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Ten books and an audio series - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Ten books and an audio series
Inamorata (by Megan Chance)
A tale of seduction, art, muses, and more seduction, set in Venice. In some ways, it was the mirror of the Calliope story in Sandman; the muse, rather than the artist, is the villain here; though she would say that any true artist would make the trade gladly, she also uses succubus-level seduction to clinch the deal. The thing that caught my attention most is that all the characters play around with seduction, one way or another. Not always sexual, but always charm-someone-into-doing-your-bidding. It's sort of like an adventure game where the only interaction is to left-click, and that's the "Seduce [X]" button, or "Rebuff Seduction" and "Block Seduction" as alternatives. The poor artist and his sister need to seduce the important people into patronage and favor. The succubus needs to seduce the artist. The fallen poet and the sister are in a seduction/rebuff/seduction dance, and the fallen poet has a plan against the succubus muse, that is essentially "Prevent her from successfully seducing enough artists (in part by seducing them away from her myself) that she starts to starve, and then she will become the horrible ravening demon that I saw before, and... then, if I manage to shut her in a room that she cannot escape, she will devour herself and die." It's kind of a convoluted way to kill someone compared to pushing her in a canal, but if the only verb you have is "seduce" and its variants, you work with what you have. I'm kind of making fun of it, but it works strangely well, staying within those bounds. Three and a half seductive stars.

Castle Hangnail (by Ursula Vernon)
I sent my nieces a copy of this at the same time, and received a charmingly illustrated thank you note. "Thank you for the Book! It is Really Weird but Good!"
Nobody is Terry Pratchett. The best obituary quote about him I have read comes from Ursula Vernon: "It's easy to be funny. It's hard to be humane. To put both on the same page and not give the reader whiplash is a rare and extraordinary talent." And she should know. Vernon is not Pratchett - no one could be - but she is one of the few who reminds me of him, and makes the hole in the world that he left a little smaller. Anyway, this is a charming children's book - four stars - and it's about being the Villain, in the good natured way of my favorite mad scientists, though this one is an Evil Witch.

Bryony and Roses (also by Ursula Vernon)
This was apparently an early almost-finished novel published late; it is a perfectly charming retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it doesn't stray as far into Vernon's unique voice as some of the other fairy tale fragments I have read on her LiveJournal.

Three-Body Problem (by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu)
I heard a lot about this book as "the book that should have been on the Hugo ballot if not for the puppies" and then someone withdrew and it made it on after all. I wish I had liked it more. I'm glad I read it - it's probably good for me to read science fiction set on Earth but not of-course-the-US or of-course-Britain or an-interesting-exotic-other-place, because it's set in of-course-China. That is, it's set in China, but not because China is an Interesting Place To Set Your Novel, it's set in China because duh, where else would your novel be set, the default place is China. (Some spoilers follow) Unfortunately, one reason that it didn't grab me is my traditional complaint - I didn't bond much with any of the characters. Some of them are unlikeable (or likeable and unforgivable), and the more likeable ones are a little flat and expositiony. But that's maybe not too unusual for this particular hard-SF genre. Another reason is the computer game, which reminded me a lot of the computer game in Ender's Game, which was probably my least favorite part of that book. It combines the "no win situation" and "secret alien subtext", but the third function (incite pro-alien worship) just confused me, because it didn't seem to be that compelling a sell. Finally, I am kind of dubious about the alien-invasion premise - is the best way to find a nearby habitable planet really to wait to see which one starts trying to communicate with you? Also, it's the first in a trilogy, which I did not know at all when I started (and only began to suspect when the end of the book kept getting closer), so the story doesn't finish at all. Three and a half stars, which would make for an even more difficult gravitational problem.

A Crown for Cold Silver (by Alex Marshall)
This was impressive. It reminded me a bit of Glen Cook's Black Company series - old powerful villains who shook the world once, still fearsome - but also it has its own strong voice. A bunch of characters start out in different places - different personalities, different goals - and they slowly come together, partly tragically, partly darkly hilariously, all inexorably - until the end. (Though it's just a beginning, also, clearly it's not the end of the story). I couldn't be sure how it was going until it got there, but it didn't careen, it was just travelling through unknown territory (which is true in other senses too - there are clearly a lot of notes on the author's desk detailing the world, but nobody stops to give us a lot of exposition in a row about it.). Weird drug-bugs and interesting understated demons. Occasional stupid bits, mostly by youngsters (no matter what genre you are in, you need to be nervous when you are in the house that has a fence made of bones and skulls), which I think is fair. Progressive gender roles. Apparently, Alex Marshall is a debut pseudonym; I'm very curious who it is (besides the gender stuff, there are some details that remind me of Ann Leckie, but this seems an unlikely time for her to start a pseudonym). Five stars.
"Free counsel can be prettey expensive, if you don't heed it," said Zosia.
"Hmm," said Singh, relighting her pipe while Zosia sipped the buttery tea. "That sounds like a wise saying, but I'm not sure it actually makes much sense."

Uprooted (by Naomi Novik)
I really liked this a lot. I have fallen off of the Temeraire series after a little too much touring the world; this one is unrelated, different, and standalone. The heroine starts out frustratingly pathetic, but that passes quickly, and she retains her peasant outlook as she grows into her abilities and confidence. The story works well - the forest is creepy, the character dynamics are varied, and the plot turns seemed both fairy-tale inexorable and sometimes surprising, which is a nice combination if you can pull it off. Five stars.

Come as You Are (by Emily Nagoski)
Okay. Er. TMI up ahead. I am really not very comfortable talking about sex, but the blog article that led me to this book, and then the book kind of hit me like a lightning bolt, so maybe other people ought to know this sort of thing too. For a long time, I've been trying to trouble-shoot and problem-solve and construct workarounds for the fact that I'm broken. I knew I was broken. It was pretty obvious, to me, at least. I'm just not as into sex as harrock (or exes who didn't volunteer to show up in this book review), and since I'm a liberal feminist, I don't buy into the concept that men like sex and women don't, so it must be that my libido is buggy. So this is an issue. Then I read the author's blog post about responsive desire, and got a "holy crap, I'm not broken, this describes me!" reaction, and then I bought and read the book, except that at first I would have to stop reading because it was making me cry, and I've been walking around saying to myself "holy crap, I'm not broken" and it's like fighting my way clear of a chronic pain I've been used to for years. I suspect I saw the original blog link on someone's Facebook feed, so if that was you, I owe you a hug or a drink or a grateful handshake or something. Anyway, I have no idea if this is a book for any of you. This is not a subject I really talk about with people. But if you see anything familiar in my self-description up there, at least go google for her blog posts about responsive desire.

Nemesis Games (by James S. A. Corey)
Well, after last book being down on the Terrible Planet of Terribleness, we're back in space again. Though this time the crew is split up and having separate adventures, and then the Really Bad Stuff happens. I continue to love the series, though it's gotten pretty dark by the end. But still dryly funny in places! Also, when the Really Bad Stuff happens, there's a speech that really felt like an idealist wish for what US could have done after 9/11. Sort of like The West Wing was an idealist wish about politics.
The reporter looked like he'd swallowed something sour and unexpected. "I'm sorry. Are you saying this attack isn't serious?"

"This attack is the greatest tragedy in human history," Avasarala said, her voice deep and throbbing. She dominated the screen. "But it was carried out by shortsighted, narcissistic criminals. They want a war? Too bad. They get an arrest, processing, and a fair trial with whatever lawyer they can afford. They want the Belt to rise up so they can hide behind the good, decent people who live there? Belters aren't thugs, and they aren't murderers. They are men and women who love their children the same as any of us. They are good and evil and wise and foolish and human. And this 'Free Navy' will never be able to kill enough people to make Earth forget that shared humanity. Let the Belt consult its own conscience, and you'll see compassion and decency and kindness flourish in any gravity or none. Earth has been bloodied, but we will not be debased. Not on my fucking watch."

Four and a half stars. (Kindle, why have you stopped syncing my highlights with Amazon? That was really convenient for quoting from.)

Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two (by Martha Wells)
I might not enjoy the shorter stories as much as I enjoy the novels; the Raksura plots do tend to be driven by "Bad dangerous predator thing causes trouble", and in the shorter plots they're a little more similar. Still, I really enjoy them.

The Instruments of Control (by Craig Schaefer)
The sequel to Winter's Reach. Argh! Everyone is edging towards evil! (Also like Game of Thrones.) I should maybe have skimmed Book One to remind myself of who all the players are. There are a couple that I couldn't quite remember which plots in the first book they went with, until pretty late, and that's just embarassing. Three and three quarters stars, but a quarter of that was my own fault for being forgetful; the other half a star deduction from the previous book is some amount of middle-book-itis. We're not getting people's origin stories or their climactic finales, we're getting their story middles. Well, at least nobody spends all book on a pole-boat.

The Laundry Files (by Charles Stross)
I had read The Atrocity Archives and The Concrete Jungle before, but I decided that I wanted another audiobook series that I could spend a while on, so I listened to 1-5, up through The Rhesus Chart. I really like Bob. He's kind of unusual for both a spy and a horror protagonist, in that he reacts like I imagine I would if I had to kill someone (well, probably more competently) - he's upset, second-guesses himself a lot, and it still bothers him books later. Oh, right, and this is the series that taught me that I, and pretty much everyone in my role-playing circle, pronounce "geas" wrong. (It does make me wonder about the Dresden Files now, though. Is James Marsters over in my camp of wrong pronunciation, or does the word never appear? Speaking of whom, I got mail from Audible offering me a brief window of a free download for the re-recording of Ghost Story with the proper narrator.) Anyway, I gave the first two four and a half stars when I read them before, so we'll stay with that rating. Maybe a bit less for The Jennifer Morgue but more for The Fuller Memorandum. </dl>

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Comments
lillibet From: lillibet Date: June 19th, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm really moved by your review of Come As You Are--thank you for sharing it. I don't think it's the book for me, but I am so, so glad that you found it.

I loved Nemesis Games--I really like how different each book in the series is from the others. Have you noticed that Syfy is doing a series, starting in December. Everyone's younger than I imagined, but I expect that's because I'm starting to be old :)

bluepapercup From: bluepapercup Date: June 19th, 2015 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dr. Nagoski is a rock star, I love her blog and I'm so thrilled to see another positive (life changing?) review of her book. However you found it, YAY!

I'm reading Three-Body Problem right now and having trouble getting into it, but I suspect it has nothing to do with the book itself, as I haven't been able to finish a "real" scifi book in about a year. Maybe I need to try the two Ursula Vernon books you recommend first to relax my brain.
jadia From: jadia Date: June 19th, 2015 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

I did like three-body problem,  mostly because it made me a bit nostalgic about older sci fi that I grew up reading.   I totally agree with all your criticsms too.  The characters are pretty much unsympathetic and the book itself is also kind of sexist in a way that bothered me (his wife exists just to show he has wife, and doesn't seem to have any opinions or thoughts).  But I was really fascinated by the ideas and the plot.  Kind of reminded me of Asimov, a little, and books like that.  Anyway,  i liked it despite its flaws.


Also yay continuing to figure stuff out about yourself! Responsive desire a rather interesting idea that I don't think I've encountered before.... the more i learn the more I think our cultural concept of sexuality is just woefully inadequate. It's like trying to understand color when you can only talk about shades of gray or trying to describe a continuum when you've only been trained to think digitally.

merastra From: merastra Date: June 20th, 2015 01:50 am (UTC) (Link)
You are SO not broken. I had no idea. Sorry it caused you trouble. I'm glad you realized you're not broken though.

(I hadn't heard those terms either. Learn something new every day.)

By the way, you're great! :-)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: June 20th, 2015 04:31 am (UTC) (Link)
The Laundry Files sounded familiar ... and oh yeah, I've read Equoid. Ummm. Eeep. I also quite like the protagonist, but there's a whole lot of creepy going on -- not bedtime reading.

Re: Come as You Are: you are not broken! Humans vary wildly in their level of interest in pretty much anything. Sex, snuggles, chocolate, eggplant, alcohol, travel, sunshine, oceans, mountains, music, yarn ...
countertorque From: countertorque Date: June 20th, 2015 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
More James S A Corey just in time for my next business trip! I don't have to read that annoying business leadership book.
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