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Eight books - Qualified Perceptions
Eight books
An Unkindness of Magicians (by Kat Howard)
This is the story of the people who walked back to Omelas, and broke the chains of the sad little kid, and then burned the city to the ground. It's also (more literally) the story of magicians in New York City, and clash between ancient magical houses (the house of Prospero and the house of Merlin and the house of Dee, etc etc). Also strong diverse women and supportive men. I found the latter more excitingly novel than the former - it's easy to do kick-ass, but literature is not nearly as filled with men who say things like 'Tell me what you need, and I've got your back on this.' (Not an exact quote because audiobook). It's not very subtle, but it's gratifying and compelling escapism for the current day. Four and a half stars.


Children of Time (by Adrian Tchaikovsky)
Tchaikovsky really loves his arthropods. :) In the post-apocalyptic future, a coldsleeper ship from Lost Earth is trying to find a home. Also, a terraforming project has accidentally ended up uplifting jumping spiders instead of the monkeys that the original research plan called for. Thread number one follows the same main characters, as their lives stutter forward punctuated by a lot of cold sleep, and the ship ages. Thread number two touches in on the spiders, generation after generation, as their society advances. A conceit Tchaikovsky uses is to use the same names for the spider characters across the generations; the spider species is Portia labiata (which Wikipedia suggests is pretty darned clever for a spider, even without uplift), so the main spider is always Portia, and then the others have Shakespearean names too. This lets the same cast of humans parallel a "same" cast of spiders, which is nice aesthetically but led to blurring sometimes. The plots are grand and space-opera-y; I was more able to suspend disbelief for the spider technology (sure! programmable ant colonies as computers!) than some of the human plots - there is a persistent tendency among the humans to assume that if they get to live on a Planet, then they win, and a life spent any other way is a lose. I kept wanting to argue - as Gaiman's Death said, "You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime." Living in a spaceship, or on a frozen moon, isn't a failure (the Expanse is full of people living in frozen moons). Trying to rebuild civilization on an alien (even terraformed) planet is probably not a cakewalk. But somehow all the humans have this one blind spot. There were some other characters I wanted to argue with, but I don't think they had Authorial Voice, they were just wrong - so that risks turning this into a rant, which it really shouldn't be, because I really really liked this book. Five stars.


The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids (by Michael McClung)
This was fun, and had some interesting world-building moments, but several different plot resolutions were very trope-y. The trick of having a character continue to ignore a Mysterious Clue because they don't have time to deal with it, and then when they finally go and pick it up as the plots are winding up, it has the solution, is not one I need to see again. (It can go and live with "I have something very important to tell you, but not on the phone!" and "Have you told anyone else about this?", overused harbingers of doom who do not appear in this book and I just wanted to complain about.) Fine but not exceptional, three stars.


Gnomon (by Nick Harkaway)
Alas, while I think Mr. Harkaway is growing as a writer, I think he is growing away from me. Gnomon is more complex but less chaotic than his earlier books. The Gone-Away World made me fall head over heels for his writing; Tigerman broke my heart; Gnomon was a perfectly fine book that I liked reasonably well. Sniff. The story starts with Inspector Neith of the Witness reviewing the mind-reaming tapes from a witness who (unheard of!) died in police custody. These comprise other sub-stories from different times and places (also weird and unheard of); it's fascinatingly Inception-y, and the first half of the book is odd and mesmerizing as things start to connect. But the end is... muddly, or at least it was for me. Possibly if I had been concentrating harder (and not treating reading as a bedtime story sort of thing) it would have gelled, but for me it trailed off into a Hmm instead of ending in a fist-punching-air Yes! that I wanted. Other reviewers mention Philip K. Dick here, and perhaps that is part of my problem; I like the latter's short stories, and the back-of-the-book summaries of his novels, but I seem to bounce hard off of actually reading them. Anyway. Harkaway's writing isn't quite as fireworks as his earlier books, but he's still stellar and his humor is still spot on for me. Several unrelated quotes that I highlited:
Poetry is a shotgun aimed at our shared experience, hoping to hit enough of the target that we all infer a great bulk of information conveyed as implication and metaphor in an approximately similar way.

Here I am, a Greek in a sack, in the back of a truck. I have to confess that it does not absolutely feel like the high life. It does slightly seem as if it might be a very violent Dr. Seuss book.

[In answer to asking a not-fully-AI what it wants]:
I cannot desire anything. I am a box. But it seems likely to me that, if I were to be alive at some future time, I would look back on this period and wish it to lead expeditiously to the point where I could.


The Hazel Wood (by Melissa Albert)
The most remarkable thing about this book is the book of fairy tales embedded in it ("Tales from the Hinterland"). Some are told and some are excerpted and some are only hinted at, but they have the sort of surreal creepy brutality that makes them feel like they could have been real fairy tales in an alternate world. In brief, Alice is a kind of surly teenager; she and her mother are constantly on the move, one step ahead of bad luck. Then her mother vanishes, possibly grabbed by fairy tales, and Alice goes to rescue her. I liked the setup a lot, and I liked the rescue-ing okay, and the plot twists in the middle were surprising but made sense. It didn't quite stick the ending for me, and there were some odd jarring bits, but quite promising for a first novel. Three and a half stars.


Space Opera (by Catherynne M. Valente)
I think there's nothing so frustrating as comedy when it's not my sense of humor. Ms. Valente is turning Douglas Adams up to 11 in this riff about humanity competing in the galactic Eurovision to prove its sentience... but I like the understated "liquid that was almost but not quite entirely not like tea" better than the Vogon Poetry bits. Space Opera goes in the Vogon direction full tilt, which, if you loved Adams, may well be for you. It did make me think that I should watch Eurovision this year, though.


Head On (by John Scalzi)
The sequel to Locked In, and perfectly readable, but maybe less interesting than the first book. Sports is less my thing, and the mystery was in many ways more about filling in the details on the obvious shape of things. But I find I don't have much to say about it. Three and a half stars.


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (by Natasha Pulley)
My laptop is named "clockwork-octopus". A work friend pointed me to this book, because it has a clockwork octopus in it. It wasn't at all what I was expecting - I was expecting steampunk, which tends to skew in a kind of swashbuckling action hero direction. This is not that. This is delicate and quiet, like snow falling on a garden. Magical realism, I think, rather than fantasy or very alternate history. There are no zeppelins; the dramatic events of the plot are real ones (the Fenian bombings in London, and the Meiji Restoration). The ending veers a bit more into action, which I am not sure was necessary, but it did keep me up reading until far too late on a work night. Four and a half stars.
"More octo ... pi?" Thaniel said, knowing that it sounded wrong, though so did puses and podes. He tried to think where he had heard it last, but he did not often have business with more than one octopus at a time.
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