First Frost of Autumn (firstfrost) wrote,
First Frost of Autumn
firstfrost

Sixteen books

Perseopolis Rising (by James S. A. Corey)
I'll pretty much keep reading the Expanse forever (and at some point I should do a reread). The first book was moderately self-contained, but since then they're more chapters in an ongoing story, and I'm okay with that. It is also interesting to see the way things change up - there was the one book set mostly on the Planet of Terribleness, there was the one where the Rocinante crew was mostly all split up, and in this one, the dynamics change again. (This is an early spoiler now). There are a lot of stories that start with the main character about ready to retire, and they get pulled into one last thing. Traditionally (and certainly in the TV Trope) it's the hallmark of the character who's going to be killed. Here, Holden and Naomi do retire, and then Things Happen and they get pulled back into the plot - but part of the dynamic is that Bobbi is the captain now (but Holden is the famous guy), and how does that all play out.

 

Foundryside (by Robert Jackson Bennett)
I started reading this book and quickly started ranting to myself, and then was really surprised by who the author was. I loved the Divine Cities books, so I had bought Foundryside automatically, but it feels... let's say less polished. Surprising for a later book. First, the positives. It's "heist" genre, which I tend to like. The interesting reveals are nicely clued or foreshadowed beforehand. The magic system is nicely built and hackable, and felt kind of like something Brandon Sanderson might have put together, but with one very frustrating hole. And it's really this hole that nearly pushed me over into full-on rant mode. The magic system is essentially about rewriting individual bits of reality, and gravity is the bit of reality that is both extra-exciting and extra-dangerous to mess with. Which is cool. Except that nearly every time it came up, I wanted to shout "but that's not how gravity *works*." One of the main characters has a magic weapon, a weighted truncheon on a long chain. It's enchanted so that when you throw it, it "thinks" that gravity is in the direction that it was thrown, so it accelerates that way. Which is all well and fine, and it works as expected, until there's a fight in the seedy bar, when the guy is a fistfight, and throws his truncheon at the other guy's feet. The truncheon punches a huge hole in the floor and the guy falls in. The thing is, throwing your magic truncheon *down* enchants it into thinking that gravity is down. Which it already is. So this is just the same as throwing a non-magic truncheon at someone's feet, which isn't going to punch any holes in floors, no matter how implausibly flimsy the floor is. Here's another example:
"It's a scrived suit of armor," said Gregor. "But unlike the armor we have here in Tevanne, which is scrived to be both preternaturally light and preternaturally strong, a lorica also augments the movements of the person within it. It amplifies their gravity, in other words, making them faster and stronger than a normal person."
No! Why would amplifying your gravity make you faster at anything other than falling? The sad thing is, if the book had just used some made up magical word instead of "gravity" it would have been perfectly fine, but as it was, I had to deduct a full star for improper use of gravity. Three stars.

 

Strange Practice and Dreadful Company (by Vivian Shaw)
Dr. Greta Helsing is a paranormal doctor - that is, she has an M.D. but her patients are vampires / mummies / ghouls / demons / etc, in the standard world in which mundanes don't know about them but they are nevertheless all over the freaking place. They're fun more than deep, but Dr. Helsing is a lovely protagonist, and the humor is good. Four stars, and it's definitely a different neighborhood of the urban-fantasy-vampires-werewolves genre.

 

The Face in the Frost (by John Bellairs)
The House With A Clock In Its Walls has become a movie, but the person who loved the book and saw the movie was not happy. So I read this instead. Bellairs mostly wrote gothic-scary kids books (like the aforementioned HWACIIW, which I adored), but Face in the Frost is similarly gothic-scary but for adults. The ending wasn't perfect, but the atmosphere throughout was amazing. I highlighted this, as a lovely note of understated creepy. Four stars, though possibly some of that is childhood fondness.
"Out by the fountain, I scared off something that might have been a dog, though it didn't look like one."
Axiomatic (by Greg Egan)
Another book of short stories by Greg Egan. Like Luminous, I liked nearly all of them. One of them, "Into Darkness," has as the premise "a wormhole appears randomly, with a half-life of eighteen minutes." Skipping over more complications, the main character is one of the people who rescues the people trapped in the wormholes. The interesting thing, mathematically, is - how long do you stay in there? At any given moment, your chances are always the same. If you stay five minutes longer (and it doesn't implode on you and you're already dead), then the calculus of how long to stay *now* is exactly the same as it was five minutes ago. I'm sure half of the people reading this are thinking 'well, yes, that's exactly what a half-life is, how did you not know that?' Before, I could have told you what the definition was, but I hadn't really *thought* about it. In any event, it was neat to have something that I knew explained to me in a way that made me understand it instead of just know it.

 

The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
These are somewhere in the middle between The Martian and Hidden Figures, set in an alternate history where the Earth is hit by an asteroid in 1953 and the space race becomes substantially more pressing due to ther planet growing uninhabitable - but not alternate enough to prevent racial and gender discrimination. I found it very readable, though definitely less dramatic than The Martian in the player-versus-environment genre. It's nicely populated by flawed but very understandably human characters; the heroes aren't perfect (but they try), and the villains aren't evil. Four and a half stars.

 

Bannerless (by Carrie Vaughn)
Set after a somewhat unspecified ecological/economic catastrophe, the story covers some travels (some via flashback, some current) of an invesitigator on a West Coast circuit. The mysteries aren't all that strong, and I was dubious about a couple of places of the worldbuilding (I understand wanting to be cautious about population growth, but it seemed like the society was in pretty strong negative growth, which seems perilous in a depopulated world). Kind of mild and contemplative, and not bad. Three and a half stars.

 

A Big Ship on the Edge of the Universe (by Alex White)
I wanted this to be like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but it wasn't quite. It's about the interpersonal dynamics between a bunch of angry and/or overly entitled people; part of the plot is getting over their issues to work together, but it spent a little too long for me in "I don't really like any of these people" territory. And the villains are kind of over-the-top evil to the extent of implausibility - like the Wool backstory, I have a hard time imagining a mind set that boils down to 'Muah hah hah - once my evil plans come to fruition, I will be immortal and rich in a world in which everyone else is dead' - not just because it's evil, but because what is the *point* in being rich and powerful if there's not anything you can spend your money on buying? I mean, once I've killed all the other people, I fall back pretty quickly to being the richest and powerfullest pre-industrial subsistence farmer, which doesn't seem like a win. Three stars.

 

Permutation City (by Greg Egan)
I kind of think that Greg Egan isn't a real person. No, that's not right. I think the truth of Greg Egan's existence is that none of us are actually "real people", that is, people running on meat processors in the physical space that we think we live in - we're just running simulations of people in a running simulation of a world, and that that's just as much "real people" as the meat people would be, and that Greg Egan is an in-sim avatar of whatever is outside the simulation, trying to break it to us gently. And he's very good at his job. Four stars.

 

Quarter Share, Half Share, Full Share (by Nathan Lowell)
The series goes for two more books (Captain's Share, Owner's Share), but this is where I stopped. I have deeply mixed feelings about these books. They were recommended by a friend at work, who noted that they were about clever people solving problemn, but it wasn't epic, and that's basically right. They're spaceship procedurals, like a resource-building mechanic on not-very-hard mode, and they are fascinating in that they are unlike anything I've ever read. There's some world-building, and a lot of ship-detailing, but there's very little challenge going on. A lot of the time, they were compelling to read, the way a match-three game is compelling to play. But also some of the time I just got annoyed at them - the main character solves problems sometimes by being clever, but sometimes just by virtue of being the PC and thinking to do a thing that no one else has thought to do. He's weirdly blessed by PC glow and innate sexiness, and people know he's awesome based on a moment's acquaintance. Also, I do not think that it is ethically okay to write a professional recommendation to college for your one-night-stand pickup, even if he was really gentlemanly.

 

Swordheart (by T Kingfisher)
Set in the Clocktaur War universe but a little lighter and bouncier. Ursula Vernon continues to be my favoritest of favorite authors; the two Clocktaur books grabbed me hard and would not let go, while this one was a lot of fun but did not sink its hooks quite as deep and permanently. So only five stars.

Oh, also, there was a remarkable scene. The basic premise of the plot is that the main character (Halla) is a middle-aged woman in a basic fantasy patriarchal society; she has come by a magic sword which summons the swordsman who was bound into it long ago (Sarkis). Hijinks have ensued, and about halfway through the book, there is an attempted assassination; Sarkis has killed two of the assassins, and Halla has fled, pursued by the third. Sarkis goes to try and find Halla, and comes out of the alley, and there are several prostitutes on the corner. He goes to ask them if any of them have seen which way Halla went, and I'm just going to quote the whole scene.

The ladies of the evening proved... less than forthcoming.
"Did a woman run by here?" asked Sarkis. "About yea tall, with pale blonde hair and big gray eyes? Wearing a green bodice and dark brown skirts?"
The prostitute he was speaking to gave him a sour look and turned her back.
Sarkis was a trifle surprised by this. He tried the woman across the street from her.
"No," she said, before he even opened his mouth. "I didn't see her."
Sarkis looked around the courtyard. If Halla had come charging out of the alley, it was hard to imagine how anyone had missed her. "Are you certain?"
"Yes."
The woman spoke with obvious dislike. Sarkis wondered if she thought that Halla was another prostitute, and was annoyed at her for taking business.
"She might be in danger from---"
The woman held up her hand. "No," she said. "I have not seen her. I will not have seen her. And you can ask every woman here and none of us will have seen her. Understand?"
"No," said Sarkis, after a long moment. "I suppose I don't."
She shook her head in disgust. She was a pretty woman, certainly younger than Sarkis---particularly given that I am now nearly five hundred---but for a moment Sarkis felt like a callow youth being lectured by a wisewoman.
"Do you think that there's any woman here who hasn't run from a man with blood on his hands?"
I have read a lot of fantasy books with prostitutes. Sometimes they are victims. Sometimes they are there to be treated decently by the main character to demonstrate to the reader that he is a good man. Sometimes they wield great social power, secretly or overtly. I don't think I've seen these before - not at all powerful, not PCs, but with their own agency and dignity and their own ethics and they're not going to stand for just being gather-information sources. I thought they were awesome.

 

Lovecraft Country (by Matt Ruff)
[personal profile] lilibet recommended this after I reviewed Winter Tide, which performs a sea change on Lovecraft and Innsmouth. I didn't find this as similar - it's interesting in its own right, but it didn't feel so Lovecrafty (or even inverse-Lovecrafty); it was more like modern sorcerers plus racism. I guess Lovecraft does have sorcerers, but - hmm, I don't really know why I couldn't make them align. I think I would have liked it better if it hadn't been name-checking Lovecraft, because it was less what I was expecting and I missed appreciating what it was instead. (Oh, heh, lilibet also recommended Bannerless, above, but I think I already had it in my to-read pile so I didn't remember).
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