Friday, 30 January 2015

Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

Much better cover than the first of the series I got out. It makes Akin look a lot less human than he does through most of the book, but still, at least this one isn't whitewashed.

This book starts years after the first one, as the humans and Oankali are established on Earth, and have been giving birth to Oankali/human construct children for quite a while now. I maybe missed the explanation of why they're called constructs, because aren't all children through the mediating influence of an Oankali ooloi (their third sex, masters of genemixing) constructed, whether part human or not? I mean, isn't that what makes the Oankali what they are?

Most humans have run to the hills, hoping that the Oankali's statement that they had made it so that humans couldn't procreate without an ooloi was false. They've had long enough to despair. And enough desire for children that they've turned to kidnapping construct children that look mostly human (although they will change dramatically at metamorphosis). Some threaten to cut off the parts of those children that make apparent their joint heritage, even though those are sensory organs for the children.

Akin is the first child who will probably become male (with the Oankali, male and female don't become determined until metamorphosis) born to a human female. There have been males born to Oankali females, but for some reason, it's considered more dangerous when the mother is a human. He is kidnapped when quite young, although he has been able to speak since days after he was born. During his time being kidnapped, he becomes convinced that the humans should be able to have children without ooloi intervention. With the Oankali, every time they meet a new species and "trade" with it (the reason for the quotation marks is something I want to discuss in a minute), they split into three groups. One mixes with the new species and stays for a long time. One mixes with the new species and departs into space. The third stays as it is, and moves on.

That way, any new changes have a safety buffer. Akin argues that human deserve the same consideration. Other Oankali believe that humans are too dangerous to give a legitimate second chance. Beside, they're going to use up Earth over the next few centuries and leave it a husk. Akin argues that they could be given Mars.

I liked the first book in this trilogy, but somehow, it didn't grab me the same way that Parable of the Sower did. I needn't have worried. Adulthood Rites got inside of me, made me uncomfortable, made me think. I'd put the book down and walk through the world in a daze for a while, trying to sort out what I thought, and why. What made me uncomfortable and why. The implications of Butler's writing and what that meant. This is a truly astounding book, with complex philosophical discussions being worked out through characters and their interactions. It's not preachy, and the philosophy isn't heavyhanded, or even in huge chunks. It's woven in so subtly that it has a much stronger impact. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a masterclass in writing.

One thing she takes on is something that bothered me about the first book (and indeed, I'm sure was supposed to bother me.) The ooloi can sense emotions, if not the thoughts behind them. That means that they will often do what the person they're with wants rather than what they consent to. In practice, that means that an ooloi drugs and initiates sex with a man who will not resist, because he does want it, but will not consent. It means that an ooloi impregnates Lilith without her consent because he can sense that she wants a child.

It's troubling, and in the first book, it's just left there as a disturbing undercurrent. And then in the second book, it gets crystallized into one moment, where the Lilith draws a clear line between the two, and, I think, between the concepts of desire and want. Or desire and consent. One may desire something without actually wanting it. And certainly without consenting. She says at one point that if she was strong enough not to ask the ooloi to impregnate her, it should have been strong enough not to do it.

That hit me with a ton of bricks, because I did carry around that discomfort with the issue from the first book, and in one sentence of anger and frustration, I understood why. The ooloi take desire to be consent, and then feel free to do whatever they like. And the ways that violates bodily autonomy are truly terrifying. It takes the issue of people thinking they have to right to do whatever they want to the body of another person, and takes this pinprick right to the center of it, to the idea that they want it, or are asking for it. Sure, the Oankali can say, and say truthfully, that they are doing what these people desire. But that is not enough. That is not consent. That is not even want.

That Butler can get at that, that issue, make that differentiation, and in circumstances in which it hits emotionally and strongly. I am in awe. That was the section that I meant when I said dazed. When I went out for my husband for lunch shortly thereafter, I was quiet and I think my eyes were focused somewhere very far away for most of the time we were out.

And that's just one small moment. There are more. It's a truly amazing, if disturbing, book. I really can't wait to see how the third brings this all together.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Three, Part Three

Daughter of Smoke and Bone vs. Memory

Winner: Memory

This is a tough one. I liked both of these books a lot - the former was definitely the best YA I read this year (not that there were many), and the latter was one of my favourite of the Vorkosigan books. I like it in particular because it has Miles at his most vulnerable, having shot himself in the foot, metaphorically. Learning how to live with disability, and not being what you thought you would be. It's timely, it's interesting, and it's difficult. So it wins, even though Laini Taylor's world and the characters in it left me hungry for more. It's a tough choice. Bujold for the win.

Komarr vs. An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth

Winner: Komarr

It feels a little weird to put two Lois McMaster Bujold books through in a row, but Chris Hadfield's book, while I liked it, has mostly been getting through because it's been up against weaker books. I like space, and his book is interesting, but it didn't grab me as hard as the first introduction of Ekaterina did on Komarr. And she is one of my literary loves of the year. What a great character, what a great match for Miles. I may have read these books out of order, but still, she was amazingly fun to read.

Broken Homes vs. Habitation of the Blessed vs. The Broken Kingdoms

Winner: The Broken Kingdoms

Ooof. A dreaded moment where I have to pick between three books I really, really liked. Two of which have "broken" in the title for some reason. It's a hard choice. I love Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books. I loved Catherynne Valente's prose. But I think of the three, I love even more the tenuous knit-togetherness of the main character in The Broken Kingdoms and all the thought about what the fracturing of power can do.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I think I have seen the movie too many times to be able to come to the book with anything like a fair perspective. To be clear, this was on the agenda of almost every movie party I went to or held in high school. I cannot count the number of times I've watched it. It's up there with Monty Python and the Holy Grail for movies of which I can recite long sections without pause. Unfair as it may be, the movie version is my version of this story, and I was not unbiased coming to this book.

This was the January selection for my local book club (as opposed to my virtual book club), chosen by a very close friend. By the time this is posted, the meeting will be long past, although as I write, it's two days in the future. (I'm trying to get ahead of my reviews this year.)

This is a difficult review to write, which you can perhaps tell from the two paragraphs of dithering you've just read. It's not that I disliked the book. It's just that I didn't think the book added anything to the movie. There are more words, sure. And more overt meta-ness. But nothing substantial, nothing to make me gasp, or add another layer of meaning to make me become one of those people who would sniff and say, sure, the movie's okay, but it's nothing compared to the book.

Perhaps it's because that for the most part, what's on the page is in the movie, exactly. (Except for the interjections, and I'll get to those.) The few times that a line is different, it's better in the movie. Take, for instance, Westley's line about Buttercup's perfect breasts and how it would be a shame to spoil them. It's more elegant in the movie than in the book, it trips off the tongue. Goldman tightened the dialogue up in really excellent ways in the movie, and so when I come across a line that is not only clunky, but was fixed in the movie version, it's a little disconcerting.

As for the meta-ness, I may be in the minority here, but I like the way it was incorporated into the movie better. It's more subtle, left more to the audience. (That is not something I thought I'd ever be writing about a movie version of a book. The vast majority of the time, this goes this other way. Movies have to be brasher, more explicit, or at least, they think they do.)  In the book, it's meta, but it's meta with too much explanation. Goldman explains too much and in too much detail what the meta is and what it means, and there is little space left for the reader to do more than take that in and make of it exactly what Goldman seems to want us to make of it.

In the movie, the act of skipping, eliding, it happens on the screen without explanation, and we're allowed a little space to to play with ideas about what was cut and how much, and that satisfies me more.

All that said, I did enjoy it. It's a fun read. But I guess I was expecting that it was going to add a whole other level to the movie, and what it did was make me want to watch it again. I don't know if I'd bother reading the book again. It's great fun. It's just not the movie.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Three, Part Two

A Civil Campaign vs. Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

Winner: A Civil Campaign

This isn't that difficult. Samuel Delany's Stars in My Pocket etc. had mostly stayed in the competition because it was so interesting, even if I was never quite convinced it succeeded as a science fiction novel. But I respected the experiments and was sucked in by the language play. Bujold's books may be much more straightforward, and they're certainly more rousing yarns, but that shouldn't be mistaken for shallowness. There's always more going on underneath the ripping good story. Of all the Vorkosigan books I read last year, I think this is my favourite.

Long Walk To Freedom vs. How The Light Gets In

Winner: How The Light Gets In

I feel bad about this choice, picking a mystery over Nelson Mandela's autobiography. However, it comes down to this. I liked Long Walk to Freedom quite a bit, but I was struck with how impersonal it seemed at times. That's fair - Mandela's under no obligation to tell us all the personal details of his life. But Louise Penny's mysteries are all about the personal in ways that get to me strongly. And this was the most personal and difficult of the series, and I can't cut it from the competition quite yet.

Republic of Thieves vs. Camera Obscura

Winner: Republic of Thieves

I'm a little surprised that Republic of Thieves has gotten this far in, as it wasn`t my favourite of the Gentlemen Bastards books. But on the other hand, Scott Lynch can tell a hell of a story, and maybe not the best is still a hell of a lot better than a lot of the other books I've read. As for Camera Obscura, it was fun, and I liked it more than the first book in the series, but it can't measure up to Locke Lamora.

The Imposter Bride vs. The Robber Bride

Winner: The Imposter Bride

It's the battle of the delinquent brides! And not incidentally, of Canadian literature written by women - one from a giant in the field, the other from a relative newcomer. And you know what? The newcomer takes it. I liked Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride a lot, and the writing was exquisite, but there was just something about the quiet pain and consideration of Nancy Richler's The Imposter Bride that got to me more deeply.

Mirror Dance vs. Black Swan Green

Winner: Black Swan Green

I have put through a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold books till now, and some will keep on making it through. But as much as I liked Mirror Dance and its musings on family and brotherhood and command, Black Swan Green was just so poignant and unsentimental. British youth in a wheel of the year filled with both good and bad and inconsequential all at the same time. David Mitchell, you do write good books.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James

P.D. James tries to combine her mysteries with Jane Austen. There has been a great division of opinions on this book. The blurbs try to make it sound like the most amazing book ever. Most of the people I know who've read it dislike it intensely. I don't feel that strongly one way or another - at most, it awakens in me a sense of slight disappointment. This isn't that good, and it isn't that good on both the mystery and the Jane Austen novel levels. On the other hand, it isn't abhorrently bad. It's just bland enough that I don't have a strong reaction to it.

Let's take those two elements in turn. It feels like here, P.D. James is trying to show us how policing and the justice system has changed. But it's not really a mystery. It's missing a detective, or really, anyone who is looking at the evidence, trying to ferret out the truth. I realize that being a detective as such is anachronistic, but even without having that formal position or informal undertaking, the mystery part falls flat.

The story just sort of happens, and that would be okay, if it were a little more lively. This is sedate without being interesting. Austen may have been sedate at times, but she was also always interesting.

The answer to the mystery arrives by carriage at the end of the mystery, and so, without lifting any fingers, it is solved. This is less than satisfying. Other authors, writing before the advent of detectives, have still found ways to give us that central character who is trying to get to the truth. It might be an experiment to see if you can do without them, but it's not that successful of one.

As for it being an Austen book, ten years after Pride and Prejudice, it's not terribly successful at that. The faux-Austen prose is clunky, and that's almost an unforgivable sin. It calls attention to itself, and there is too much of a data dump about what they're eating, or what the rooms look like, and it seems to be there to prove that James has done her research, rather than for good effect. If she's trying to ape Austen, it's done without grace. Also, you're P.D. fucking James. You should know you don't have to show all your research.

The biggest problem, though, is that the characters are boring. Elizabeth Darcy should not be boring. She may have changed, but you can't make her boring. That's ridiculous. Also, you know how Austen always has that one character who chatters on and on and you kind of want to kill her, but she's also so vibrantly alive that somehow she needs to be there? There is nothing like that. At all.

Lydia ends up being more interesting than Elizabeth, and a) really? And b), if that's the case, give us more of her than just having her go into hysterics once. We keep hearing about her being overbearing, annoying, hysterical, and quite frankly, that makes her the most interesting character in this book, but we barely get to see her. There is scarcely a scene that I didn't think would be improved by her presence. If you've made a vibrant character, why would you banish her to the spaces between the pages?

As far as I can tell, the book is missing feeling. With it, I could have forgiven the rather lackadaisical mystery. In Austen, there is a distinct difference between what the characters are doing and what they are feeling. They may be acting proper, but man, is there stuff roiling beneath the surface. And there is really none of that. They all seem to be pretty much as sedate as they act, although mildly perturbed at what has gone down in the woods near Pemberley. That is not enough to make a book out of, and it certainly doesn't do justice to Jane Austen.

Oh, P.D. James. I do like your mysteries. But this one, while it wasn't atrociously terrible, missed on virtually every aspect I would have wanted out of this book.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

It's interesting reading a series in such short order. I usually try to pace things out more, to let one book sink in fully before barging on to the next. But I'm moderating discussions on this series over three months in an online SF group, so here we are. (Because I'm trying to catch up on some discussions I wasn't moderating, I'm doing the same thing for Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood series.)  As I mentioned in my review for the first book in this series, though, I had actually read the last book of the trilogy first, in my own sheer perversity. Still, I'll reread and review it next month.

In this case, I think it really worked to go through Hammered and then Scardown in short order. In my first review, I said I thought that the pacing was slightly odd in the first book, in that there isn't really a major denouement. (Or maybe it didn't feel like a major denouement because I already knew it from the third book. Also possible.) I liked what the book was trying to do, but wasn't sure what I'd have made of it had I not known where the books were going. And if that isn't the most convoluted sentence I've written in a while, I'll eat my hat. And I like hats, so I have a lot to choose from.

Scardown definitely does not have the same issue. (I'm hesitant to even call it a problem.) The end of this book has all the shit-hitting-the-fan I could possibly wish for, and at least one moment, even though I knew it was coming, made me cry. Now that's a good sign, when a writer can show me something I knew was going to happen and make it so poignant that even though it's not a surprise, it breaks through any emotional defences I might have.

Jenny Casey continues to be an awesome character, and I love her so much. There was less Elspeth in this book, and that's too bad, because I like her almost as much, and enjoyed her sections in the first book. Jenny has been upgraded to be the pilot of new interstellar ships that are a bitch to steer - they tend to be irresistibly attracted to objects of large mass, like planets, and stars. Your first mistake is likely to be your last.

While the Canadians are getting closer to being the first to get out of the solar system, the Chinese are not far behind, and the national, corporate, and personal tensions rise accordingly. Much of these books, and particularly Scardown, seems to be about the conflict between duty, orders, and responsibility. What if a good order comes from an enemy? A bad order from a friend? When do you make your stand, and how? How do you make such stands effective?

Jenny's commanding officer is a man who has given her every reason to want him dead, but she starts to suspect there may be more going on than she realizes. A young woman revolutionary has similarly good reasons to want Jenny dead, and is definitely working from insufficient information.

Another theme is, I think, about wrecking the house on the way out, or, conversely, tidying up. If we're about to leave the solar system and start new colonies, and the Earth's ecosystem is nearly irrevocably wrecked, what does that justify? And what do you do with those who are willing to wreak more havoc so they win?

I realize I'm being oblique, but this is not a book you want spoiled. Suffice it to say that all these themes are wrapped up in awesome characters, great action, and heartbreak at the end. I'm very glad I've finally read the whole series. And will try not to start at the end next time.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Three, Part One

We're getting near the end! Round Three. Now we're getting to the tough decisions, although there have been some doozies so far.

Railsea vs. Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do

Winner: Railsea

Of course, I say that, and then the first match-up is one of the easiest imaginable. Ain't Nobody's Business has mostly survived this far by being slightly my favourite of two books I don't care a lot about. Railsea made me swoon. I keep saying that. It's not really a metaphor. There aren't many books that make me weak in the knees, but this was one. China Miéville, there is no question that this round is yours.

In The Night Garden vs. The Fall of Hyperion 

Winner: In The Night Garden

This, on the other hand, was a very difficult choice. Two books I liked a whole hell of a lot. In the Night Garden might not have been my favourite Catherynne Valente book of the year, but through a quirk, that one has already been eliminated. And Dan Simmons' follow-up to last year's Dust Cover Dust-Up Winner, Fall of Hyperion, was less experimental, but so satisfying. And horrifying. Either choice is going to break my heart. But the sheer fairytale delight of storytelling is going to give it to In The Night Garden.

Wolf Hall vs. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Winner: Wolf Hall

Not an easy choice, but not a heartbreaker. Jeanette Winterson's memoir, in the second half, turns into something really great, but the first half is mostly set-up for that. Everyone should read it, no question. But if I'm stuck in an airport with a book, give me Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell as a companion. The writing style takes a bit of getting used to, but it was a thoroughly satisfying read. 

Redshirts vs. Tooth and Claw

Winner: Tooth and Claw

I liked John Scalzi's Redshirts. It was fun, it was meta, and if it had too many codas, it also had a fun and entertaining story. But it can't match the sheer delight of realizing that, why, yes, I did want to read about Victorian dragons preying on poorer dragons, and the sexual politics of the colour of female dragons. This book is so strange, and it's exactly my kind of strange, and I loved it and you should probably read it.

Hexed vs. Red Seas Under Red Skies 

Winner: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Not really a hard one. I liked Kevin Hearne's second outing of Atticus, ancient druid, but it was mostly just entertaining. On the other hand, Scott Lynch pulled me along on a thoroughly entertaining sea adventure, and then ripped my heart out and left it beating on the deck. Sorry if that's graphic. But it's pretty descriptive of how I felt as I read the end of the book, tears streaming down my face. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

This is the third Ann Patchett book I've read. Of the other two, the novel I really disliked, and the memoir I found only so-so. They weren't enough to put her on my do-not-read list, but for authors that I only like a bit, I tend to figure that if I don't like them by the end of the third book, it's not going to change, and I can gratefully set them aside. That's where we were starting this book. I was expecting this to be my last. Now she has a reprieve.

To my surprise, I liked Patron Saint of Liars quite a lot. It worked for me in a way State of Wonder and Truth and Beauty didn't. I'm having a bit of trouble putting my finger on exactly why that is, but the main characters are, while being stubbornly and sometimes mulishly themselves, aren't dumb. They may have irresistible impulses that aren't the best, but they don't try to dress them up with pseudo-philosophic justifications for inaction that depend on lame analogies about only having to go into Hell once in your life.

(Apparently I'm still angry at State of Wonder. One would think I would have let that go by now. Nope!)

Rose, the main character, is the one who does things that are on some level inexplicable, but because she's not trying to come up with fancy moral justifications for them, it doesn't bother me the same way. We're supposed to find her a bit frustrating, I think. While also liking her.

Rose runs away from a perfectly nice husband while she's pregnant. She's not sure why, but marriage isn't what she thought it would be, and the romance between her and her husband is less than she was expecting to be delivered by Heaven into her lap. (Huh. That's two books I've reviewed in short order where the main characters expect happiness to just show up, and are dissatisfied when it doesn't.)  She ends up at a home for unwed mothers, gives birth, gets married again, and stays on as a cook at the home.

Only the first third of the book is from her perspective, and it's the most important, because it gives us a glimpse into who she is and why she does what she does, and it's the only glimpse we'll ever get. She's difficult, and frustrating, and interesting because of it. And the lack of explanation, even to herself, as to why she's done what she's done, somehow that makes her work.

The next two thirds are from her new husband and her daughter, respectively. To them, she is even more frustratingly opaque than she is to the reader. They don't even know what we know. She's not warm, she's not giving, she doesn't share herself. They love her, but there's always a tenuousness about her presence. Patchett does a really good job of conveying the feeling of impermanence without having it be in the least flighty or fluttering. Rose is solid. But she may not always be there.

It gives the book a tension, and weight, that I haven't found in her other books. It's interesting that it's here, in her earliest efforts, and I haven't found it in a later one. But this is enough to keep me intrigued and give her another chance. Maybe just one. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Two, Part Six

Only two battles in this last part of Round Two, but one of them involves three books, because I find it impossible to read enough books to exactly make this match even tournament numbers.

So, to end off Round Two, we have:

The Habitation of the Blessed  vs. Diplomatic Immunity

Winner: Habitation of the Blessed

Catherynne Valente vs. Lois McMaster Bujold. Two of the writers I have most enjoyed reading the last little while. Both of whom have won previous battle in this round. So how do they fare up against each other? While I liked Diplomatic Immunity quite a lot, it wasn't my favourite of the Miles books I read this year. And The Habitation of the Blessed was a strange book, but it was just my kind of strange. Plus, I found a quote in it that perfectly sums up the fraught relationship between my character and another PC in our pulp Seven Stars of Atlantis game. So, Valente wins this one.

Malice of Fortune vs. The Broken Kingdoms vs. Dawn 

Winner: The Broken Kingdoms

Michael Ennis is out of the running right away, as I liked Malice of Fortune, but didn't love it. Then we come down to two books I really did like quite a lot, both genre books, both written by Black women. And it's hard to choose! Butler knocks me on my ass quite a bit, although I didn't find Dawn as affecting as The Parable of the Sower. And I loved the work N.K. Jemisin is creating, and the characters she's populating it with. I think Broken Kingdoms gets it here, but it's a close one.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Saga Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan

Another book loaned to me by the lovely Melissa, this one was handed to me telling me that not only should I read it because this is a great series, but also because there was a naked unicorn woman with purple hair in it. This sounds a little weird, but that has particular resonance for a game we played a while ago about teenage monsters, in which one player had a unicorn character. Who may have had purple hair?

At any rate, it was a synchronicity. But I already knew I wanted to read this volume. I wasn't a huge fan of Y: The Last Man, but Saga has been excellent. It's a hard review to write, though, since I've already written reviews for the first two graphic novel collections. What can I possibly say that is new, particularly when the graphic novels are so slim?

I guess I can say this: it continues to be excellent. The themes of pacifism and ending war continue to be well-drawn, and to this mix in this volume are added a couple of gay journalists tracking the story of the lovers from different sides of the war, and although they work for a tabloid, find their lives, love, and livelihood threatened by those who want no whisper of cooperation between the two sides to get out.

We also get reminded how much the two sides hate each other when the main male character's ex-girlfriend shows up, and promptly starts not only expressing her hurt, but saying some pretty nasty racial slurs about his new wife. It took me by surprise a bit, but it's good to get the reminder just how transgressive this relationship is.

What else? I don't know. The value of normalcy? That's here. What do you do when you've rebelled your rebellion and need to find something else to do with your life? That's here too, and of course complicated by their continued need to be on the run. I do like that the grandmother and the author are trying to manipulate them into a career without ever being seen to do so.

The guys with TVs for heads are back, of course, and I'm still not entirely sure what's going on there. They're the royal family, but do they have any real power? I guess we'll see.

And of course, there is the world's sweetest moment between Lying Cat and Slave Girl. It's lovely.
In summary, this continues to be an excellent series, and I look forward to the next.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This is the sort of book that immediately makes me want to start writing about it in terms of other books. There are the obvious ones, the riffs on Harry Potter, and to an even greater extent, Narnia. But then there's all the bits about privileged kids who don't feel like the world is conforming to their expectations the way it should, and it reminds me of Catcher in the Rye, or The Secret History, although with even more self-awareness that just because they feel that way, it doesn't mean that that's reasonable.

What that does mean, though, that this is the sort of book that immediately sends my mind trailing off into other books. In this case, it's a very good thing. It makes me think, and compare it to other books on roughly similar topics, because this is not exactly untrodden territory. It has never been mapped, perhaps, quite like this.

This book was thrust onto my active reading list when my friend Melissa loaned it to me (perhaps the only guaranteed way to make that happen is to get me a physical copy). I was a little hesitant - I do read books friends recommend, but I'm always a little worried that I won't like something that someone holds very dear, and I knew she absolutely loved this one.

I needn't have worried. I was only a few pages in when I started to relax and realize I was reading something really excellent. The writing reassured me, and the story swept me along. So, let's take each of those, and things I've heard people say about this book, and why I think they're wrong.

The writing is really good, guys. Grossman has a knack for, not overly descriptive writing, but getting to the core of an idea in a few well-placed words. There is a trick of phrasing that makes the little beast in my head go "Yes. That's right. That's exactly it." He has it. I'm not sure it can be taught. When you find writers like that, you can relax and let go and just be swept along. I'm delighted to have found another one.

As for plot...well, it's about a young man named Quentin (17 when the book starts, I think) who is disappointed in the world, and looking forward to college, but feeling dissatisfied with that too. Until he gets admitted to a school for magic, which is why people make the Harry Potter reference. The school is nothing like Hogwarts though, and magic in Grossman's world is long, grinding, difficult, and only attracts the type of smart, obsessive, unhappy adolescent who can't understand why the world isn't the way they think it should be, and tries to bend reality to their will.

Except even with magic, it's not enough. There's nothing that would ever be enough, if it's a matter of wanting the world to reward you with happiness. Happiness doesn't work that way. It's too nebulous a term to satisfy. Quentin is the sort of person who, even when he gets what he wants, immediately starts looking for reasons why it's not what he was promised.

Quentin is obsessed with an obviously-Narnia based series of children's book about the land of Fillory, and near the end of the book, gets the opportunity to travel there, expecting that to solve all his problems. Guess what?

I'm not going to say anymore. The plot matches the writing, is all. It's all great.

So, let's get to what I've heard. The characters are unlikeable. Well, they're kind of prats - or, at least, Quentin is a prat, and so are some of the other characters from the school of magic. But it's not like you're supposed to think that they're right, or deep, or living life to the fullest. This book has a lot about the emptiness of not having a purpose, or consciously avoiding a purpose, because you want the perfect purpose to just appear, like a fairytale, complete with maidens and coronations. There are plenty of characters who are likeable. Alice, for instance.

Here's the point, though. I don't want to be like Quentin. I don't even like Quentin. But I recognize the distant strands of thought that sometimes drift through my head, wanting to be rewarded for being awesome, and for the world to recognize my amazingness and all that adolescent stuff that, thankfully, most of us grow out of. Quentin's around that age. He has all the power that magic can bring him. I'm going to be interested to see where he goes.

You're not supposed to want to be Quentin. But I would be very much surprised if you didn't recognize him. And through him, Grossman has some things to say about growing up and becoming an adult. I think that part of the story has just begun.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Two, Part Five

Daughter of Smoke and Bone  vs. Grass

Winner: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

These were both good books, and reads I quite enjoyed. However, the world that Laini Taylor creates, and the characters and mythology she populates it with, help Daughter of Smoke and Bone win out. This is Young Adult material that's worthy of the readers, and poses tough questions for the protagonists instead of false conflict. I am looking forward to the second. Grass was good, but Tepper has never been one of my favourite authors. It just doesn't get past the second round.

Memory vs. Supernatural Noir

Winner: Memory

Supernatural Noir only made it past the first round because it was up against a disappointing book. There are some great stories in here, but also a lot that are only so-so - the nature of anthologies. It's up against one of my favourite Vorkosigan books, where Miles runs straight into his worst enemy - his belief that if he talks fast enough, he can escape consequences. Consequences find him.

The Orenda vs. Komarr

Winner: Komarr

Lois McMaster Bujold's getting a lot of love in this round. I can't help it though - I found The Orenda a worthy and well-researched book, but with characters who were a little thin. In Komarr, I got to see Ekaterina as she was first introduced, and there is a female character to be entranced by. Stubborn, strong, and emotionally abused, watching her negotiate first contact with Miles was something to see.

Reamde vs. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Winner: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Neither of these books were the sort that you want to take home and keep forever. Both, however, were well worth spending a night or two with, then setting free. So how to pick? In the end, it's my major pet peeve with Reamde, the over-reliance on details at the cost of pacing, that makes me give this battle to Chris Hadfield. Plus, it's Chris Hadfield.

Broken Homes vs. The Inconvenient Indian

Winner: Broken Homes

Oh, dear. We're pitting my inner Peter Grant fangirl against my admiration for The Inconvenient Indian. It's the difference right there that's making me give this round to Ben Aaronovitch. The Inconvenient Indian is great, and should be required reading for everyone. But I love Peter Grant, and this is my tournament for books I enjoyed most in 2014. I feel tremendously guilty about it, but the ending of Broken Homes made me gasp, and that makes me pick Peter Grant.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

I realized something as I was reading this book. Many fantasy books, when they involve any kind of court culture, have as their viewpoint character someone who doesn't know how it works, and blunders around until he or she figures it out. It's relatively rare to have the main character be someone who does know exactly how things work. Cazaril, the main character, is such a man. He isn't a quintessential courtier by any means, but he knows how things work.

Because he's eventually the secretary and tutor to the half-sister of the King, we get to see him instructing his charge in the niceties of that life, and the perils, and that works to fill us, the audience, in just as well. It's interesting to read from the point of view of someone who is intelligent and knows what's what. I appreciate it. And it's something Bujold does exceptionally well.

Of course, he's more complex than that. An honest military commander, he was sold out and sold into slavery in one fell swoop by his enemies, offended by both his refusal to be bribed and his knowledge of certain unsavoury events. Released at long last, he is nearly dead by the time he makes it back to the court he has known, where he hopes for a small bed and a quiet life.

The Countess has different plans, putting him in charge of her granddaughter as her granddaughter and grandson go to court to take their places as the heirs presumptive to their half-brother's throne. Which puts him right back in the path of those who tried to dispose of him in the first place.

It sounds complex, but Bujold has a knack for parcelling out just the right information at just the right time, so it beautifully hits that middle ground between infodump and opacity. And having Iselle as his pupil is just right - she's smart, she gets it, and then she even starts to think a few steps ahead of Cazaril himself.

Oh right. And then he becomes a saint for one of the Five Gods. Being a saint is not as plum a job as you might think, and comes complete with complications that might very well kill him. In several ways, very quickly. Of course, there is also the eponymous curse, which he must forestall from falling on his charge. I quite enjoy Iselle's practical acceptance that she must marry for an alliance - and that if she must, it might as well be a beneficial one, with a husband who might turn out to be satisfactory on the personal front as well. That's a bonus, not a requirement. She is not going to swoon and insist on true love.

There's a lot here about duty, about running a kingdom, about being uncomfortably touched by the gods. I just love Bujold's books is what it is. She has a knack for laying groundwork that in the end, nicely dovetails into other aspects of the book, and that is always immensely satisfying. In the hands of a lesser author, it might feel false. With her books, I always feel like I'm in the hands of a master storyteller, and here, in a fantasy world far removed from what I'm used to when it comes to her Miles Vorkosigan SF, it works just as well.

This is the last book in my Lois McMaster Bujold care package that arrived from a dear friend. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single book in it, and I'm sorry to be done.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Two, Part Four

Fall of Giants vs. Camera Obscura
Winner: Camera Obscura

This was an easy one. Camera Obscura wasn't my favourite book of the year, but it was fun, and solid, and I liked it a lot more than Fall of Giants, which wasn't terrible, but annoyed me in some very important ways.So we'll go with this very literary Victorian world, complete with lizard rulers of England, over a First World War where the most unbelievable thing is that all those particular things could have happened to just five young men.

Cyteen vs. The Imposter Bride

Winner: The Imposter Bride

Two books. One felt a bit distant from its characters, but I often feel that way about Cherryh's writing. The other was quiet, but not distant. The emotion was just contained, by people who thought about their world and things that had happened and didn't leap to easy or histrionic conclusions. In this case, the book that isn't science fiction wins. That's not a frequent occurrence in my life, but I was very struck by The Imposter Bride and it continues to resonate.

The Robber Bride vs. Myths of Origin

Winner: The Robber Bride

I enjoyed Myths of Origin, but as much for the seeds I saw there of Catherynne Valente's later writing as for the works themselves. They were enchanting, but perhaps not always compelling. Whereas The Robber Bride wasn't always enchanting - the male characters were particularly weak - but it was always compelling. The prose, the female characters, the richness of this book - it swept me away and reminded me why I like Margaret Atwood.

Mirror Dance vs. Maus 

Winner: Mirror Dance

This is a battle where its between picking the worthy book versus the enjoyable one. It's a close battle - Maus is a classic for a reason, and it's a very impressive work. Impressive, but not the kind that makes you fond. Bujold makes me fond, and I really enjoyed Mark trying to figure out how he fits in a family he never expected to be welcomed in to. I'm picking the fun this time.

The Cuckoo's Calling vs. Black Swan Green

Winner: Black Swan Green

I really enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling. It's a solid mystery, and was entertaining. However, in this battle, it can't stand up to Black Swan Green. I'd be hard put to put it into words, but David Mitchell captures something ephemeral about growing up and elegantly puts it into this book. The year, the incidents on the wheel of the year, big and small, the refusal of simple answers in favour of messy growing up. I liked it a lot.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

People recommend books to me a lot. It's hard to know when or how to fit them all in! And then there's the worry I won't like a book that is very dear to a dear friend's heart. For a long time, I just avoided reading books that had been recommended to me, unless someone pushed a physical copy into my hot little hands. (This is still the fastest way to get a book to the top of my list.) So I started a new list from which to pick, of books friends recommended. If you want to get in on this, you can recommend a book on this post.

This book was recommended to me by Téa.

I had read The Great Gatsby before, but it was long before I started writing reviews. In fact, the first time I ever read it was for my grade 10 English class. I can't say I remembered much about it, but that's true for a lot of books I read in high school English, with a few notable exceptions.  I read it again a couple of years ago, and here I am now, ready to try to review a classic. It's a little daunting.

This was also the first book I read on our iPad, because I couldn't find my paper copy of it when I went looking, and it was free. As far as I could tell, it was the full text. It's not the first thing I've read on a reader, it just meant I had to wrest the iPad out of my husband's hands every time I wanted to sit down with it.

And now I've put the review off long enough. So, what did I think of The Great Gatsby? It's a great book, obviously. The writing is beautiful and poignant. The characters are, by far and large, irritating rich people, and their follies are worked out through pain for other people.

I'm sure you all know the story. Nick, the narrator, moves in next door to Party Central, Jay Gatsby's house, a man with all the wealth in the world and a million stories about how he got it. His raucous parties mean little to Gatsby himself, though. He's only concerned about attracting the attention of Daisy, who lives across a narrow strip of water, his sweetheart before he went off to war.

Daisy is married to a rich asshole, Tom, who in the tradition of rich assholes everywhere, thinks that he has little power, and is worried about all those uppity non-white people getting a piece of his pie. There was a lot about this book that made me sigh and think how little has changed. The dude with all the physical power, all the money, all the ability to cheat on his wife and beat his mistress and do whatever he wants, he thinks he's powerless. He thinks those damned poor people and those damned immigrants are out to rob him of his rightful...well, whatever his "rightful" is is never defined. But it feels threatened, dammit! And that justifies...well, whatever he wants!

People keep saying that income inequality is approaching or has surpassed the era in which Fitzgerald was writing, and this isn't the main point of his book, but it's a little eerie to see the same kind of denial of privilege coming out of the mouth of the character with the most power.

I know very little about formal criticism of this book, but you hear about it as a critique of the Jazz Age, but what I was struck with this time was how virtually every character we know is actually from the Midwest, transplanted to the outskirts of New York City. Do we see native New Yorkers? Maybe Tom's mistress' sister, and a few people at that party, but they don't make much of an impression.

It's hard to come up with a coherent review of The Great Gatsby. I'm sure a million have been written. But every time I read it, I come up with something different to think about. That right there is the mark of a classic.

Also read as part of the BBC Big Read

Friday, 9 January 2015

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

The next book in the saga of Fitz, bastard son of the former heir to the throne. I don't know what I want to say about it, other than that I enjoyed it. It's hard when you hit the second book in a series, and like it, but don't find that it's substantially different from the first, or that you have new and exciting things to relate, new ideas to mull. This is very much like the first one. Since I enjoyed the first one, this was not a problem.

But it does leave me at a bit of a loss. It also points to one major point - as fun as this book is, and it is, it doesn't really advance the overall storyline that far. It does progress a bit - the kingdom is still under threat from the raiders, the king grows increasingly frail, and a group sets out on a quest, and there is a grab made for power. None of this is surprising - it's the person you would pretty much expect. There is a pleasure in the obvious. But is it enough?

Fitz is coming into his own, old enough to operate independently, even if he's incredibly weak as the book begins. Well, so is the King. King-in-Waiting Verity spends all his time holding off the raiders, but to do so, has absented himself from the kingdom, who don't realize what he does to keep them sick. Regal, the youngest son, is still a power-hungry pain in the ass who is probably behind the not-too-subtle assassination attempts on Fitz.

Fitz continues to use the Wit, the power to speak to animals, and have trouble with it Speech? The same thing, but with humans, more or less. He tries to protect the new queen-in-waiting, who seems to have different plans for what royalty means than the present leadership thinks. She rallies the kingdom, while others seem bent on disassembling it to the highest bidder.

Hobb is excellent in showing us a kingdom on the verge of flying apart, torn by people who want what's best of themselves, or want revenge, or are just unable to see behind their own noses. Others see the larger picture, but have trouble asserting themselves when it might be most necessary.

One thing that bothered me, though, was that there were several times when Fitz tried to have an honest conversation about what was going on behind the scenes with people who could be in place to do something about it, and kept getting shut down for talking disloyalty. Could we not have the fucking conversation, and then have the reaction be disloyalty? Because at least twice, we were getting perilously close to the lazy "if they just talked about it, things would get resolved, and we can't have that, so we need bullshit reasons to keep the conversation from happening" tactic.

That aside, I enjoyed this book very much. I hope the next one moves the storyline along a bit more, but this world is fascinating, and the characters strong. I enjoy spending time with them very much. Now, if we could just shake them until they talk, everything would be good.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Two, Part Three

Raising Stony Mayhall vs. A Civil Campaign

Winner: A Civil Campaign

Oh, dear. This does not seem like a fair choice. An incredibly thoughtful look at the zombies and their implications, told over the "life"span of a zombie found as a baby and raised by a living family, somehow managing to grow up. Against my favourite Miles Vorkosigan book of a year that had a lot of thoroughly enjoyable Bujold books. Oh no. I do not want to make this choice. I really don't.

Aargh! It's breaking my heart! I pick...A Civil Campaign. But just by a hair. I liked Raising Stony Mayhall a lot, and expected it to make it into the top 10 just like Daryl Gregory's other book Pandemonium did last year. I can't pass up Miles in love, though. It's just too delicious.

The Clearing vs. Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

Winner: Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

I did not expect Stars in My Pocket to get this far into the competition. Despite its flaws, it has stuck around in my  memory, and Delany's experiments with gender and foreignness linger. In contrast, The Clearing was good, and I remember enjoying it, but it hasn't loomed large in my memory. They were both books without a ton of action, but I found the ideas in the science fiction so much more challenging.

Long Walk To Freedom vs. Whispers Underground 

Winner: Long Walk To Freedom

Not a very hard choice. On the one hand, we have a Peter Grant book that was probably my least favourite so far. On the other, Nelson Mandela's fascinating look at his own life and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Mandela's book is powerful, and it definitely delivers a knockout punch to Ben Aaronovitch here.

Range of Ghosts vs. How The Light Gets In 

Winner: How The Light Gets In

Ow. It hurts to knock this Elizabeth Bear book out of the competition, because I really loved Range of Ghosts. However, it'd be a rare book that could knock the culmination of books and books worth of slow build-up in one completely satisfying outing, heartwarming and heartwrenching both. Books that make me cry have an easy advantage, and I was bawling by the end of this book. Everything paid off beautifully, and it all came from places of vulnerability and pain and love. You got me, Louise Penny. You always do.

Packing for Mars vs. Republic of Thieves

Winner: Republic of Thieves

A fairly easy choice to end the round. I like Mary Roach's books, but they don't stay with me. They're enjoyable to read, great to grab a few tidbits from to amuse and horrify your friends. But that's really it. On the other hand, Republic of Thieves might be my least favourite Scott Lynch so far, but that's not actually saying very much. I have loved all three Locke Lamora books. Locke steals this round, so smoothly I didn't even notice.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

*Some Spoilers Below*

It has taken me a while to figure out what I think of this book, and I'm still not entirely sure. I finished it with a bit of bafflement - what was what I'd just read actually about? It was entertaining, sure, and the world rich and inventive, the characters interesting, but if I were to tell you what the book were about...I wasn't sure. I think I have a better idea now, but I might just be projecting.

The world Stephenson creates here is a fascinating one, post-global warming, with different parts of the world in ascendancy, and everything governed by groupings, whether corporate or ethnic or voluntary. The two given most prominence in the book, which takes place in what it today China, are the Neo-Victorians and the Confucians.

Nanotechnology/3-D printing has advanced to the point that every home in every slum has a Feed, a pipeline to the basics, at very least. The Feed is heavily regulated, as far as amount, and more advanced stuff takes more money, but it's a basic resource, like running water. Because it all comes from a central location, what it can be used for can be regulated. But what if, instead of Feeds, there were Seeds? You can't control a Seed. It could be used for anything, great good, great evil, consumer goods or, well, whatever you can imagine. The Neo-Victorians back the Feed. The Confucians might back the Seed.

Some of the cultural "oh, the Chinese are conditioned to be more obedient and wouldn't abuse the Seed like you Westerners and your individualism" was more than a little overblown, and seems to believe in way more homogeneity in populations than I think has ever existed ever.

But that's not really what this book is about.  I think this book is about childrearing, and how to do it well. Particularly if you're trying to teach subversion. The grandfather of the heir apparent to the Neo-Victorians doesn't want his granddaughter to be brought up to be a little conformist, so he hires a bespoke engineer to create an interactive children's book that will bootleg a little trickster into her life. The engineer wants a copy for his own daughter. And through happenstance, a copy ends up in the hands of a very poor child from the slums, with an irresponsible mother who tends toward abusive boyfriends.

The story is about Nell, the poorest of the children, but the other two girls stand as background comparison, making the point that it's not the book itself that makes the difference in why Nell emerges whole the way she does. The privileged heir gets the subversion without the practicality, and joins a revolutionary group. The engineer's daughter falls into a world of fantasy and has trouble peeling her way out. Nell has to cope with the real world, but more importantly, she has mentors to help temper the book. One actress gets involved in reading the book to Nell exclusively - becomes, in essence, her mother. Nell also gets good advice from her brother, and later, the craftsmen she lives with while attending a Neo-Victorian school, including practical strategical advice from the military man who guards them, and the teachers at her school. The book does a lot, but so do the people in her life who she manages to connect with.

It's that human interaction that lets Nell transcend the book, while still needing the book to find her way through the world, and to what she feels she's lost. And also to survive a second Boxer Rebellion. It's an interesting note about the limitations of technology in childrearing. There are possibilities, sure. But it can't be a substitute for parenting. That's subtle, but it's there.

Of course, this is not a didactic text. It's a rich, verbose, ornate, almost Neo-Victorian in itself, romp through a world descended from our own but utterly different. I can't say I loved it, but it was quite enjoyable. All right, Stephenson, we're at two books I really enjoyed, and two I either didn't like or was a bit bored by. Let's see what I find next.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Two, Part Two

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? vs. First Among Sequels

Winner: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I like Jasper Fforde, but First Among Sequels was not as strong as some of his other outings. It was fun, but not spectacular. Whereas fun is definitely not the way to describe Jeanette Winterson's memoir, but it was powerful. In the second half, this little book shifts gears to become something quite extraordinary.

Redshirts vs. The Computer Connection

Winner: Redshirts

These are both books by science fiction writers I like quite a lot, without themselves being books that set my world on fire. When Bester is good, he's spectacular. The Computer Connection,  on the other hand, is a weird little book that is interesting, but doesn't have the impact of his best stuff. On the other hand, Scalzi is always entertaining, and this is no exception, although all the codas feels a little hand-holdy. Still, for pure enjoyment, it wins this particular battle.

Tooth and Claw vs. Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Winner: Tooth and Claw

This is an almost impossible choice! I liked both of these books so much, for vastly different reasons. Tooth and Claw is a remarkably good Victorian novel, whose protagonists happen to be dragons. This allows strange and delightful commentary on Victorian society. And then there's Jenny Lawson's book, which made me laugh out loud more than any other this past year. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I think the dragons take this one, but it's close.

Changeless vs. Hexed

Winner: Hexed

Easy. Changeless was a Victorian-set supernatural romance that tickled me not nearly as much as the dragons of the previous match-up did. While Hexed didn't really do much more than the first in that particular series, I still like Atticus, his snark, and particularly, his dog.  Druids over the soulless, no contest.

Red Seas Under Red Skies vs. Doctor Faustus

Winner: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Sorry, Thomas Mann. You're all literary and worthy and a very good book, but you didn't make me weep. Scott Lynch did, with this follow up to Locke Lamora's adventures that perhaps even surpassed the first book, and I loved that book a lot. Classic literature doesn't stand a chance against conmen, a ship, pirates, and tragedy.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

*Some Spoilers Below *

This is a difficult book to read, but despite its size, it would be a mistake to call it sprawling. Instead of taking in a vast cavalcade of characters, it shows the impact of The Emergency in India on not many, but on a few. Four, in particular. Although they know other people, it is through these four that we see how the state intruded brutally into the lives of its citizens, and how the vulnerable were, of course, the most vulnerable, while the powerful refused to believe that abuses were going on, preferring to blame the poor for their own fates.

This focus, sustained over such a long book, makes for an emotional read. The title of the book refers to a line one character speaks about a fine balance between hope and despair. Given what the characters undergo, it is apparent how easy it is to tip the scales towards despair.

We see The Emergency in India through four characters. One, Dina, is a widow trying to eke out an independent life so she doesn't have to be, more or less, a servant in her brother's house. To do so, she tries to set herself up as a middle woman for sewing piecework. Of course, her landlord wants to get rid of her so he can raise the rent, and having a workplace in the apartment is illegal. But she is desperate enough to try it anyway.

To do the actual sewing, since her eyes are failing, she hires two tailors. Ishvar and Omprakash, uncle and nephew, were born into an even lower caste, but Ishvar's father was one of the first to dare to have his son apprentice to a higher-status position. This does not go over well in the village. Ishvar and Omprakash moved to the big city after their work with a tailor and friend had dried up due to ready-to-wear fashion. They have trouble finding a place to stay, and once they have work with Dina, Omprakash, in particular, resents Dina's cut of the money for the work they do.

Dina's other money-making plan is to take in a boarder, a student studying air conditioning repair. From a slightly higher-status background, Maneck runs into The Emergency initially through the hostel where he lives, where he befriends a budding revolutionary who disappears after staging numerous demonstrations.

Ishvar and Omprakash take the most direct brunt of the increasing crackdowns, first in a shantytown, then sleeping on the streets. Some of the sections involving these two are truly harrowing. So far, this all sounds like despair. The hope comes in in the small flashes of family the four characters manage to create, sharing space and work and stories. That sounds lighter than it is - the stories are difficult, the work difficult, the life hard. But hope persists.

For some, anyway. Others find it slipping away. Still others manage to maintain it, even through truly horrific circumstances. The ending reminds me of Anna Karenina, and I'm hoping that's not too much of a spoiler, as one character succumbs to despair. The others forge on.

I feel like I haven't gotten the heft of this book across. Through the focus on a few, with a world that seems set against them, sometimes it was hard to take a breath, in sympathy with the constraints that continued to tighten around them. It's easy to feel the despair. It's harder to feel the hope. The balance tips. But not for everyone.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

If I remember my review of Red Mars correctly, I spent much of my time wondering why we weren't spending time with what seemed the most interesting parts of the story - Hiroko's hidden colony and the rebels. Apparently I just need to be a little more patient, but that's never been my strong point. Green Mars is almost entirely from outside the official corporate structures of power, and spends most of its time with Hiroko's colony and the rebels, as they try to reconcile vastly different goals and methods and not have a complete catastrophe on their hands when it finally comes to open revolution.

I'm glad to finally get this side of the story. And this time, we're entirely on that side - we don't get how the corporations perceive the mounting resistance, except for a few glimpses into the one corporation that is backing the resistance.  It's an intriguing choice, although sometimes I wished I knew what the other side was thinking. As the reader, though, you're in the same position as the rebellion, without full information on what your opponents are planning.

Robinson does a good job of illustrating the complexity of orchestrating a successful revolution, with all the schisms and factions that involves, those who are willing to wait and bide their time, to those who want to start breaking things now, without any particular plan. And, of course, the biggest division in these books are between the many, who want a Mars under Mars jurisdiction, and the few who want to see Mars touched as little as possible, even turning back the clock on the areoforming that has already been done.

A lot of the time is spent with the part of the revolution more intent on planning before striking, although some time is spent with Ann and her anger that Mars has been touched by humans at all. Two books in, I get that some people might take this stance. I don't understand it. I guess I'm just human-centric. But mostly, we're with the third generation of Hiroko's colony, and with Sax, as he takes on a new face and infiltrates a corporation, only to come face to face with Phyllis again, and with Maya, as she battles her own sense of herself and what she's lost while still trying to hold the revolution together. And with Coyote. And with Art, sent by that one sympathetic corporation to help negotiate a framework that most if not all the rebel groups can agree on.

Robinson is long-winded on two fronts. On the nitty-gritty of forming a revolution that won't end in flood-level amounts of bloodshed. And on the nitty-gritty of the areoforming of the planet. I find the first fascinating, but politics are something I'm interested in, and in particular, how people do or don't work together. I study a social movement that went through its own share of fractures, and Robinson understands the complexities of this stuff extremely well.

I am less enthralled by the areoforming bits. It's interesting, but when you get that much detail with that few humans, I tend to glaze over a bit. It's well-written, it's just not my things. Give me people any day. Still, I'm sure the hard SF fans love those bits. They didn't bother me, I just found my attention wandering during those pages.

All in all, this book delivered the part I was missing from the first one. I'm interested to see where it will go from here. On to Blue Mars, at some point!


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2014: Round Two, Part One

Happy New Year, everybody! This year I resolve to keep reading, without stressing out about how much I'm not reading.

I took the week after Christmas off, a chance to rest and recharge and just read. Well, I wrote a few reviews, but put them on hold for posting until the New Year. And now we start to get into the harder battles of the Dust Cover Dust-Up. Let's see what Round Two holds!

Railsea vs. Ship-Breaker

Winner: Railsea

Ship-Breaker was fine, and certainly good solid YA science fiction, set in the post-climate change worlds that Bacigalupi excels at. I'd recommend it, although it is a little harsh. Railsea, though. Railsea. I can't even express my deep love for this book. It may be my favourite Mieville so far, and that's saying quite a lot. It's the layers in this one, backwards into literature and an homage to Moby Dick, in a world that is all Mieville's own, and roots that are exposed every once in a while to reveal depths unheard of. There isn't a step wrong in this one. Loved it. Loved it so much.

A Wanted Man vs. Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do 

Winner: Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do

This is a tough one. Not because I loved the books - indeed, the exact opposite. Neither of these were books that really stuck with me, so choosing one to move on to the third round? Difficult.  Lee Child's Jack Reacher book was much like all the others in the series have been. A pleasant, violent confection, and not a lot more. Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do was similarly not a book that stayed with me. But I think it has a bit more to it than A Wanted Man. Okay, this round goes to Ain't Nobody's Business.

In The Night Garden vs. Titus Alone

Winner: In The Night Garden

Easy-peasy. One of those contests where I get to weed out a book that I didn't really want to go further in the competition anyway. Titus Alone is a perplexing book, and I'm glad to leave it behind in favour of the nested storytelling of Catherynne Valente, who combines a beautiful writing style, with a dozen or more amazing stories. I may have felt like I almost lost the thread at one point, but the tapestry they weave was well worth the weft. 

The Fall of Hyperion vs. Feed

Winner: The Fall of Hyperion

The first truly hard choice of the round! I loved both these books. Feed kept me up at night, reading a genre I normally steer far clear of. Zombies, not generally my thing. Mira Grant made it my thing, at least as far as her writing goes. But I loved The Fall of Hyperion. Almost as much as I loved Hyperion, and that book won last year's Dust Cover Dust-Up. It answers all the questions the first book left hanging, and while it does it in a more traditional science fiction novel, I was engrossed from first page to last.

Wolf Hall vs. Palimpsest 

Winner: Wolf Hall

Oh, ugh. Another hard one. I liked both of these books a whole lot. Mantel made historical fiction truly something unique, and Valente looked at all the ways people have to having sex and wrapped them into an amazing adult fantasy novel. It may only be the fact that one Valente book has already made it through in this very post that means I'm bumping Wolf Hall ahead by a smidge. Although of the two Valente books, I liked Palimpsest more. Still, Cromwell gets it. By a wolf's hair.