Friday, 17 November 2017

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Just recently, when I was writing my review of Catherynne Valente's Radiance, I spoke of books where authors decide not to let readers entirely into their worlds, whether deliberately, to make the readers work for it, or accidentally, because things that are perfectly clear to the writer in their head don't quite make it to the page.

This book, uh...this book falls into the latter category. Not in terms of the characters or what's going on between them; I was able to figure out the general social structure of the universe as it exists in this book. It's the physics I don't freaking understand. That may not be essential, but I don't. I was halfway through the book when I was talking about it with a friend, and he was enthusiastic about this being a book where being in different parts of the galaxies meant that the speed of light was different.

I paused, because that wasn't how I understood what was going on at all. He may indeed be right! But I'd seen the inability to go the speed of light, or several times it, as what was changing, not the speed itself. And if it is different, what does that mean? I'm so lost.

Practically, what this means is that there are parts of the universe where technology is insanely advanced  and AIs are very, very smart and sometimes galaxy-spanning and dangerous, but then there are parts in the "Slowness" where they just...aren't. They can't. The ships can't. I don't get why. I'm sure it's in there somewhere, but it was oblique enough that I didn't fully understand why the basic rules of the universe differed based on physical location. I got that they did, but it never felt like Vinge let me in on the reasons.

So, in this universe I don't understand, there are a ton of races, most of them not even remotely humanoid. Civilizations rise and fall quickly out where technology works really really well, and the remnants of a past one are discovered by a human colony excavating old ruins. Old ruins are really fucking dangerous here. They unleash an old Power that has killed civilizations before, and starts to do it again, attacking information nexii in search of the humans who got out with something that could stop it.

People die, stations perish, and one ship makes its way into the Slowness in search of the weapon to use against the Power. The weapon, along with that refugee human ship, had crashlanded on a planet where the dominant species are packs of dogs. Not dogs, individually, and not, of course, quite dogs, but groups of "dogs" acting telepathically in concert. As singletons, they don't have enough brain power to sustain a thought, but as packs, they can think, and their identities can change as pack members die and new ones are added. This means that they're smart, but all their geniuses work in isolation, so progress has been slow.

Recently, a couple of powerful packs have been heavily engaging in eugenics as it would apply to such a society, often in extraordinarily cruel ways. The two children who survive the first attack of the packs on the ship end up with different sides, unaware of each other's continued existence.

Meanwhile, on the ship coming after them, we have a human, a sort-of human partially occupied by another Power, and two skrodes, which are plant-like ocean creatures on...skateboards? Kind of?  The skateboards are their external memories?

It's all intrigue and exploring pack dynamics, and it's all very interesting, but there's a little part of my brain that argues that it doesn't hang together as a story all that well. That there are pacing issues, and unexplained assumptions about the world that I didn't get.

It's...okay. It's interesting. There are really good bits. And yet.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2017: Round One, Part Five

We're...not quite halfway through Round One. It's a long one, to give every book I've read this year a chance.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller vs. Planetfall by Emma Newman

This is too easy. I didn't really like The Dog Stars. I really liked Planetfall, and I continue to think about the portrayal of trauma and grief that is portrayed there, as well as the effects of living in a society based on some fundamental lies that have become articles of faith.

Winner: Planetfall

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell vs. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

I found Garth Greenwell's first novel okay, but far too full of semi-colons that kept intruding onto my thoughts; Nnedi Okorafor's book was haunting and difficult and if there was a semi-colon, I didn't notice it.

Winner: Who Fears Death

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins vs. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

It's funny that my elaborate seeding scheme ended up putting two Okorafor books back to back in this competition, although not yet against each other. The randomness has been a little weird, but I think in a good way? This is all a digression, because again, this isn't a hard choice. The Girl on the Train was fine, Lagoon was really damned good, about aliens landing just off the coast of Lagos.
Winner: Lagoon

Bye # 6: Halting State by Charles Stross

Aimless Love by Billy Collins vs. Market Forces by Richard Morgan

Huh. This is actually a harder choice than it would appear. But as much as I've loved Billy Collins in the past, this year I'm less in the mood for melancholy exploration of theoretical mortality than I am for a deep painful dive into loss. Hypothetical doesn't cut it at the fucking moment. (They're still good poems.) Morgan's book is fun corporate state/Mad Max fun, but it's not deep. So, which do I pick? 

Winner: Aimless Love

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer vs. The Diviners by Libba Bray

I will admit that The Diviners snuck up on me. I liked it more than I should have, despite glaring flaws. It's not going to win, though, because it still doesn't measure up to the second Southern Reach book, with its dive into spy novel environmental SF.
Winner: Authority

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I am normally one of the well-behaved members of my book club - I have virtually always read the book. I ran into a problem with this one. I was almost done it before I went on vacation, and intended to finish when I got back. I hadn't realized, however, that my electronic library book came due while I was gone, and when I got back and tried to finish off the last third, it had been returned, and all the library copies were taken (probably by other members of my book club.)  So I went to the meeting anyway and discussed without knowing how it ended up, although I was fine with it getting spoiled - you go to book club without being finished, that's what you get.

A week or two after the meeting, it finally was available again, so I snatched it up and sat down to read the last bit so I could finally write a review.

The Mothers is a book about two young women with absent mothers and their own tenuous connections to motherhood. It's also told through a Greek chorus of old women who go to the church that these young women go to.They are titularly called The Mothers, and act as a window to how the community regards the small dramas of these young people and their parents, gossiping and making assumptions, warranted and unwarranted, about them. I found them to be unreliable narrators, and thought that made the book more interesting, although at least one person in my book club thought that they were to be more trusted than I did. I thought they were a commentary on how communities understand the outside but not necessarily the why or how of what goes on around them. They aren't close to any of the main players, but they see themselves as experts nonetheless.

Nadia, one of the young women, lost her mother to suicide just a short while before the book starts. She doesn't know why her mother took her own life, or if it was her fault for even being born. Would her mother's life have been different if she'd had the opportunity to have an abortion instead of getting married? This is less than academic to Nadia, as when she gets knocked up, she definitely and quickly chooses her own future academic career instead of getting married to the pastor's son, Luke.

That doesn't mean she never thinks about it again, and Luke ruminates on the abortion even more. Nadia's best friend, Aubrey, who Nadia befriends after her abortion, eventually hears that there was one, but not the details. Aubrey has fled from a mother who didn't protect her from her stepfather, going to live with her sister and sister's girlfriend instead, finding the church as a haven of normalcy, where she can pretend life is simple and solvable.

The book follows these characters through many years, as Nadia leaves for school and returns home to take care of her father. Their relationships intertwine, and although they rarely talk about their shared history, it has an impact, for good and ill, on everything they do, and the further ways they hurt each other.

This is an interesting look at living in a tight-knit community, and what spaces still exist there. I can't say I loved it, but I did enjoy the book. It didn't, though, feel like it touched me on any level connected with the absence of my own mother, which I guess sort of feels like a strike against the story? I understood where the women in this book were coming from, but it didn't hit me where I've been dwelling in grief.  (Unlike reading Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie after the death of my father, which had me positively sobbing with shared pain.)

But being motherless stays with you. Now I know being an orphan stays with you, and isn't limited to those who were young when you they were orphaned. This story was very particular in a way that was not congruent with my experience. Nevertheless, it was worth a read. I like reading stories different from my own.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2017: Round One, Part 4

Round One Continues!

The Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough vs. number9dream by David Mitchell 

There were moments in both of these books where I why they were unfolding as they did. But while Mitchell always makes me glad to be along for the strange and genre-hopping ride, I never did parse out why The Healer's War is a fantasy novel, other than that it's a genre Scarborough had previously published in, or at least an adjacent one. It's not bad, but even older David Mitchell is more likely to please me. That's not to talk down The Healer's War - I'm very glad I included it in my "Post-War Science Fiction" book club theme, and it gave us interesting things to talk about. It just doesn't go any further in this tournament.
Winner: number9dream

 I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid vs. The Last Policeman by Ben Winters 

Well, there's really no contest here, is there? I hated I'm Thinking of Ending Things for a lot of reasons I go into in the review, so almost anything could have knocked it out. It's just chance that it's up against the first book in a trilogy I read all of and enjoyed thoroughly last year. There's really no question what the result is going to be. Bye-bye, I'm Thinking....

Winner: The Last Policeman 

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater vs. They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

I think I enjoyed The Dream Thieves most of the three Ravencycle books I've read so far - with Ronan at the centre, the narrative had a real drive that I haven't necessarily felt otherwise. So that gives this book a fairly easy win over Plum Johnson's memoir of her family, which is interesting, but doesn't do quite enough to justify its own existence, other than the natural and understandable desire to commemorate family. 

Winner: The Dream Thieves

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst vs. The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent

Of all the first-round matches so far, this is one that is giving me pause - neither are books that I loved, both are books that I respected. So do I go with sexuality and hypocrisy in Thatcher's Britain, or a gender-segregated future? I think the writing style gives this one to Hollinghurst.
Winner: The Line of Beauty

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross vs. Coming Home by Jack McDevitt 

I feel like I'm getting spoiled by the new seeding, even though I know full well that I'll pay for it when all the books I liked most come up against each other in a round or two. But for the moment, I'll remain happy that it's easy to knock out the Futuristic-Clive-Cussler Coming Home in favour of Stross' Laundry series. We're in the U.S. with this one, with evangelical Cthulhu cults trying some fairly nasty business.
Winner: The Apocalypse Codex

Monday, 13 November 2017

Radiance by Catherynne Valente

I am extraordinarily glad this book exists, even if I'm not entirely sure I understand it all. I mean, I understand what happens and how it fits together, but I feel like I'm probably missing a few thematic elements that would make it unfold like a flower (which is not an earth flower, more like a butterfly with a stem) in my mind. (See, I'm already making references that won't make sense to anyone who hasn't read the book.)

There are a bunch of different stories, but they're all stories about an absence. Not only that, they're stories about how we tell stories, about how we try to impose narrative sense on an inherently chaotic life, about how the movies structure thought, about how the gaze is directed, and getting back to the first point, about how stories can give the illusion of presence.

This is particularly striking because the main character, Severin, is never present during the book. I mean, she's frequently there, but in a news story, one of her father's movies, in the scripts he and his collaborator keep trying to write to make sense of her disappearance, and even in her own documentaries, but she's never actually there. This is a story that's being told because she is gone, and no one knows where, or whether she's alive or dead, or really whether or not that's a question that makes sense. What is a callowhale, anyway?

Let's take a step back. This is a book that is so entirely itself, exists so completely in a fully-developed world that is not our own, but has certain resonances with it. It means that when Valente lets us peek behind the curtain (behind the camera?), we have to open our minds and try to catch up. The sense of familiar alienness is not one that was exclusionary. Sometimes I find authors who develop their worlds so perfectly in their heads don't want to let readers in easily, or don't realize that they need to explain things that are so clear to them. That was not what I encountered here.

This is not our solar system, but we're brought into it gently enough that even when we don't know everything, we aren't entirely adrift - or at least, not any more adrift than the characters who were born there. They aren't entirely sure what the callowhales are either, even though they drink their milk in many forms, needing it to survive in interplanetary space.

The callowhales live on Venus (or do they?), floating in the seas there, either animal or vegetable or possibly island? (There almost feels like there's some distant kinship to C.S. Lewis' Venus.)  They give off something that is called milk, like many things in the solar system have been named after very different but sort of similar Earth analogues. Something in it makes life on other planets and in the vast spaces between the planets possible, and humankind has spread.

The movie business has taken over the moon, in this strange Art Deco-punk world, where something in the soil turns everyone blue, but everyone paints their skin so as not to show up strangely on screen on the other planets where they are not blue. There's this basic artifice at the movies before the first word is written or the first camera run.

Severin grew up in front of the camera, left on her famous director father's doorstep one stormy night, and the arrival was promptly restaged for his favourite camera, Clara. She turned away from his silent dramas to her own talkie documentaries, but Radiance makes the point that there are still choices in documentaries as to what is filmed and what is shared. We don't get to know Severin, we get to know the version of herself she chose for the world to see, the version that her audiences would never get to interact with. And we get the stories of her fated last documentary expedition, from those who loved her and possibly those who loved and hated her at the same time, as well as the young boy in the deserted town she found on Venus. We get all the lead-up to her disappearance, and we get her father's scripts trying to fit her story into a noir mystery, a fairy tale, a historical drama, and back to a mystery, one where all is revealed in one drawing-room scene.

But his answer to what happened to her, and indeed, to the secrets of the solar system, the callowhales, and the universe(s) aren't any more definitive than any of the movie transcripts, interviews, gossip columns or other accounts of which book is made up. This book is all about the gaze, but the person everyone is gazing at is gone, and as after every death, there are hanging threads and stories that are unfinished, there are questions unanswered. There is absence in the presence of all the material world they left behind. We turn our gaze on what's left behind, trying to make it make sense.

And the callowhales swim(?) on.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

 *Some Spoilers Below*

McEwan is very interested in obsession, in small events that mean little to one person, but everything to someone else. (Also in narratives told by people trying to make sense out of a situation by reconstructing what they think might have or could have happened, but that isn't as applicable here.)  In this case, the moment that spurs obsession is important to both people involved, but one is able to walk away and the other follows, with repercussions that are troubling in their mundanity and lack of poetry.

In the Children Act, Fiona is a judge in family court in the U.K. She mostly oversees divorce cases, custody agreements, separation and alimony. A few of her cases reach the level of national news, as she is a judge at the highest level of this court.

Her home life is a mess - after a protracted period of sexlessness, her husband proposes that they stay together but open their marriage up. AKA, he wants to have sex with someone, and if she's not interested, he has a someone in mind. Fiona does not take this well, with an anger and betrayal that is both understandable and frustrating when she refuses to consider any valid points he might be making as well. It is an anger that only admits of one side, unlike her work, where she tries to balance competing interests and come up with answers that leave both feeling like they didn't quite get what they wanted. She won't go anywhere near that as a solution here though - it's all or nothing, and no in-between is possible.

As she's reeling from this, she's faced with a new case - a young Jehovah's witness, only three months under the age of majority and full control over his own medical decisions, has leukemia, and is refusing treatment. The hospital is suing to gain temporary custody, to force treatment that includes blood transfusions.

I'm not going to talk about the eventual ruling she comes to too much, but it does feel like this is very different in British law than Canadian. Because I've played a Jehovah's Witness for medical students many times, I know that there isn't a clearcut age at which people get to make their own medical decisions - there are guidelines, but a great deal of it rests on the ability of the person to recognize both the dangers and possible outcomes, and to make a decision that could be accepted as reasonably adult. It's a sliding scale, and assessments like Fiona does here (I keep wanting to call her Ruth for some reason - why is that?)  would be part of the process, absolutely. But the letter of the law wouldn't be that much help. (And honest to goodness, being three months too young to make your own medical decisions would be extraordinarily likely to be deemed competent.)

It is the letter of the law Fiona relies on here, when she decides that those three months make all the difference. The boy, Adam, lives, and when he realizes his parents are happy he did so, loses his faith. He pushes them away, but as much as he might see it as a freeing of himself, he's trying to exchange one authority for another. That's where the obsession comes in. He starts to see Fiona as wise beyond just the parameters of her decision - someone who could teach him how to live, if she'd just let him come and live with her and learn from her.

While the decision was important to Fiona, Adam's life isn't important to her own in the same way, and she, with a few missteps, does not incorporate him into her life. Adam, who really is very young, sees that as another authority rejecting her, and what he does next proceeds from there, and from being at sea in a world drastically different than the one he thought he was living in. Wanting certainty, he doesn't get it in the judge who made the decision that changed his life.

It's an interesting book, with tension and things not said, expectations not expressed, running all the way through it. Probably firmly on the liked but didn't love scale.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2017: Round One, Part Three 

Round One Continues!

Bye #3 - The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler vs. Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

I am a huge Octavia Butler fan, and like to talk about the five books of hers that I've read as often as I can gracefully  haul them into conversation (or ungracefully, I'm not really a subtle person). So I was delighted to pick up this collection of two previously unpublished short stories. The second shorter one is the real gem, but there is no doubt that this is going to win out over Waistcoats and Weaponry. I liked this Gail Carriger more than I did her -less series, but it's fluff. Nothing wrong with fluff, but that can't come anywhere near Butler's chops.
Winner: Unexpected Stories

 First Person Peculiar by Mike Resnick vs. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon 

This is an oddly difficult choice. I think I gave Elizabeth Moon's book four stars when I initially rated it on Goodreads, and definitely my review was more favourable than my one for First Person Peculiar, which I found distressing in a few ways. But as I've sat with The Speed of Dark, my discomfort has grown, and so this is one of those cases where the space between reading and considering it in this competition hasn't cemented a book in my favour. Still, there are a whole lot fewer (read: none) dead prostitutes in The Speed of Dark. But don't count on it sticking around in the competition for long.
Winner: The Speed of Dark

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson vs. The Hidden Family by Charles Stross

In very general terms, I like Charles Stross a lot, and I think he's had at least one book on my top ten list in the last few years. That being said, this is not my favourite series of his - it's very early and his writing skills are not as developed as they will be. And in this battle, it's up against Kate Atkinson, whose Life After Life (a related book to this one) just destroyed me. I might not have been quite as intensely affected by A God in Ruins, but it's so good, and so difficult. 

Winner: A God In Ruins

 Bye #4 - The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo vs. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Oof, this is one of those cases where I barely remember one of the books. I think I remember a few of the specifics of the plot of Cereus Blooms at Night, but since I read it earlier this year, it has left barely a ripple on my consciousness. In contrast, Holly Black's book wasn't high literature, but it was solid YA with a fairy tale tinge, which everyone knows is one of my favourite subgenres.

Winner: The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson vs. Greenglass House by Kate Mitford

I have, in general, enjoyed the Poul Anderson books I've read to date. This is very, very early Anderson, and it shows. It's...not great. Really not. In the other corner, we have a book that I enjoyed a great deal more than I expected to. I liked the integration of roleplaying into the story, and was comforted by the warmth running through the whole book. This is a great one for kids and almost-young-adults.

Winner: Greenglass House

The Week in Stories: Masque of the Red Death

Character Creation

A week ago, we made up characters and started to play our first session of Masque of the Red Death - prep took longer than we're used to, so we didn't get a lot of playing time in, but character creation was fun. Amanda, whom I've played with for a long time, and I both wanted tarot readings to base our characters on, so she came over a little early and I did them for both of us. As always, this led interesting places.

Notably, the first thing that fell into place connecting the two characters was that in the "sex, death, and occult interests" (I think, but it could also have been in the "romance" spot), Amanda got the Ace of Wands. Which, in the Robin Wood deck, is an extraordinarily phallic card. A wand with DNA running down the middle of it, with two sunflowers as balls. So, she started off interpreting that as that she was in a relationship, but possibly a relationship that was only sex-deep.

Then I did mine next, and the very first card, in the "appearance, health, wellbeing" spot, was that same Ace of Wands. Which was interesting - I really don't tend to play male characters. I mean, I might have for a one-shot, but I've been more comfortable playing women or non-binary characters and given the general under-representation of those groups in the hobby, was good with that. But this seemed pretty clear - a guy, and probably the guy Amanda's character was sleeping with? We batted that idea around for a while, and decided that was the case. And also that the sex was really good.

However, another woman kept showing up in my cards, and where Amanda's cards had been almost all blondes, my reading was tending heavily towards dark-haired women. (The deck we were using has really no ethnic diversity, alas.)  And, in the "marriage" spot, I got the Death card. So it seemed clear that while my character and Amanda's were sleeping together, my character had lost someone he was in no way over. I decided it was a fiancee, and that it was in losing her that my character had had his first encounter with the supernatural.

(My darling husband Bill, as GM, had told us to think up a first encounter with the supernatural, and that it had to have a cost. I later saw the sheet where it laid out how to do that mechanically and was amused that I'd already incorporated no less than three of the "costs" into my character - losing someone close to my character, turning away from my family and friends, and an alcohol problem.)

Amanda and I collectively decided that her character didn't know about my character's deceased (or at least disappeared - the body was never found, and it's always good to give the GM some juicy potential for a lost love coming back as some kind of supernatural horror) fiancee. My character hadn't shared that, and didn't plan to.

Which gave rise to a whole bunch of little ideas we came up with about how much my character (Roydon St. James) thought about his fiancee. That he and Amanda's character, Abbie, had first slept together on the first anniversary of his fiancee's death, when he was looking for distraction. That the reason he always knew exactly how long they'd been together (8 months, 23 days) was not romantic - at least not for her. It's because he always knew exactly how long it had been since Carrie had died. Ouch.

When we sat down to game, I ran upstairs and grabbed the locket I have with pictures of my parents inside it - it looks like it could be vaguely Victorian, at least for the purposes of the game, so I put it on and tucked it inside my shirt - always there, always hidden.

In play, Roydon ended up being more gallant than I was expecting - maybe because some of the other characters kept questioning the abilities of his lover and of his sister (one of the other players came up with a backstory with similar parents, so it was a good opportunity to throw another connection in there), and Roydon kept coming to their defense. (That's part just him, part how much I don't really enjoy when playing a historically-rooted game means I get to deal with rampant sexism unless that is specifically the challenge I've asked for. Apparently that defensiveness extends to my male characters, at least in this case.)  Roydon and Abbie were sweeter than I was expecting, and that's actually a good place to start out.

Now, for the challenge. To find the small ways in which he is too wrapped up in his pain to be a good partner all the time. To find the ways in which he hides his secrets, the moments when they almost bubble to the surface. The times that remind him of the death of his fiancee so keenly it's harder to hide the pain. (Having his sister about is great - she'll likely spill the beans sooner or later.) When does he drink? What does it look like? When does he lose control, or almost so? How does he hurt Abbie inadvertently? I've shot this character through with fractures, now it's a matter of finding the right kind of pressure to bring them to the fore.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Venus Prime Book 1 by Paul Preuss

As I sit down to write this review, the first question that comes to mind is: "why does this book exist?"  That's not an encouraging start to the review, and may give a hint or two to my general impression. I'd also like to mention that it's the first of something like five books, and despite the fact that I got all of them in a Humble Bundle, this is the one I'll be finishing with. I've seen the tricks, I'm not impressed, I'm done.

But it sounds like this book had a weird genesis, and I probably should investigate a bit more, but at a certain point, a book has to stand on its own merits. The full title of this is Arthur C. Clarke's Venus Prime, but it is notably not by Arthur C. Clarke, and it sounds like the author got permission from Clarke or his estate (not sure if this was before or after he died) to write a series of books around a bunch of Clarke short stories, trying to tie them together into a harmonious whole.

There's a large portion of me that wonders why the fuck, other than wanting Clarke's name on the cover to sell more books than a previously unknown author. But most authors want to find their own voice. I have very occasionally seen established authors writing in another author's fictional universe and doing it well. But far more often it seems like a marketing ploy rather than an artistic choice.

That's certainly the case here - the story doesn't hang together well, the pacing is spotty and strange, as we jump from what are probably the gaps between one story and the next, and maybe that would make more sense if you knew everything Clarke had ever written, and I tend to find Clarke more sterile than engrossing, so I don't.

But oh, the characters are so bad. The dialogue is often so bad. Their motivations are poorly sketched out, the attempts for depth almost laughable.

And speaking of laughable, you all know about my little collection of terrible sex writing in science fiction, right? I would like to humbly submit this entry to the hall of fame:

"God, that shelf, those majestic flanks, those vibrant calves"

In Venus Prime, this is how one female character lover assessed her female lover. I canvassed the lesbians I knew, the other queer people I knew, the heterosexual people I knew. Everyone has agreed that they would never use those words in that order when thinking about a woman.  Much less try to posit them as sexy! There were a lot of "are we talking about a horse?" comments.

Most of the writing was not quite this bad, but lord, not much of it was great. Some aspects of the story were passable, but then there'd be a weird pacing jump, or someone would do something that didn't make enough sense. The completely separate part of the story about two men trapped in a spaceship with enough air for one was by far the best part of the book, but the surrounding stuff wasn't good, and while that was the most interesting, it was also not central to the main plot.  I think? Because there are a bunch of plots here, and they're not clearly prioritized, just kinda mashed together like playdough, turning an ugly brownish-gray.

There was a woman who'd been physically and mentally modified by the government and escaped a mental institution and then infiltrated the customs agents. (...oh-kay?) There was a woman who wanted a rare book. There was the two men trapped in the space ship. There were a few other things going on. That's as close as I can get to a synopsis.

And a final thought: NEVER refer to your girlfriend's flanks. Please? For me?

Friday, 3 November 2017

Dust Cover Dust-Up 2017: Round One, Part Two

Round One Continues!

I know this round will mostly be full of easy choices, but this is a no-brainer! I really enjoyed the medieval romp that was Baudolino, and the only romping in The Border was really terrible sex scenes and a lacklustre plot.

Winner: Baudolino

How It Is by Samuel Beckett vs.  World of Trouble by Ben Winters 

I still feel vaguely ashamed that I only got the barest bones of what How It Is is about. I mean, I get it, what? I like experimentation, but also something a little more, like characters. Or a plot. Or beautiful writing. So this one was not for me. It seems like a book that is meant for English grad students and pretty much no one else. World of Trouble was much more accessible, but also very thoughtful about the world within it, as we come to the end of the Last Policeman trilogy. This was a journey I was happy to be on.
Winner: World of Trouble

Bye # 2: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

The Buried Giant  by Kazuo Ishiguro vs. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

In this case, we have two books I enjoyed. I found Abercrombie's vaguely YA much more palatable than his adult grimdark stuff. And if we're talking about worlds with low levels of technology and a vaguely fantastic feeling about them, this is a good match-up. In the end, though, Yarvi's journey really can't match up to Ishiguro's melancholy look at memory and old age in Arthurian Britain.
Winner: The Buried Giant

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie vs. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

Um...sorry, Joe Abercrombie? I feel bad knocking two of your books out in two successive Dust Cover bouts, but although I enjoyed both, neither were one of my favourites of the year. Particularly not when one of your books is up against financial fraud in space with mermaids.
Winner: Neptune's Brood

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz vs. This Census Taker by China Mieville

 Phew, it's kind of a relief to have fairly easy choices! Although this one is odd - although I liked This Census-Taker well enough, I read it around the time my mother died, and therefore there is no review of it. And I have, quite frankly, gotten more and more bewildered about the book since I read it, and I've taken the step of listening to the audiobook as well. But I am a Mieville fan, and enjoyed this weird and inexplicable book more than I did the sisters being passive-aggressive at each other.

Winner: This Census-Taker