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Bunches of Books - Qualified Perceptions
Bunches of Books
# are ebooks, * are audiobooks

(Trigger warning: rape and misogyny at the end. Also, two rants.)

#Rule 34 (by Charles Stross)
Nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke list, for which it earned a rant by Christopher Priest calling Stross an "internet puppy". Of course, now Stross wears this t-shirt. I reference this because Rule 34 is all about that sort of reference, from its title to the random name-dropping of recent people, events, and internet memes all the way through. It starts out as three unconnected narrators (I think I mind the second person narrative voice more than I did in Halting State, where I could kind of justify it; mostly I found it hard to switch narrators in my head), and their stories end up twining together, but it's also about how and why they twine, and who and what is behind that they do. (A random... not a plot, just a thing, is that pretty much all the characters are unremarkably LBGT; poly is the orientation pushing for equality in the not-very-future) Fast-moving, sometimes confusing, and generally entertaining. Four stars.

* The Spirit Thief (by Rachel Aaron)
This one was fun, because of the character more than the plot. As a story, it's enjoyable to follow, but looking at it seriously, the bad guys aren't quite as much of a challenge as they should be, since everyone in the party seems to have a once per book amazing powerup. (If the swordsman can take out an entire platoon, why were they running from a patrol?) So there's maybe not a ton of tension, but there's a lot of zip and energy and snappy amusing dialogue, and the "spirit persuasion/fast talk" is charming. (I did object to one of the protagonists fretting that her master would never forgive her for fighting a great spirit "to protect two criminals and a demonseed" - she seems to have forgotten the country full of people the great spirit is threatening to drown). Three and a quarter fun stars.

Darker Angels, Vicious Grace, Killing Rites (by M. L. N. Hanover)
Books two through four of the "Black Sun's Daughter" series. It really does ramp up. Book one was fine, and the plot was basically "Get 'em! Oops, that failed. Try to Get 'em again!". Book two has a twist. Book three gets seriously dark and has a Big Arc Twist. Book four continues to be dark, and hammers at the schism opened up by the twist, and has some nice heartbreak and some good examples of good guys terribly and irrevocably at odds because of different tenets. The series title is "Black Sun's Daughter"; "Black Sun" only gets a very brief name-drop in book three, but is center stage in book four. Some mysteries are cleared up, others remain. I don't think the series is done; it really is more of a continuous story than most of the "midriff-baring babe" genre books are. Four stars for the series so far. (And this is a pen name for Daniel Abraham, for those who have forgotten).

# Hide Me Among the Graves (by Tim Powers)
I used to love Tim Powers. I have not liked his recent books nearly asmuch, but this sounded like a throwback to his old books - vampires, ghosts, Lord Byron. And in fact it's a sequel to The Stress of Her Regard, which is not one of my most favorites, but is at least old-school. But... the same muddy ennui I get from things like Earthquake Weather hit me here, and I gave up about a third of the way in. Very sad. (Orthogonally, why does Amazon think it is appropriate to put random review quotes of *other* books as "Editorial Reviews"? I am confident that this is not "the summer sleeper hit of 2006", nor is it about the "connection between Einstein and astral projection". All Tim Powers books are not the same - that's my whole dilemma - and it's stupid of Amazon to pretend they are.

# The Technologists (by Matthew Pearl)
(Spoilers Follow) On the plus side, Ellen Swallow as a mystery heroine is lovely. The book writes her proud and straight-laced and brilliant and resolute, and I enjoy her (though as the review in the Tech points out, splicing out random sentences from her letters and turning them into internal soliloquys does her no favors). On the minus side, the Science Disasters are hilariously noodleheaded.
  • I know less about nautical navigation than keithw does, but I'm pretty sure the compass is not the tool you use to keep from running into other boats, any more than the automobile GPS is what you use to keep from hitting other cars.
  • Yes, ergot is a grain poison. But that means it is a fungus that grows on grain and causes accidental poisoning - it doesn't mean that, once you've read up on ergot (from someone else's notes) you can easily poison grain and only grain (or - even sillier - bread and beer) with it. Where do you get ergot in industrial quantities? Reading about poison is very different than having poison on hand. And once you have it, there's no reason to limit yourself to putting it in food with grain as an ingredient!
  • One of the final plots involves an electrical circuit encompassing a bunch of Boston. (What powers it? Maybe the streetlight source of power?) The hero, playing with one part of the circuit, cannot break it, but he can (because he is very clever) "reverse the current" so that it zaps the bad guy instead of setting off the electricity-powered explosives. Now, I can see breaking the circuit so that it shorts out through the bad guy doing that, but "reverse the current" while standing somewhere along a wire is Star Trek handwavium, and I am dubious of any explosives for which plugging them in backwards will matter much.
  • There's this train. It's on fire, so no one can get on board to stop it, though the fire doesn't seem to otherwise impede its operation in any way. And it's chugging through downtown Boston at... very low speeds. I think it's going slower than a walking pace. They calculate they have forty-five minutes to stop it before it crosses the Charles. It is quoted that it takes a quarter of a mile to stop a train - but I don't think that a train moving at any speed takes a quarter mile to stop, as that would, worse than Zeno-like, prevent it from ever stopping. Anyway, the only way our heroes can think of to stop the runaway train is to blow up the bridge over the Charles. I mean, that's a way, but I think if you've got forty-five minutes and tools sufficient to demolish a bridge, you could probably take up a couple of rails somewhere. (Maybe the river is the safest place to put a train on fire, but that didn't seem to enter into the logic). It was a mad low-speed version of Speed.

# Peter and the Starcatchers (by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson)
Peter Pan was never one of my magic stories as a kid, though I do feel the terrible tragedy of the end of the book, with Wendy growing up and Peter forgetting her, like Puff the Magic Dragon in reverse. Being forgotten is the saddest ending in the world. Anyway, I think I was expecting a YA book and it was more of a children's book, and it wasn't as funny as I was expecting for Dave Barry. Well, no, there are funny bits, like talking to the dolphins, but everything that was explicitly building the backstory for Peter Pan felt like it was homework: introduce the pirates. Meet the Indians and create the mermaids. Lose the pirate's hand. Make Peter fly. Make Tinkerbell (actually, this one kind of bothered me - Tinkerbell is intentionally created to look after Peter, which felt unfair to her). But it does get credit for making Molly pretty much Peter's equal as a heroine.

*Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer
I had read some of Heyer's mysteries before, but not her Regency romances. It's an interesting exercise, "writing like Jane Austen but a hundred years later and with slightly feminist women," and from my own point of view, it's very nearly fantasy in terms of being an alien culture. I don't think I would be sympathetic to fiction focusing on the problems of today's ultra-rich, but I found this utterly charming. (And, there's the whole issue of "well, yes, you can be an upper class young woman with money for dresses and servants, but all you can do to survive is marry, and if you don't it's not like you can get a job..." which underscores things with a bit more peril). Four stars.

#The Killing Moon (by N. K. Jemisin)
At this point, I will pretty much read anything Jemisin writes. This one is about priest-ninjas, with a big culture clash underpinning it. She has a knack for writing from opposed points of view and making them all sympathetic, which I really admire, and even the bad guys are somewhat nuanced. Minor characters are clever, and major characters have blind spots rather than being stupid, and the story flows along smoothly. I think there's more to come in this series, but it stands alone quite well (as do the books in her other series). Four and a half stars.
#Wild Cards I (edited by George R. R. Martin)
I read a bunch of this series when it first came out; they were on ebook sale recently, and I thought I would try to read through to get to the Astronomer, one of our nemeses in Conflux. But I've become a bit more sensitive to misogyny since I first read them (in no small part due to Game of Thrones and commentary), so I'm finding it a bit tougher. Of the named women, we have:
  • Blythe, one of the Four Aces. That's a good start, being one of the first four superheroes, but her power is probably the least superheroic use of an ability I've ever seen - she can copy someone's mind (at a cost to her sanity), so she copies great scientists: Einstein, Salk, Teller, Oppenheimer. But not so that she can be a great scientist herself - just to hang around in case one of them dies. As far as her character arc goes, she's the only ace (as opposed to joker) who doesn't seem to be able to control her own powers without help. She's pretty much defined as a victim, and her main plot is to be betrayed to HUAC by the Judas Ace and then then destroyed by Tachyon so he can suffer for the rest of the book for having refrigeratored his lover himself.
  • Some joker prostitutes, and Angelface, whose joker power is to be easily and painfully hurt, so as to set her up for the threat of being gang-raped to death.
  • Some prostitutes who are being murdered, until they can be rescued by their ace pimp, who powers himself up by draining their energy through sex.
  • The hippie communist pretty girl who's the game goal for the main character. Honestly, she's the best of the lot so far despite being treated with some contempt by the story.
  • A rich girl and a bag lady; these might be okay, but the story was so terribly written that I couldn't stay with it. There's a couple of rapes in here too.
  • The next story starts with a rape, to make the point that mind controlling a guy is just as bad as raping and murdering a girl. Which, you know, I'm not really going to claim isn't true, but when the purpose of the rape is to make the reader feel sorry for the rapist... anyway, that was the point that I gave up reading.
I had been trying to get to "Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan", which was written by Carrie Vaughn for the recent re-release of Wild Cards, but since I was complaining about the female characters in order, it would kind of break my point if I skipped ahead to something I thought would be better. So I bought Vaughn's superhero novel instead.

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3 comments or Leave a comment
lillibet From: lillibet Date: June 1st, 2012 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been on a huge Georgette Heyer kick for the past six months or so. I characterize them (at their best) as "Jane Austen as written by Oscar Wilde" and describe them as the novel one reads when lying on the couch eating bonbons.

I highly recommend Black Sheep, Bath Tangle and my personal favorite, The Grand Sophy--although I admit the ending is a bit ramshackle.

The thing I find distinguishes my favorites from my not-so-much is the relatively status of the protagonists--when they're both mature adults, capable of taking care of themselves for the most part, they're great; when it's a seventeen year old girl and a thirty-five year old man and she's afraid of his wrath (even if that's usually a false fear based on the child's own insecurity) I don't find them nearly as enjoyable.
greenlily From: greenlily Date: June 1st, 2012 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've read a bunch of the other Wild Card books. Due to collecting them one-by-one as they showed up on Pandemonium's used-book sections, I read them very much out of order, which I think is the only reason I was able to stomach the first two or three--by the time I read them, I knew things got better later in the series.

The misogyny doesn't improve all that much until you get to the new series (which starts with aces competing on a reality show) . There are female characters with more agency than the ones in the first book, but it's not always written very well and there are a lot of stereotypes and cliches to which the male characters seem less apt to fall victim.

merastra From: merastra Date: June 2nd, 2012 05:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Woah. The Wild Cards series sounds pathetically lame. Thanks for the review so I know what to avoid. :-)
3 comments or Leave a comment