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Seventeen (!) books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Seventeen (!) books
City of Stairs (by Robert Jackson Bennett)
This reminded be a little bit of Max Gladstone's Craft sequence at first - the setting is a century or so after the Gods were killed in the war, reversing the political balance of the world - but Gladstone is dryer and more fiddly, while Bennett is going for a more epic scope, and the story has more passion and (admittedly) melodrama. Also, you can see some of Bennett's previous talent as a horror writer showing in some of the details. In grimdark fantasy, violence is meant to convey the casual brutality of the world; in horror, violence is to shock. So the violence here is sparse, but emotionally significant when it happens. There's also a lot of playing around with colonialism and subjugation, and cool mystery, and a Warehouse of Impossibilities, and where religious intolerance comes from, and some nice spymastery sequences, and lovely solid likeable (and dislikable) characters. It took me a few chapters to get going, but then I could not stop reading this book, not until it was over far too quickly. Five and a quarter stars.

Wanderlust, Doubleblind, Killbox, Aftermath, Endgame (by Ann Aguirre)
I read the first book in the series, Grimspace, last spring; I chugged through the rest of them recently. I have surprisingly little to say for that, though. They're pretty good as personal-scale space opera, and a little YA-ish in both good and bad ways. (Good ways: the focus on resolving angst and relationship issues that feels solid; on the flip side, each book has to have its own source of relationship angst, some of which I have more sympathy for than others. Good: personal responsibility for failings and setting right what you screwed up. Flip side: not *all* social ills are the protagonist's fault, but she seems to take responsibility for all of them.) It's a pretty strong narrative arc through all six books; book five in particular is about fixing a lot of things that got screwed up in previous books, which was an interesting touch. Perfectly fine series, three and a half stars.

Returning my Sister's Face (by Eugie Foster)
I first heard of Eugie Foster in her recent obituary, so this is kind of a sad book to review. But it was a lovely book to read. Fairy tales, original and retold, from China, Japan, and Korea. Unlike most short story collections, there weren't any that really annoyed me or confused me terribly, though they weren't completely homogenous either. Four stars for Dragon players, maybe three and three quarters for anyone else. :)

Station Eleven (by Emily St. John Mandel)
A "post-apocalyptic traveling Shakespeare troupe mystery" is one description I saw of this, but it's really not a mystery. I would have called it The Postman with a travelling Shakespeare troupe instead of a Post Office, but that's really only about half of it. Less than half. So, one thread is the travelling Shakespare troupe/symphony, about twenty years after the flu apocalypse, and one thread is the ongoing flashback of the life of an actor who dies days before the apocalypse, and one thread is the ongoing flashback to the days and months and years after the apocalypse. And one little bitty thread is the plot of the comic book written by one of the characters in the pre-apocalypse (the dead actor's first wife), which is Station Eleven. That all sends kind of muddly, but it holds together remarkably well, in a strange way. The plot I wanted to care most about was the travelling troupe, but the actor-life plot was strangely compelling too. I kept thinking of the actor as a late-middle-aged (he dies playing Lear!) justom, but then I learned he was fifty-one, which is four years older than me, and DAMN IT I AM NOT LATE MIDDLE AGED. I AM NOT LEAR. I AM MAYBE MACBETH AT THE OLDEST. Anyway. It is a melancholy book, full of wistful sadness at the loss of civilization/culture/billions of people, but the pre-apocalypse stories turn it into sadness at the loss of a very specific civilization/culture/dozen people. And that's an odd feeling. I can easily be hypothetically sad over an imaginary future apocalypse, in which I died and everyone I cared about died and all the things I thought were important fell apart. But instead, I'm (more) hypothetically sad over these specific fictional characters. Well, okay, that's always the case in reading stories, that's the point. I'm not sure why it felt odd here. Maybe because I was expecting it to be a story about the travelling troupe, and it was so much of a story about this particular actor and his wives. But, as I said, it worked remarkably well, it was just ... not what I was expecting. Four stars, except possibly they're wandering planets. Hard to tell.

Cibola Burn (by James S. A. Corey)
Book four in the Expanse series - thank you, countertorque for pointing out this is out. It continues to be dramatic and tense and cleverly funny and pointedly idealistic; like previous books, the plot has a lot of piling up "Let's make another twice as much everything go wrong as before", though with the occasional fixing of things for leavening. My only quibble was with the tiny chapters at the beginning and end that frame things to keep the overall political arc moving; it was too disconnected to work properly for me. Five stars, and I can hear tirinian's voice in the second two sentences here:
Apocalyptic explosions, dead reactors, terrorists, mass murder, death-slugs, and now a blindness plague. This is a terrible planet. We should not have come here.

Queen of the Tearling (by Erika Johansen)
There are definitely some bits I liked - the young Queen as an idealist striving for justice, and the cover is nice - but it was a deeply frustrating book. The world-building utterly mystifies me. The setting takes place several hundred years after the Crossing. The Crossing is some time in the future, when... something happens... and the British and the Americans have to send boats... somewhere... to found a new society. (Maybe it is after global warming has flooded all the continents and they are ... well, I really don't know where you would boat to at that point.). I think maybe the country of the Tear was founded by the British and American team, and the other countries were founded by boats from other parts of Europe, but it's not clear. Okay, leaving aside the part about why they had to cross and where they were going, then we have: the kingdom called the Tearling was founded by Willian Tear, the British or American guy, who dreamed of a socialist utopia, and founded a society along those principals. But with no books (because people didn't like books any more because their electronic devices were replacing them), so you could only bring ten books on the Crossing with you. And no technology, except for medical technology, but that was all on one boat, and it sank. So then, Tear is the hereditary monarch of his socialist utopia. Meanwhile, everywhere else in "New Europe", the "democratically elected representatives and their wives" (!) were being slaughtered by the evil sorceress who wanted to become Queen of the New World, because monarchy evil, democracy good, except in the Tearling, which is the *socialist* monarchy. All right, so that was kind of confusing. I really can't tell whether Tear was supposed to be the idealist whose wonderful society fell, or the horrible charismantic cult leader.

There are a lot of other little bits that don't make a lot of sense to me; I started highlighting things, so here are a smattering.

  • "Now, Kel, we make the wire tight enough that the rabbit can't get away, but not so tight that the poor little bastard suffocates before we find him. People have to trap to survive, but a good trapper makes sure the animal suffers as little as possible." I am given to understand that normally, "suffers as little as possible" means "strangles quickly", rather than "thrash and kick and panic and bleed on the wire for hours". What the heck. (We've also been listening to Watership Down recently, and the part with the snares is creepy.)
  • "The lack of affordable doctors was a problem with no clear solution. Pre-Crossing America had reached a height of medical miracle that the world was unlikely to see again, not after the disaster of the White Ship [the boat with the doctors that sank]. Now the Tear's poor died regularly from botched appendectomies conducted at home. But water filtration, even of the most subtle impurities, was gradually being perfected. Hat making continued to advance, and agricultural traditions remained strong."
  • "I want to read the treaty first. There must be some loophole." No, I think that if you are defying the (admittedly awful) conditions of the treaty, you shouldn't expect that the treaty has a loophole written in that makes it okay.
  • Finally: the story doesn't end coherently. The Queen defies the evil Sorcerous Queen, and survives assassination attempts, and... then at the very end, the evil queen's demon tells her to not invade and to not kill the Tear Queen, for unknown but presumably evil reasons. That's the end. There's one character who is presented as a Great Mystery, always masked, except once when he takes his mask off, and the other guy says Gasp! You! But You're Dead! But there's no obvious candidate for who that is suppposed to be, and we never learn. I guess this is being saved for a sequel, but I will never know. Two stars. </ul>

    Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini, Fuzzy Navel, Cherry Bomb (by J. A. Konrath)
    Thisi s the rest of the Jack Daniels series (though it's more like the Main Arc; there are some more books after). Reading them in quick succession is a little funny, with the whole "how many psycho serial killers can Chicago support?" aspect, but that's unavoidable. They continue to be perfectly fine cop.v.serial.killer popcorn; my only qualm was that in the last book, when the viewpoint shifts back and forth between cop and killer, their voices are too similar, especially the continual focus on brand name women's clothes and shoes, which possibly the author thinks all women have. But I suspect that a sociopath raised in an abusive religious household with no media other than the Bible might not have the same focus on Jimmy Choo shoes.

    The Mirror Empire (by Kameron Hurley)
    I have mixed feelings about this book. The worldbuilding is vast and interesting, and definitely does not fall into the "alien monoculture" trap. There are interesting gender things going on, and varied politics, and different cultural mores, and some really lovely moments and dilemmas... but I never quite got caught up in it. Maybe slightly too many different settings and too many characters per setting, so I was always a little lost. Maybe the central driving point (why is the Empress on the side of the invading dimension - I can come up with several potential answers, but none of them really satisfy me...) bugged me, since "because evil" felt way too thin for an otherwise dense book. A strong book that I felt like I wasn't paying hard enough attention for.

    Fluency (by Jennifer Foehner Wells)
    One of the free-ish Kindle Unlimited books, but I gave up halfway through. First contact with a mysterious spaceship in the asteroid belt, but everyone seems to be kind of a stereotype, the crew squabbles like teenagers, and there was Entirely Too Much Fixation on the Sexy Embarassment of the alien medbay making people shower together in the huge medicine-dispensing shower. (I will note that showering together to conserve resources, the ostensible reason, is silly. Showers are not about efficient conservation of shower fluid.) Also, I was vaguely offended by the female astronaut who was growing her hair long on the voyage out for the first time since she was a kid, and not knowing how to take care of long hair, so the sexy guy astronaut has to help her in the shower because he washed his sisters' hair once. Enh.
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    merastra From: merastra Date: November 8th, 2014 07:14 am (UTC) (Link)
    >>City of Stairs (by Robert Jackson Bennett) ... I could not stop reading this book, not until it was over far too quickly. Five and a quarter stars.

    5 and a QUARTER? Is that allowed? ;-)

    >>I can hear tirinian's voice in the second two sentences here:

    "Apocalyptic explosions, dead reactors, terrorists, mass murder, death-slugs, and now a blindness plague. This is a terrible planet. We should not have come here."


    Hah! Totally. Me too. :-)
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 8th, 2014 03:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
    I think I give out three-quarters of a star more often than a quarter of a star (three and three-quarters tends to mean "I really liked this but I don't quite want to insist everyone else read it too"). I might have to give out weirder fractions someday, but I haven't found anything that really needs three-sevenths of a star. ;)
    kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: November 10th, 2014 06:18 am (UTC) (Link)
    I thought the scale only went up to five stars!
    merastra From: merastra Date: November 10th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
    This was the part I was particularly curious about. Then again, maybe it's like the "give it 110%" saying.
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 10th, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
    I gave Gone-Away World six stars!

    I think it's most accurate to say that the scale is normalized to 1-5 stars, but I reserve the right to give out more stars, or give out negative stars if a book actually tries to kill me or something.

    (I think that I would have given the masterwork of anti-mapness negative stars for being a map...)

    kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: November 10th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Gone-Away World was pretty awesome. I may have to read City of Stairs, too. :)
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 10th, 2014 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Ahah, I found a book that I gave half a star to. I need to make a histogram of some sort, because I do always wonder what my scale actually looks like in practice.
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 10th, 2014 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)


    Edited at 2014-11-10 09:39 pm (UTC)
    marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: November 11th, 2014 01:27 am (UTC) (Link)
    I'm surprised at how many books rate below a 3.5. We appreciate your willingness to read & review them so the rest of us can skim the cream from the top… (btw, the Goblin Emperor was great. As was Three Parts Dead. Being two recent 5 star books I've enjoyed)
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 11th, 2014 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Hmm, wait, I think that has a fencepost issue. I was trying to do a binned histogram, because of things like "one book got a 2 7/8", but there's the question of whether 3.5 is in the bin above or below the 3.5 label. (What I really want is some sort of smooth slidey thing, but I have not enough math, and mjperson, my usual math wrangler, is out of town all week.)
    kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: November 11th, 2014 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
    I think I want 0 to be in the column that starts at zero and continues right, and so on up.
    countertorque From: countertorque Date: November 10th, 2014 03:58 am (UTC) (Link)
    Did you see that Ancillary Sword is out? I thought it was a rock solid sequel.
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 10th, 2014 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
    I did see that! But I stopped buying new books until after Christmas. :)
    arcanology From: arcanology Date: November 11th, 2014 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Picked up city of stairs on the recommendation. Not quite done, but very good so far.
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