in narnia)
What I'm Reading
Water Logic by Laurie J. Marks - The Small Beer Press editions of these books cleverly contain large samples of of the next book in the series, and I was two chapters into this book after finishing Earth Logic before I realized that it was one thirty in the morning. I'd had vague ideas of keeping this book back to read later this year--there are rumors afoot that Air Logic may be published soon, finally--but no dice. I'm not sure what to say beyond the fact that I adore these books and the way they quite calmly turn every fantasy trope on its ear. Also, this may be the platonic ideal of found family stories.

Silver Spoon vol. 8 - Yes, I'm slow, but things are getting intense, and manga is visual enough that it flips my "I don't want to watch bad/awkward things happen to these characters!" switch--which is probably part of the reason I'm bad at TV, come to think of it. And also part of the reason I like going to movie theaters, where you have no choice but to watch the whole thing straight through. Anyway, it's great, with the exception of the fact that the one black teacher is still drawn using the "white circle around the mouth for black people's lips" visual trope.

What I've Read
Hostage by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith - I thought this was another excellent book in the series (in some ways I tend to like middle books better, because they build on already established relationships), with some very fine writing and interesting expansions of the worlds and the characters' stories. Given what did and didn't happen in this book, I'm very much looking forward to the next one, Rebel.

Annihilation and Authority by Jeff VanderMeer - Two of the three volumes of The Southern Reach Trilogy, which I'm very glad I nominated for the Hugo, because it's excellent. If you like(d) The X-Files or Welcome to Night Vale, I wager that you will greatly enjoy these books--they are very much down with "the unseen and imagined is way creepier than the seen," but there's plenty of creepy stuff going on in Area X and in the Southern Reach, the vaguely menacing government agency tasked with supervising it. I read these books in about 48 hours straight with the result that every creak in my apartment made me jumpy, but the characters are just as great as the atmosphere; Control and the biologist are of course wildly different, but also strikingly similar in some ways, and I can't wait for the last book, once I acquire it.

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, ed. Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar, and Anita Roy - A really great anthology of feminist speculative YA that is distinguished by the breadth of its contributions and the ways in which those contributions came into being. I didn't like every story, but many of the stories are excellent, and it's very strong overall.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge - Now I only have Verdigris Deep left to read, not counting The Lie Tree, forthcoming this year, and while this wasn't my favorite of Hardinge's books (that's still split somewhere between Gullstruck Island and Fly By Night + Twilight Robbery), I thought it was in some ways a technical level-up, and I think its Carnegie nomination is very well-deserved. I think Hardinge's use of historical material in this book adds (and, to be fair, also subtracts) a dimension, and I'm really interested to see where she goes from here. And of course, the story in general was excellent. I particularly liked Violet; I thought her presence really added some complexity to the story.

Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks - I adored this book for the reasons I outlined above re: Water Logic, and I also think the ending is one of the better candidates for an eucatastrophe that I've recently observed (NB I don't think an eucatastrophe is actually a deus ex machina; I think an eucastrophe makes much deeper thematic and structural sense than a deus ex machina). The image of Karis and the wall is one I won't easily forget.

Some thoughts on the Zanja plotline, and how it does make sense )

What I'll Read Next
I think it might be time to start Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books. Or something from my Sirens list.
starlady: (run)
What I'm Reading
I started reading Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes on the plane somewhere over Malaysia last night, and it's excellent so far. The author is an Anglo-Jewish potter who is a scion of a very rich Jewish banking clan, sort of les petits Rothschilds, who inherits the netsuke collection of his great-uncle from his great-uncle's lifelong Japanese partner Jiro and who sets out to trace it to its source, returning always to the netsuke themselves, to the thingness of them, in a way that centers the tactile and the experiential, which is not something I've seen a lot in these kinds of books. de Waal is trying to give the netsuke the same close, conscious attention that their creators did, and so far (despite one deplorable factual oversight on the part of the copyeditor) it's brilliant. De Waal, who's spent several years in Japan and probably speaks the language better than I do, is also quite good at evoking Japan in several different periods. He knows his ground well. Bonus: I'm definitely going to the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, which is near me and featured in the book, after I get back.

What I've Just Read
Laurie J. Marks, Fire Logic - I devoured this in one sitting on the plane last night, and loved it. Really interesting magic, a conflict that is both profound but also subtly thought through, really memorable characters, most of them queer, quite a lot of philosophy served up right, in the form of characters and their actions--it's great, and I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the books.

Kate Elliott, the Highroad trilogy (A Passage of Stars, Revolution's Shore, The Price of Ransom) - So I'm trying to work my way through Kate Elliott's backlist because she's a Guest of Honor at Sirens this year (you should join us!) and I love her books to death; I picked these instead of the Jaran novels because, quite frankly, Open Road Media's e-book covers are much better than the ancient 90s covers of the Jaran books, only to find that Highroad and Jaran are in the same universe and Highroad takes place after Jaran, with some of the same characters, even. Well, not a big deal. The Highroad books follow one Lilyaka Ransome off her dull mining planet out to a place among the stars, chasing after her kidnapped mentor, and into the center of a revolution against a corrupt galactic government, and out the other side. I would recommend these books to just about everybody, and particularly to people who like Ankaret Wells' Requite books; though not quite as exuberant in their worldbuilding, there's plenty of rich and strange stuff here, alien people and laser swords and hand-to-hand combat, queer characters, Jewish characters, and a cast that is mostly POC, including the protagonist. I also note that Elliott was doing interesting things with the trilogy structure even 25 years ago, though not the same interesting variations that she did with the Spiritwalker books, because that would be boring. Highly recommended, and available quite readily, along with Elliott's other early novels. Also featuring a very sympathetic take on Trotsky--as for Lenin, well, getting to be the hinge of history is the point of Lenin, and the same happens in this take on him, too.

Justine Larbalestier, Razorhurst - After purchasing this at the end of October I finally sat down and read it (there's too many good books!) and I really liked it. It's the story of Dymphna Campbell and of Kelpie, two girls in the poor crime neighborhood of Razorhurst in Sydney, over the course of one day in 1932 that changes everything. Dymphna and Kelpie couldn't be more differerent, but they can both see ghosts, and they develop a certain mutual problem when they meet over Dymphna's latest boyfriend's corpse. There's a lot of fascinating Sydney and Australian history woven in here, but it's an equally good, bloody story that pulls no punches which really moves things along. I really like the way that Larbalestier plays with structure, and here she puts that to great effect as she moves between differing viewpoints.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 6 - I finally finished it. It's still great!

What I'll Read Next
Well, I brought Silver Spoon vols. 7 and 8 with me, as well as Ôoku 10 and 11, and hopefully I'll get through at least some of them, but I'm also champing at the bit to read Laurie J. Marks' next two books, and…many other things. I got Saga book one from the Image Humble Bundle, and that seems the kind of thing I can definitely polish off on a plane ride. I also really want to read Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy after reading his hilarious, whacky, weird story of writing the trilogy in The Atlantic.

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