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2017-10-08 06:30 pm

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Elysium

3/5. How to describe this? A string of vignettes setting personal concerns – illness, disputes, romance -- against glimpses of an alien invasion of Earth and its aftermath. Except each vignette reshuffles the constellation of main characters, changing genders and interrelationships and sociological settings. The main two are sometimes men, sometimes women, sometimes lovers, sometimes siblings, sometimes something else.

This is strange and slippery and very accomplished, on a technical level. The shape of an actual novel doesn’t emerge until the last quarter or so; before that it’s all in the art of the iterative vignettes that circle the same stories from different angles. There’s a lot to unpack here, and a lot of it remains inexplicable to me (WTF with the owl, I ask you?). The parts I do get are playing interesting rhetorical games with science fictional tropes and gender, which I dig.

So I found this rewarding. But it’s also just that little bit not my thing, and I suspect someone whose more interested in metafiction would get more out of this.
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2017-10-07 12:06 pm

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Europe in Autumn

3/5. In a post EU-collapse Europe, an Estonian chef is recruited into a shadowy currier organization whose expertise is moving things and people across Europe’s ever-shifting borders.

This book got a huge amount of praise when it first came out, and honestly, for the first 2/3 of it, I really didn’t get it? I mean, it was fine, but also slow and pretty aimless. And I particularly didn’t get why so many scifi fans were into this and classified it as one of theirs. I mean, yeah, it had throwaway references to near future technology, and there’s the political speculation, but otherwise it was just a string of spy vignettes.

And then the genre jerked sharply to the left around the 83% mark. I sensed something coming, but totally did not guess what, until it landed and I said “oh! Why didn’t you say that 150 pages ago!”

So. It’s a book about borders. And securing them. And slipping through them. And drawing them and redrawing them and the contours they carve into the societies that straddle them. It’s really quite interesting, in retrospect, and excellent setup for a series. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to audio of that series, so I’m left with a book that didn’t get to the fucking point until the very end and then wandered off leaving me unsatisfied.
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2017-08-06 09:04 pm

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, Lola Rogers (trans)

The Core of the Sun

3/5. Translation from the Finish. A weird (that's a genre designation, to be clear) specfic alternate history where women have been "domesticated" – i.e. genetically and socially altered to be stupid, docile, and of a specific blonde stacked phenotype. I assume it serves as sufficient content notes to say that this is a society where depriving a man of heterosexual sex is considered a violation of his human rights. Our protagonist was born with the right look, but the wrong mind. She can pass as an "eloi," but she's actually a morlock, or one of the women too smart to be allowed to reproduce (yes, that's an HG Wells reference). Anyway, all of that is backdrop to an exceedingly strange story about her addiction to capsaicin and the synesthetic, transcendental high she can get from it.

So let's talk about the omegaverse, since I spent most of this book thinking about it. The thing is. The thing is. I have always been dubious of the omegaverse, occasionally entertained by it, occasionally impressed by it. And this book made me think about it a lot because it's another universe where a gender's sociopolitical inferiority – and its status as sexual and reproductive slaves in all but name – is specifically rooted in biology. In actual biology, I mean, not in the largely illusory things that are supposed to define the difference between men and women in our world. Women in this book are genuinely unintelligent and genuinely unable to care for themselves; it's lack of schooling, yes, but it's also physiological. Omegas in a lot of "traditional" omegaverse are physiologically programmed for social and sexual submissiveness and passivity to the point where consent and autonomy no longer have any meaning.

And I just. I have come to be pretty certain that a universe in which rape culture is coded into biology isn't going to be telling me anything particularly new or interesting or insightful about our universe, in which rape culture is encoded into . . . culture.

This book didn't (though it was doing a number of other interesting things . . . did I mention the capsaicin addiction? And our protagonist's missing sister, and a last-minute turn to the . . . weirdly fantastical?). And very, very, very few omegaverse stories ever have, either, though many of them explicitly claim to be doing so. Which is not a huge surprise, but it was nice that this book worked me through my thought process on it.
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2017-07-19 10:04 pm

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Amatka

4/5. My vacation* book. A woman goes to a neighboring colony for work, gets involved with her (lady) housemate, and discovers that there is something very, very wrong with their world. Oh, and by the way, this is on a planet(?) where objects only hold their shape/meaning if they are properly and repeatedly labeled with the right word. Trust me, it makes more sense in context. Well . . . it makes more thematic sense.

This is weird and wonderful and requires a lot of work. It's in translation (from Swedish), but it's a very skillful one, as far as I can tell. Which is necessary for a slim, intense, calculated book like this, where words really count. I keep thinking about this book – about how it intersects language and oppression, and about its explicable-if-you-work-hard ending. And the worldbuilding – it's spare but sharp as a knife, as the contours of this authoritarian democracy come into relief. For example, there's a wonderful detail that seemed to open up the whole book for me, about how poetry serves an entirely different function in this world than it does in ours.

And I really like the protagonist's slide into disobedience. Her inability to play along anymore is part old personal history, part recent stress and it makes sense. But not in a paint-by-numbers tragedy-happens-to-a-plucky-person way. More like . . . yes. That is how you slide a tiny bit out of step with your community, then a tiny bit more, and a tiny bit more, and suddenly, bam. You're in a different world.

Content notes: Discussion of reproductive coercion, some forced medical stuff by the authorities, etc.

*Vacation: in which we went to see my dying father and I don't know if I'll ever see him again, and also I retired my dog and settled her with her puppyraisers and I don't know if we'll ever see her again, and then we did some hiking. Do I know how to decompress from work or what?
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2017-05-21 09:17 pm

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes

3/5. Locked spaceship mystery in which six clones wake up with missing memories on a generation ship lightyears from earth in the bloody wreckage of their prior deaths.

When I say that this book is "fun" and "a palate-cleanser" it should be understood that includes stabbings. Lots of stabbings. And six cagey, pissed off people running around an enclosed space alternately feeding and attempting to kill each other. There's this vague philosophical underbelly going on about the things you might expect – immortality and the ways it changes you – but let's be real, I was here for stabbings and plot twists and revenge schemes.

But I mostly wanted to talk about the fact that the author reads the commercial audio. This is a thing that is happening more often, and I get why it seems like a good idea. But you know what? Audio narration is a skill, and it takes practice, and probably also some innate talent. Mary Robinette Kowal has been doing it for a while, and she was pretty good reading her own stuff. Same with Emma Newman, who has extensive experience and who really knocked her own Planetfall out of the park (and who has the advantage of a lovely voice to work with). Lafferty does podcasts, but that really isn't the same thing as performative reading, and well. She's just not that good. She's also not bad, but she's a little affectless, a little forced. And this is how she'll get better, I guess, but it really pointed out how a mediocre narrator can make awkward writing truly thud. The dialogue in this book is, well. How do I put this? A really good, seasoned performer probably could have saved a lot of it with effort. Lafferty could not.
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2017-04-30 09:52 pm

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky

4/5. She's a witch; he's an engineer. They find each other in the pressure cooker of junior high, lose each other, then come together again as adults in the weird petri dish of San Francisco on the brink of climate? Apocalypse.

My pick for the Hugo. (The Jemisin is also great, but it's middle-book-of-a-trilogy great, so). This is just weird and not quite like anything else and prickly. And surprisingly sincere. I tried to describe it and was deeply irritated to hear myself saying "it's sort of about genre," which is true in only the least interesting sense of this book. I mean, yeah, she lives in a fantasy novel and he lives in a science fiction novel, and their stories bleed together, but whatever, that's not interesting. And yeah, this book is slippery as a fish – it eels through a sort of grimly humorous A Series of Unfortunate Events phase, and then does this incredibly and specifically San Francisco twenty-something romance thing, oh and then there's an apocalypse, but whatever, lots of books change their spots. So then I asked myself what exactly I meant by "genre," and.

This book is about different modes of not just nerdiness, but of freakishness. And it's about different ways of approaching the big problems of humanity. Those are both pretty good definitions of genre, in this instance.
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2017-04-12 10:09 pm

If Then by Matthew De Abaitua

If Then

2/5. Post economic collapse. A small community lives under the rule of The Process, an algorithm programmed to run their lives to maximize fairness and happiness. Then there's a lot of brain implants and philosophical arguments and violently awful World War I battle simulations, and it's all weird as hell.

The best book that I've viscerally disliked in quite a while. It is good – there's all sorts of chewiness to this. Pieces that you can keep turning and turning after reading. I could go on about self-determination and collective violence and collective inaction and whatever.

But. But I didn't like it's smug omniscient slant. And I really didn't like the way my back had tensed up by the 20% mark. I'm not sure I can put my finger on all the subliminal cues I was picking up, but I was just waiting for a steaming pot of misogyny right to the face. Which didn't quite happen – in so many words – except. You know when a dude writes a woman thinking about sex, and it is just so incredibly a dude writing a woman thinking about sex? Like, you can spot the dude component of that from space? Yeah.

Basically, I felt totally vindicated when I discovered, around the 75% mark, that the author is the sort who will publicly complain about a review of his book that he doesn't like. Which is just. Never ever ever a good look. Particularly when the reviewer is a woman who called out some potential misogyny.
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2017-03-18 10:56 am

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Infomocracy

3/5. A scifi thriller about a messily contested election in a future "microdemocracy," where the units of government are one hundred thousand person "centenals," each of which can vote in its own government – corporate, idealist, religious, policy-based, environmentalist, whatever. The supermajority is up for grabs, and the "neutral" information organization that makes the whole system run just wants to keep it standing.

More thriller than scifi. The world-building is both great and not – I kept going Okay, but… over things, but to be fair, if you take several steps back, you really ought to go okay, but… over our current concept of nation state nationalism too, so. And bits of this did make me snort painfully. Like how you can lead a citizen to information, but you can't make him think. But it's mostly a thriller with thriller problems: the women are compulsively sexualized, the male lead is a dull doof, there are weird and gratuitously pointless action sequences in evening gowns, you know the sort of thing. I think Ada Palmer's micro non-democracy in Too Like the Lightning is going similar places, and that's a much better book.

But. It did finish with this, as two of our main characters, both political operatives of different sorts, tiredly contemplate their post-election futures, and maybe, just maybe, leaving politics.


"You really think you could live like that?" Mishima is trying to imagine what it would take to slow her pulse down, how it would feel. She imagines the problematic mountain range of her psyche smoothing into a gentle, dull plane, the colors overlapping into blah. Even if she survived like that, even if she liked it, she can't imagine it would last. There would be an emergency somewhere, someone would call her, offer her payment and per diem, tell her she's the only one who can help, and that would be it.


Shut up, I thought savagely. You don't know me.
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2017-03-05 11:38 am

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

4/5. A strange, rather inexplicable short short novel about a trade caravan passing through a jungle where, if you leave the path, you could end up in another time or another universe.

Which is only the palest description of this weird, frustrating book. It's a queer love story whose queerness is part in gender, part in the alienness of the protagonists with their "godlike" heritage. It's an exercise in code-switching from the trappings of epic fantasy to a very specific kind of scientific discourse to a range of equally specific dialects, most particularly African-American slang. It's playful and deliberately dislocating – there's this great joke that Wilson plays where the reader is caught out with all of their startled attention on the word "nigga" in a sentence, while the narrative lays attention on a completely different word. It plays games like that with language and the code-switching, and it is beautiful and playful and interesting.

Reviewers have said this is a novella questioning the underpinnings of traditional fantasy – its whiteness in a linguistic and cultural sense. I think that's right, but I also think there's a broader genre playfulness going on here. If you go off the path, who knows where you could end up, and this book goes way off the path.

And it ends ambiguously in exactly the way that I hate, but I'll let it go this time because this was otherwise such a unique trip.
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2017-02-19 09:35 pm

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae

3/5. Is anyone else old enough to remember the documentation challenge from SGA Flashfic way back in the day? That's what this is. A story of two teenagers, who happen to be exes, who survive the destruction of their illegal colony and flee the planet with the evil corporate ships chasing them, but then the zombie plague starts running through their ships like wildfire. Except this is told entirely in documents – interview transcripts, chatlogs, various military files, intelligence summaries, AI data, etc.

This is about 80% extremely effective space horror/fight-for-your-life and about 20% facepalmy teenager terribleness. I do, however, want to pause to say that the commercial audio of this is excellent. It's a multi-voice production, with people playing parts so the chat logs sound like conversations. But the real power of the production is in a few, tiny sections, put in purely for the emotional impact. Like the excerpts from a casualty list near the beginning, or fragments of the messages a couple dozen people we never actually meet send out into the dark when they know they are about to die. The audio bleeds one voice into the next for the reading, so it's just this wall of – yeah. It works.

Much of the book works. It's awful and scary and grim as our heroine begins to suspect she is being lied to, and the plague heats up, and the ship AI starts to go . . . a little weird. But it's sprinkled through with such poor choices. Like blurring out the profanity – it's supposed to be an ironic commentary on the blah blah blah. It's mostly just irritating. And the teenagers are so cringily teenagers. Like, I kept telling myself it was good writing that they're so melodramatic and emo and ridic, but that didn't mean I rolled my eyes any less.

Still. This book got me in the end. The last quarter is so … harrowing is the only word I have. This is what young adult is allowed to be now, after Hunger Games. I do think that massive spoilers for the end )
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2017-01-16 01:47 pm

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind

4/5. A three-strand narrative. A young woman in the fourteenth-century learns to paint from her artist father and is sent to a convent. In 2015, a girl goes with her artist father to China on a business trip while mourning her mother and working on her own art – hand-sewed jean jackets. In the twenty-second century, a young woman returns to the parthenogenic household she shares with her sister to take a job at a restitution institution, whose goal is to resurrect the reputations of women artists unfairly suppressed by history.

So I spent the first half of this book a bit bored and confused by it. Someone – I was pretty sure – had told me it was brilliant, but maybe I was misremembering? This writing was so plain, these scenes so straight-faced, these threads so disconnected.

Then a switch flipped and I sat up and said "Oh, it is brilliant."

It is. There is such a complex, folded structure underneath all that simplicity. About women's art and women's work and women's spaces – the convent, the cloistered partho household where multiple generations of women bear children without men's input. It all lines up not directly, but at unexpected angles, creating strange intersections of thought. And these three women, spaced over eight hundred years, are positioned to tell us with the shape of their lives about a change in women's places and spaces over time. It is far from a triumphalist story of women's liberation, but also not quite 'the more things change the more they stay the same.' But something complicated in between.

And over it all, this book is about the mind sliding off women's work and women's art. Dismissing it, downplaying it, ascribing it to men, contextualizing it by men. And to do this, the book's mind slides off women's work, too, in a way. A deliberate, telling way. This incredibly plain writing is so subtle, I very nearly missed it entirely.
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2017-01-08 01:40 pm

Catalyst by James Luceno

Catalyst

2/5. Star Wars. Prequel to Rogue One with the backstory of Jyn's parents. Given to me by my wife because it was described as "more philosophical" Star Wars, which, yikes. This is supposed to be about having your work and your talents suborned to a cause you oppose. In actuality, it is about Orson Krennic, galactic creeper and sufferer of Tiny Dick Syndrome. He spends this entire book obsessed with Galen Erso, jealous of his intelligence, plotting to control him and, eventually, to kill his wife and kid. I mean that's . . . pretty accurate? But zero fun to read. Also, this whole thing is so clumsy – and Galen Erso is so mountainously stupid – that by the end I was glad that Rogue One spoilers ).
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2017-01-02 09:45 pm

Radiance by Catherynne Valente

Radiance

3/5. An indescribably complicated and wonderfully weird palimpsest novel. In an alt history twentieth-century where the pulp scifi vision of the solar system as entirely habitable by humans is true, a documentarian has gone missing while filming on site of a vanished village on Venus. The backbone of the book is the movie her famous director father makes, and scraps, and remakes, and scraps, and remakes about her disappearance, each iteration in a different genre mode. On that skeleton are hung nonlinear fragments of script from both their movies, transcripts of their family movies, letters, diaries, etc. etc. It's about space whales and metaphors and layered stories, and it is great.

And I am a crank who has a hard time getting into this sort of metafiction, so I can appreciate that it's brilliant but also not feel it, you know? It is brilliant, though, and the more I think about it the more convinced of it I am. Some of you guys are going to go bananas over this. If a book that can reasonably be described as "decopunk" appeals to you, you probably know who you are.

Unrelated note: Thus endeth the 2016 reading. As mentioned before, I am going to spend 2017 reading only authors I have not read before. I am excited!
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2016-12-03 10:56 pm

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate

4/5. Sequel to the devastating and disturbing The Fifth Season. Part two – continuing survival in an apocalyptic landscape in the remnants of a civilization that enslaved those with the power to control the earth – is just as devastating! And more disturbing! And, as in the first book, this one rotates around parent/child pairs and teacher/student pairs of various sorts, so, uh, content note for about seven different kinds of child harm.

This is one of those trilogies that is fantasy on the surface, but becomes slowly more science fictional the deeper you get into it. It's an interesting effect, and I was surprised to find myself caring about it so much. I think it matters here not just for genre line-drawing, but because the intertwined modalities – fantasy, science fiction – are looking at the question of wielding power from different perspectives, and have different perspectives on what knowledge is good for. That matters, in books about the slavers and the enslaved.

So. Still really good. Still a zillion content notes (which, as always, I am happy to supply upon request). Book one went to eleven and book two escalated, so who the fuck knows how much book three will screw me up, stay tuned.
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2016-09-18 03:19 pm

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota)

4/5 (this is me leaving some room for the rest of this series). I read this months ago while traveling, and also explaining this book takes many many words, so let me shorthand. Futuristic post nation state post organized religion sorta post gender science fiction about powerbroking and politics and miracles. And really, really awesome. Have some bullet points.

• I think the SF field is going to bend around this series, once it's done. Just a feeling. And I'm personally looking forward to all the books that are going to be fans of this series and arguing with this series and really mad at this series. Not just that I think some of those books are going to be good books, but also that I think it will all take us through some philosophical territory that I'm looking forward to.

• Remember how I complained that the linguistic gender stuff in Ancillary Justice was fun but kinda pointless? Yeah, this book is set in a culture where the polite pronoun for everyone is ungendered, and it is doing so much stuff with that, I probably lost track. Our narrator plays with gender occlusion and disclosure in hilarious and pointed ways. You end up in the end with a pretty clear idea of who is supposed to be what gender, but very little certainty that you are right, but a lot of certainty that being right is so not the point. Because fundamentally, gender in this book is about performance of a gendered role – often a gendered stereotype – and the narrator is therefore generally uninterested in what is actually in people's pants. It's great, and I look forward to future developments, and I also think this Strange Horizons reviewer really did not get it (that review does give a much more detailed picture of the worldbuilding than I do, though, along with what I consider a spoiler).

• This book fucks with genre. It's science fiction that uses the word "miracle" with deliberation. And the miracle in question – animating objects like toy soldiers with a touch – is jarringly weird in this secularized, very sciency future. I struggled with this for a while, until a twist introduced a particular kind of ridiculously terrible, over-the-top violence into the book, into this society that barely knows what murder is anymore, and I went 'ah' and started looking for other pieces that don't fit. That break the pattern in your head, break your assumptions, make you uneasy and unhappy the way the word "miracle" made me uneasy and unhappy. If this society makes it through the whole series intact, I am going to be very very surprised.

• I laughed. Out loud, unexpectedly, and very ungracefully, in the middle of a sidewalk. It was at the word "Jehovah." Oh, how I laughed. You'll know it when you see it.

• A lot of specfic set in the future is anchored unmistakably in the twenty-first century. Like there are two points in history – today and the speculated future – and the only work of worldbuilding is to draw a line from here to there. This book draws its line instead from the nineteenth century (mostly), which makes for an entirely different and richer experience of created history. Not a totally new idea – Robert Charles Wilson tried this in his Julian Comstock, but this is far more successful.

Next book in December, please and thank you.
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2016-07-17 04:22 pm

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of Empire Book 1)

3/5. A soldier is tasked with taking back a fortress, and to get the job done she is implanted with the consciousness of an infamous undead general, greatest tactician in history, heretic, murderer of his own people.

One of the cooler weird as fuck things I've read recently. This is a universe where power is defined by "math" – i.e. where civilizations create patterns of loyalty and ritual which, due to magic math, define the parameters of reality, down to what weapon's work, how FTL travel functions, what day it is, etc. Fighting with an insurgent rebellion is complicated when the rebellion redefines its own "calendar," meaning your realities only sort of talk to each other, and fighting back isn't just about violence (though lordy there is a lot of that) but about moving the complex variables.

So cool worldbuilding, though like you might expect, there's a lot of handwaving under the banner of math, and because the rules are so abstruse, it can occasionally feel like the book is cheating by dropping in some whackadoodle turn that you literally had no way of anticipating. But I mostly liked this for the main characters. They're sharing a head, and they argue a lot, and they fight a siege, and they also sit around and watch terrible romantic dramas with their robots while mutually attempting to outthink/mindfuck each other.

Ultimately I do think that the final 'redefine reality' turn of this book is far more prosaic and obvious than I wanted -- everyone else was basically expecting it, right? – and I didn't get the 'what!' mindfuck I was jonesing for. But Lee* is doing something really cool and unusual here, and I suspect that my genuine liking for this has the potential to turn into something much bigger as the trilogy unfolds.

*I did say my year of reading women could also be a year of not reading cis men.
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2016-06-26 03:03 pm

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

The Snow Queen

3/5. On a planet whose only significance is the sea creatures who can grant extended life, winter is drawing to a close. Soon technology will withdraw when the wormhole closes, and power will change hands to the summers. The winter queen does not want that to happen, so she seeds the summers with her clones, hoping that at least one will survive to take her place.

My wife has two enormous framed prints, one of the summer queen, one of winter. They might be the cover art? They're currently in a closet, but they were hanging up in our last place with a lot more wall space (seriously, these things are huge). I said when we hung them that they ought not be across a room facing each other, so we ended up putting them on parallel walls offset to each other. Looking toward the same thing, but from a different place. That was accidentally correct on my part, since I hadn't read this yet.

This book is . . . strange, concerned with the shapes of relationships more than the relationships themselves, if you know what I mean. Concerned with the myth, and pacing out its convolutions with these particular people. This sort of thing usually irritates me. I know better than to read that YA series retelling Cinderella on a moon colony; I know it would not go well for me. I always catch myself so completely not getting the point. Like for the first quarter of this book, which I spent entirely focused on whether there is an Earth in this timeline, and if these are very distant Earth colonists, and if so did those Earth people carry this myth? Because they couldn't have, otherwise everyone would be way more self-conscious. But if they didn't, then –

Totally missing the point on these, that's me.

This did win me over. It's amazingly 80's and it made me laugh where it did not mean to, but at its heart it is about intersecting layers of exploitation; how this interstellar power is using a natural resource in, it turns out, a horrifyingly unethical way, how the queen's efforts to snatch power back make her complicit in that, how she in turn exploits her population as her plans spin out. There are intersecting images of captivity – animals in cages, people in cages, machine intelligences stuck on their tracks. It all ticks through with inevitability, which is a thing you don't see much these days. I did mention 80's.

Glad I read it, but this doesn't really speak to me.
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2016-06-19 05:16 pm

Young Wizards 7, 8, and 9 by Diane Duane

Wizard's Holiday (Young Wizards Series Book 7), Wizards at War (Young Wizards Series Book 8), A Wizard of Mars: The Ninth Book in the Young Wizards Series

3/5. More Young Wizards, with a definite science fictional turn in these three (well, more interplanetary travel and cosmic whatsits, anyway – the esthetics of the series remain solidly fantasy).

I liked these, but in a measured way. The series matures with our heroes, whose power is settling down into its adult channels after the exuberance of earlier, and they have to learn to live with that and develop the talents they have. I should find this excellent, and I do, but it was around this point in the series that I started really thinking about the philosophical underpinnings.

The enemy – The Lone Power – is supposedly the champion of entropy, of things running down. And the work of wizardry is to fight entropy wherever found. There's a lovely interview with Duane at the end of one of the early audios -- High Wizardry, I think -- in which it becomes clear that this is a reflection of her view of the world. And it's not mine. Entropy in this series wears the face of the Lone Power, who is alternately frightening and pathetic. And who, we know from book one, is ultimately losing. But he is specifically not the face of evil, even if the things he does are appalling. And there is something uncomfortably slippery in this notion of entropy, something very whoops, guess that just happens, which I think ducks the problem of the active evil that so many people choose to put out into the world. Like in one of these books, for example, the world teeters on the brink of war and mass violence, but it all stops when the kids deal with the magic mcguffin evil cloud. Which implies all sorts of things about world history, according to this universe, that I don't like.

I don't know, I can't get this out right. But essentially I think the philosophy of this series is a bit confused about personal responsibility, and for all its time with the Lone Power, it isn't really equipped to grapple with active malice.

It can grapple with other things, though. The philosophy of these books gets more difficult and adult when Nita's mother gets cancer; Nita's reaction to that and to the Lone Power bring a richness to this idea of bad things just happen. But it still doesn't really satisfy me.
lightreads: a partial image of a etymology tree for the Indo-European word 'leuk done in white neon on black'; in the lower left is (Default)
2016-06-19 01:06 pm

A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane

A Wizard Alone (Young Wizards Series Book 6)

1/5. Aaaaand then this happened.

Hoo boy. Plenty of people have taken this book to task over the years, and I was forewarned. But it still left an awful taste in my mouth.

So, in book six, Nita is working through depression after the death of her mother, and Kit is tasked with helping a new young wizard who is autistic. And it's . . . very sincere and trying so hard, and flavored with the usual kindness of this series. And all so absolutely pervaded with toxic ablism that you can't swallow any part of it without choking a bit.

It's not just the overtly ablest ending spoilers ), and it's not just the way the book parallels depression and autism in frankly weird and off-putting ways. It's the whole *gestures* the whole thing. The imagery used to talk about autistic communication. How at first everyone thinks what they're receiving is extra-terrestrial in origin. How this book implicitly and explicitly treats autism as alienness. As not human.

Duane has rewritten this book, too, and to her credit she apparently spent a fair amount of time absorbing the criticisms of autistic and adjacent readers. But given certain events in the rest of the series, I have a hard time believing she would be able to extricate the overt ablism from the book. It's just too deep.
lightreads: a partial image of a etymology tree for the Indo-European word 'leuk done in white neon on black'; in the lower left is (Default)
2016-06-19 11:51 am

So You Want to Be a Wizard ... by Diane Duane

So You Want to Be a Wizard (Young Wizards Series Book 1), Deep Wizardry (Young Wizards Series Book 2), High Wizardry (Young Wizards Series Book 3), A Wizard Abroad (Young Wizards Series Book 4), The Wizard's Dilemma (Young Wizards Series Book 5)

4/5. Adventures of Nita and Kit, pre-teen wizards in suburban New York.

I have been reading this series slowly for six months. I don't really go in for savor when it comes to books – it's just as good going down fast, fight me! – but once in a while I do. The first five are really strong. They're tense, beautifully-imagined stories of young people riding the first wild wave of power, and learning to use it wisely.

The first book is particularly accomplished, which is unusual for a series. It takes Kit and Nita to an alternate, dark AU New York; the creepy creepy image of the nest where the evil sentient helicopter raises its tiny evil helicopter babies has lingered. As has Nita, holding the book of life in which all truths are written, and lifting her pen, and making a mark. The structure serves these books well; Kit and Nita's greatest victory is the thing they accomplish first, and the rest of the books play out the consequences that echo up and down through time and causality.

Note: Apparently Duane has been editing and re-releasing these books with a modern update, since she has been writing them for thirty years and the 80's stuff is very 80's. I read the originals, and do not regret that decision at all. Frankly, I think her insistence on adding, like, cell phones to make these accessible to modern readers is misplaced, and sort of insulting. Are these early books very 80's? Sure. Is it startling to read about parents allowing their pre-teen children to take the train into NYC alone for a day? Uh, yeah. But I think I – and modern teenagers – are capable of understanding.