starlady: (heaven's day)
What I'm Reading
Silver Spoon vol 4 by Arakawa Hiromu - It's still great. Also I'm really jealous of all their fresh vegetables.

The Maker's Mask by Ankaret Wells - After the disaster of The Three-Body Problem I wanted some sci-fi that was about as different as possible. I've only just started, but I'm quite enjoying the book so far. Ladies! Pseudo-medieval post-planetfall politics! Genderqueerness! Assassins!

Razorhurst by Justline Larbalestier - I bought this while I was in Australia, and it's just been short-listed for an Australian literary award, so I'm hoping to finish it soon!

What I've Read
Clariel by Garth Nix - I think the best thing to say is, it was worth the wait. I'm really impressed at how many writerly tricks Nix pulled off here, and how a book written 11 years after its predecessor but set 600 years before can so effortlessly set up the next book in the series. I also was impressed at how suspenseful I found the book to be, given that I knew the ending going in. MORE OLD KINGDOM NOW PLEASE.

Stranger by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown - At long last the #YesGayYA book is available in the world, and I quite enjoyed it, which to be honest is no less than I expected. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, but it's a very animanga kind of livable, quotidian postapocalypse, and the society it portrays is interesting and believable, with just enough vampiric plantlife thrown in to keep things interesting. Honestly I think this book may appeal to fans of X-Treme X-Men, as it really is "the X-Men in the Old West" in some ways, even as it's also one of the most LA books I've read--not Hollywood, but actual LA with actual people. The food descriptions alone nearly made me want to book a flight back to California; I did go out to the best Mexican restaurant in Tokyo because of it. And, of course, I also found the characters interesting, and wasn't fussed by the switching between multiple protagonists, or by what happens to them.

Essentially, I disagreed with the [community profile] ladybusiness review on basically all points, and in particular, I wanted to mention that I don't think that queer characters in books should be treated like they're made of glass. A story in which being gay and suffering for it in whatever way is not the only story that should be told about gay characters, but at the same time, it's not like nothing bad that isn't about being gay ever happens to gay people, and what some of the gay characters in this book have to deal with in terms of parents and family is stuff that everyone has to deal with. I think it's just as important to represent those kinds of things in fiction because they are universal, or the next best thing to it, and gay readers deserve to have that chance just as much as straight audiences. (I also appreciated that gayness isn't just for white boys. Indeed, most of the protagonists are people of color, which was refreshingly realistic for a book set in future!Los Angeles.) I will say, however, that if you haven't liked Sherwood Smith's other books, I don't think you'll like this one. She has a very distinctive close third person POV style that, quite frankly, took me a while to get used to when I first started reading her books, and though obviously this is a co-written book and the style isn't "strictly Sherwood," if you will, there's enough of it in the prose that I'm confident in this prediction. All that having been said, I loved it, and I'm very excited to hear that Hostage, the sequel, is coming very soon!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison - I was not expecting to sit down and devour this book in less than a day but readers, I did. IT'S SO GOOD. It follows Maia, the despised youngest son of the elf emperor who unexpectedly inherits the throne after most of the rest of his family die in a suspicious airship accident. I'm still bitter about The Mirror Empire and grimdark, and I really appreciated a fantasy novel with goblins and elves and airships and bridges in which the struggles are about how to overcome one's own ignorance and how to enact good policy for one's realm. Maia is deeply sympathetic, and his relationship with his mother's family--he is essentially biracial, being half-goblin and and half-elf--was particularly interesting. I'm not sure I should even mention that Katherine Addison formerly wrote books under the name Sarah Monette, but I do think that assertions that this book is totally out of character with her previous work is somewhat wrong. It's true that this book is in many ways the polar opposite of something like Melusine and those books, but in some ways Maia's struggles to figure out how to interact with the world reminded me very much of my absolute favorite of Monette's works, namely the Kyle Murchison Booth stories. I do think there are subtle continuities between this book and Monette's earlier work, but I would also say that if you bounced off any aspect of the Melusine novels, I would heartily recommend giving this one a try. Her prose is a delight in and of itself.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones - I read this because [personal profile] littlebutfierce mentioned it in a December meme post, and I devoured it. It's a masterpiece and if you haven't read it you must do so now--I especially recommend it to those of you who, like me, are rather over the whole Tam Lin thing or never even got into it in the first place. (Ironically, I've read a lot of Tam Lin books and will read more. But as Jones herself says in this book, if you can't find things worth reading in fairy tales that is your problem.) It is not very Tam Lin-ish even though it's a Tam Lin novel; there's far more of T.S. Eliot in here, which makes me happy because Four Quartets is my absolute favorite Eliot. That said, I am not ashamed to admit that I relied quite heavily on [personal profile] rushthatspeaks' two essays explicating the ending to understand what happened, and to those who may have found it confusing, I highly recommend those posts: We only live, only suspire/Consumed by either fire or fire and The way upward and the way downward are the same.

Silver Spoon vol. 3 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still excellent. I appreciate the peeks into Arakawa's philosophy, which was an aspect of FMA that was de-emphasized as things went on, understandably.

What I'll Read Next
Probably the book after the Wells one, since I'm given to understand that they're a very tightly knitted duology. Also more Diana Wynne Jones! And more Silver Spoon of course.
starlady: A typewriter.  (tool of the trade)
Monette, Sarah. Unnatural Creatures. 2011.

This chapbook was published in a limited edition of 169 for a charity fund-raiser earlier this year. It collects the four Kyle Murchison Booth stories not in The Bone Key, which is being reissued in a gorgeous new edition later this year. I'd read the strongest story in the collection, "White Charles", online already, but most weren't available online at all, and I was glad to get them. In particular, "The World Without Sleep" is also very quietly hilarious, wrenching, and also brilliant.

I like Booth. I think the best way to describe his world is to swipe [personal profile] rushthatspeaks' formulation in this review, which being a rush review is excellent, and say, It's like the subtext in H.P. Lovecraft was turned textual in a way that was well done. And it is. I don't generally enjoy horror in any medium, but there's something cold and intriguing about the world that Monette has built here, and Booth is the kind of protagonist with whom I sympathize effortlessly and whom I read about thinking, There but for the grace of the people around me go I… It's not a comfortable thing, being in Kyle Murchison Booth's shoes, and it's an ongoing struggle for him to recognize his own and others' humanity, and to deal with it in a befitting way. But he is changing, and does generally choose the struggle over the easier path, and as a nerd for whom how to be social in general society was a painfully learned behavior, I appreciate just how much trouble that can be. And I'm looking forward to seeing where Booth and Monette go in the future.

VanderMeer, Ann & Jeff. The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2010.

I got this at FogCon because I forgot my copy of Fast Ships, Black Sails for the VanderMeers to sign. It's a bestiary very much in the tradition of Jorge Luis Borges' The Book of Imaginary Beings, with the twist that it's a guide to whether or not said imaginary beings are kosher or not. As you might imagine, it's pretty hilarious. And as a bonus, Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes weighs in at the end as to how best to serve said creatures. If you like bestiaries or have concerns about eating kosher in fantasyland, this one's for you.
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
I've been reading a lot, as usual. I even dreamed of a Redwall book that doesn't exist yesterday morning--it was about Queen Mariel, who had left her realm in the Northlands after the death of King Dankin and the death of their only child. I have a very clear image of the cover painting in my mind even now. I always did like Mariel and Dankin. But then the book turned metatextual and there were a couple of pages in the front that were flattened-out tissue packages. Not Brian Jacques' usual forte.

Seven for a Secret )
The Queen in Winter )

I also cherry-picked some stories out of the anthology The Starry Rift, edited by Jonathan Strahan.
Bullet points )
I finished Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente ([personal profile] catvalente) and loved it. The city on the skin )
I'm not yet completely finished Tamora Pierce ([ profile] tammypierce)'s Bloodhound, but I'm far enough along that I'm going to venture my comments anyway: essentially, I think this may be Pierce's best book yet. In depth )
starlady: (abhorsen)
Monette, Sarah. Corambis. New York: Ace Books, 2009.

The book's official release date is tomorrow, but thanks to the magic of libraries and of non-strict laydown dates, I not only have it in my possession but have actually finished reading it. Apropos of this rather spirited discussion in the author's LJ ([ profile] truepenny), of which I will have more to say anon when I have puzzled my own views out further, I found it highly ironic that the slipcover summary refers to Corambis being the last in "her brilliant fantasy series." Way to not take your own advice, Ace!

Ahem. The book is the fourth (and sadly final, it seems) book in Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths series, which I only picked up in January, and so have been spared the long wait between books. Having been exiled from their home in the city of Mélusine for his crime of magical heresy, Felix Harrowgate, a wizard and an ex-whore, and his half-brother Mildmay Foxe, an ex-assassin, travel to the far northern country of Corambis, just in time to become embroiled in some very old magic that has been re-awokened, as well as to begin to attempt to deal with all the issues of their individual history and their mutual relationship that have been festering since the beginning of the first book. Double special bonus: Corambis has trains. And a subway. Also, the supporting characters Corbie and Murtagh are pretty awesome.

Of metaphors and magic (and spoilers, I suppose) )

starlady: (a sad tale's best)
Bear, Elizabeth and Sarah Monette. A Companion to Wolves. New York: Tor Books, 2007.

Another effort by Monette ([ profile] truepenny) and Bear ([ profile] matociquala), this time a novel exploring the hoary tropes of the companion animal fantasy, with wolves rather than dragons, spirit-horses or birds of prey. It's set in a Scandinavian-sort of northern world that looks like Antarctica; humanity shares the space with at least three other major species, trellwolves, trolls and svartalf. To fight the trolls, groups of humans bond with packs of trellwoves and become something slightly nonhuman, something in between. The main character, Isolfr, bonds to a queen-wolf, and has to deal with the implications of the fact that only male humans bond to wolves as he finds his place in the wolfcarls' world. It is a place, that of a caregiver and caretaker, that is almost always gendered as feminine in our society--viz. the scorn heaped on male nurses in "Meet the Parents", for example--and Isolfr eventually accepts that it is no less honorable, or masculine, a roll than any other in the wolfpack. I particularly liked that aspect of the book, particularly since I am currently in a similar role myself, and I've noticed how people make an implicit assumption about my role in the house that I'm pretty sure they wouldn't if I were male. Be that as it may, I also liked how Monette and Bear don't subscribe to any idiotic binaries concerning human sexuality (unlike Anne McCaffrey), and how Isolfr gradually begins to question the position of women in his own society, partly through his experience as a queenwolf's brother and party through his contact with the svartalf, who barely register gender differences. I liked the svartalf a lot, I have to say, particularly Isolfr's friend Tin, who reminds me a lot of Too-Tickey of the Moomintroll books, both in how she is described and how she talks. Indeed, there are a lot of lovely turns of phrase in this book, and I also thought the authors did a very good job of capturing Winter, in a Tove Jansson-esque sort of way. Since Jansson writes seasonality best of any author I've read, that's quite a compliment in my book. According to Monette, they've sold two sequels to Tor (yes, it's a Tor book), and I am looking forward to reading them quite a lot, in light of the changes I think Isolfr may bring to his world.
starlady: (compass)
Christopher Nolan, the Irish novelist and autobiographer who inspired the U2 song "Miracle Drug," has died at the age of 43.

Nothing else to say but that I read The Bone Key by Sarah Monette, aka [ profile] truepenny, last week and it was more or less fantastic. I've never read H.P. Lovecraft, for better or worse, but her protagonist Kyle Murchison Booth is a total geek and, well, completely sympathetic.

Suburbia is dark these days--or rather, nights. I noticed about two a.m. this morning that only a few houses still had their exterior lights on; almost all of the ones we can see from the back of our house (which overlooks a field surrounded on three sides by houses) were dark. Everyone must be trying to save money on the utilities like we are. If I'm awake and well at that hour again sometime I'll have to go out and look at the stars.

starlady: (justice)
So John Updike died yesterday. At least he'll never get the Nobel Prize (though of course the Nobel committee in its current mood would never have given it to someone whose best work focused on boring white middle-class suburban American men, and who wrote Terrorist and Brazil--and in that much at least I don't blame the committee). If the Rabbit books are the great American novel American letters are doomed, that's what I say. Seriously, I've read most of the greats of American literature--almost all men, not coincidentally--and even as a liberal feminist woman at the end of the 20th century there's stuff in there that I, and everyone, can grab onto, things that are of the human experience. I won't deny Updike his considerable gifts, but seriously, where's the wrestling with the big, dangerous questions, dare I say the abyss? Where does he put himself on the line or humanity in the dock? If anyone deserves a Nobel it's Philip Roth (I'm looking at you, The Plot Against America).

I also finished Sarah Monette's The Mirador yesterday. I devoured it, like the other two, in about six hours, so clearly I enjoyed it. *g* Monette's characters are indelible (I love Mildlmay so much), but I've been thinking about her work more in the context of world-building, that nebulous, all-important aspect of sci-fi and fantasy. As I said earlier, I have the background to spot where Monette is getting her references, so I can't quite share the enthuiasm of the reviewers who exclaim "brilliant!" and "inventive!" What I like is her using two calendars in the same city, and her taking stuff from the Byzantines is what I found most brilliant, since no one in the West knows or cares about Byzantium. I've been regretting my own ignorance on that score for years. But as I said, I sort of feel like some of the charm of the "bits and pieces of the real world re-arranged" approach to world-building has worn off for me, I'm left wondering: is that it? Really? Is that all I have to do? I truly enjoyed and would recommend these books highly, but for someone who invents settings out of whole cloth, or at least in a manner in which I can't spot the seams, I'd name China Miéville, maybe. Of course, with Monette the characters take the spotlight, while I'm not sure I could say the same of Miéville.


starlady: (abhorsen)
Except, of course, it was the dogs who were shot first. I just saw Ari Folman's animated documentary "Waltz with Bashir" with my friend Stacey and it was as excellent as I've heard. The animation is gorgeous, first of all, but the story itself (about the filmmaker trying to piece together what he did as an Israeli soldier in the first Lebanon War) is incredible. Folman doesn't pull any punches, and he doesn't particularly spare anyone; I for one agreed with his choice to end the film with documentary video footage as opposed to animation, since I think that too many people still think animation = fantasy, and what happened in Lebanon (including the massacres in the refugee camps) is all too real, if all too familiar.

I just read two books each by Sarah Monette (aka [ profile] truepenny ) and Robin McKinley. By Monette I read Mélusine and The Virtu, and by McKinley I read Chalice and Sunshine. Monette first, since I have more of a bone to pick with her (yes, and not just because of that whole race/privelege/non-white characters brouhaha that went down last week, which is extremely interesting [some people would rightly filet me for using that adjective] and dare I say important for everyone to read; I'd recommend [ profile] metafandom ). To summarize bare-bones, the books are set in and around the eponymous city of the first book's title (every city in fantasy after China Miéville owes so much to New Crobuzon) and follow the travails of the gay wizard Felix Harrowgate and his half-brother Mildmay (the) Foxe. Monette has said that she wrote the books to explore the figure of the Byronic hero (Felix); well, as a reader of Byron (and a lover of Manfred in all its obsessive silly despair), I find it extremely interesting that Monette's Byronic hero is a) gay and b) a victim of severe childhood trauma and abuse in just about every form. And a mostly former drug addict. I find it very interesting, and perhaps a bit disturbing, that this is how Monette feels she can wrestle with the Byronic type, by giving him this sort of absoultely wretched past. Manfred by contrast has had the world on a plate, and I can't help but feel that Felix's black rages are just a bit odd given everything. That said, Mildmay is amazing; his parts of the story literally had me in tears at times. I would read about Mildmay forever. A final thing that gave me pause in these books was Monette saying that she wanted to gesture towards American-izing fantasy; well, I think that takes more than mentioning buffalo and alligators in passing, particularly since all the worldbuilding is bits of Greek and Roman and ancient Near Eastern whatnot. I'm a classicist too; I can track what she's doing, and while Monette is fairly inventive up to a point, I don't buy it as anything more than a gesture. That said, the character of Mehitabel Parr is pretty awesome, and I hope she features more in The Mirador and Corambis, which come next.

As I said, by McKinley I read Chalice and Sunshine. I realized after finishing Sunshine that they're essentially the same story--a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" in which the female hero uses her affinity with an unusual element (honey in Chalice, sunlight in Sunshine) to win her Other-ish lover and the day. Sunshine involves vampires, while Chalice is set in a completely other world; I would say Sunshine is the better book, but Chalice is perhaps more intriguing. I recommend both of them highly.


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

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