Friday, December 23, 2016

book reviews, part two of ∞



Haha! I think you'll find that one day is just as good as — and in many ways nearly indistinguishable from — another.

Nothing particularly bad happened to me recently, I should vouchsafe. I was just busy with holiday shit. Although my washing machine did break down mid-cycle last week, whilst chock full of every pair of pajamas I own, and I had to wring out the entire load (it had rinsed) using my only good pair of hands. That was somewhat traumatic, from a feminist perspective.

I'm going to stop setting deadlines for myself here, because all I do is break them, just break them and break them and break them, but in my next post I'll put up a normal-length review of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, which I was surprised to discover had been recently nominated for a Hugo Award (ETA: And it won a Nebula Award). Maybe they have a "Best Dime-Store Romance Novel" category now, who knows? Anyway, same rules as last time, let's go:

Annabel, Kathleen Winter - A novel about an intersex child born to two annoying Canadian people in the 70s. Or 80s? The 60s?? I can’t remember. One of them is far more annoying than the other, and the answer to "which one is more annoying?" might surprise you. (SPOILER: They are both the most annoying.) The prose was mostly very beautiful, in a self-consciously "literary" way (excessive use of poetical metaphor, the blank verse-like exegesis of complex character motivation, etc.), but often it seemed to be trying too hard to get me to like it. The novel had a lovely, closely-woven plot involving Death and Dying and Realizing Your Dreams, and it was relatively interesting considering that there weren’t any fairies in it. I was delighted to read about someone growing into a non-binary gender as part of the ordinary bildungsroman-y processes of becoming an adult — and I identified with the characterization of gender-assignment as a potentially crippling extension of filial loyalty (an actual trans/intersex person might feel differently) — but I thought the story would be more fantastical than it was. If you see what I mean. I have zero interest in the elaborate woodcraft practiced by annoying rural Canadian people. I would read other books by Kathleen Winter.

Astra & Flondrix, Seamus Cullen - I saw this book mentioned at Riddled, and then I bought it. This was a very terrible decision. If you are a crazy religious person who would like to stop your adolescent children from having sex, ever, you should make them read this book many times. Provide them with a barfbucket first. Horrible, gross book. Suggestive of satire written by the tortured souls of the eternal damned in Hell, who have been burning for so long they no longer remember what laughter is. There are fairies in this novel, but I wish there hadn’t been. I would not read anything else written by Seamus Cullen, including a grocery list.

At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees, Kij Johnson - A very, very, very good "weird fiction" anthology. When successful, this story collection is an extension of the tradition of animal-mediated magic that (possibly) predates the origins of human storytelling, but which is often confined in modern fiction to the dated constructions of 18th century European fairytales. (I know, right? I didn't notice it before, either.) I really appreciated the way Johnson’s piercingly imaginative animism accepted the trappings of contemporary life without losing any of its mystery. The title story is one of my most favorite short stories ever, and I have no criticisms of either its structure or thesis. The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change was completely amazing as well — narratively sophisticated and well-written, and also a strenuous exercise of the Disney muscles around the eyes that control tearflow. Really great writing, also. I hope it won some awards. Some of the other stories weren’t as good; Fox Magic was weeaboo original fiction shit, and I couldn’t make myself finish The Horse Raiders, but mostly: The best. I will certainly make an effort to read other things by Kij Johnson.

Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat - An alternative history of Alaska; clockpunk or something, historypunk, geodesic-domepunk, who cares. Not my thing. No fairies. A very pretty and deceptive cover featuring a zeppelin, the Aurora Borealis, and a polar bear that looks like it might be capable of speech (but it is not). Probably no more Valtat, unless he writes something with talking animals (or elves) in it.

Beauty, Hubert Boulard and Kerascoet - A very famous comic that I mostly found annoying. I don’t like Kerascoet’s art, either. Made a statement in the first ten pages and then spent 125 more underlining it in purple glitter ink. Definitely not the worst thing ever — especially for adolescents struggling to define their self-image — just not for me.

Blindsight, Peter Watts - I saw this book recommended somewhere online (Crooked Timber?) (??), but I can’t remember where now. It was well-written and intelligent and probably very good, but it isn’t the sort of thing I like to read. I tapped out in the middle of the first chapter because I was suffocating to death under the story’s "science." I tried to wait around long enough to hang out with the vampire space captain (any port in a storm), but Watts kept insisting on telling me about how the boring spaceship worked and I had to save myself. I’m sorry. If you like this kind of book, this is the kind of book you will like. I probably wouldn’t read anything else by Watts, but not because he’s untalented.

Bloodchild, Octavia E. Butler - It seems as though a Butler short about male pregnancy and sexy alien bugmonsters would be good, but in fact it was nearly as bad as Astra & Flondrix. I found The Evening and the Morning and the Night too disturbing to finish. Near of Kin was a Bible-inflected slice-of-life story about REDACTED, no comment. Speech Sounds was really great, and if I were a college-level instructor introducing freshmen to theory, I would use it as an example of how to incorporate postmodern elements into traditional narrative without being a dick about it. Crossover: depressing but good. Of the newer stories, Amnesty was pretty clearly a dumb, failed early draft of ideas that would flower and bear fruit in the Xenogenesis Trilogy (eternal fave), and The Book of Martha was as legitimate a short story about the subjective experience of god as I have ever read. Both the essays are absolutely amazing, and should be required reading for anyone who thinks they want to write. Worth buying, especially if you’re a Butler fan. (I am a Butler fan.)

The Bone Knife, Intisar Khanani - Free, but too boring to read. Written in the first person, and suggestive of the AO3. Not the good parts of the AO3.

The Bread We Eat In Dreams, Catherynne M. Valente - Your reviewer’s first Valente! Some of these stories are favorites — especially White Lines on a Green Field, The Bread We Eat in Dreams, The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World, The Wolves of Brooklyn, and Silently And Very Fast — and the rest of them are merely very good. I would describe Valente, in this collection, as 'similar to Ray Bradbury, but also better in many ways, gay+, and not dead.' Highly recommended, and I have read and will continue to read Valente.

Brightness Falls From The Air, James Tiptree, Jr. - I am grateful for Tiptree’s trailblazing from the bottom of my heart, but I find her fiction boring as fuck. This novel went to extensive lengths to normalize non-heterosexual characters/behaviors, which I really appreciate — also, the protagonist was a heroine straight out of pulp adventure stories, but feministically re-centered into the middle of the narrative. Great! But it turned out that the fairies were actually unfuckable aliens, ugh, and I got so bored with them. So, so bored. It also looked like a couple of the human characters were warming up to engage in virtual incest, and I don’t get down like that. I’ve never managed to actually like any of Tiptree’s books, but I suppose I should keep trying if I want someone to ask me to the Feminist Nerd Prom this year.


I am actually being curtailed by Blogger's refusal to accept more than 200 characters in tags per post, here. I will post another batch tomorrow, on Christmas Eve (no, I will), and then we will commence upon our normal schedule after that.

More next time!

8 comments:

  1. I've just realised that I still haven't gotten round to reading more Valente! It has suffered from the fact that I can only read ebooks on my phone and I dislike reading ebooks on my phone. FFS, me. My New Year's resolution is now to get round to it. After all, what are my many train journeys for if not this? Move over, food blogs, there's new train entertainment (enterTRAINment) in town.

    Also "At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees" sounds super awesome.

    I hope you had a lovely Christmas! And best wishes for a lovely New Year! (Anything has got to be better than 2016, surely.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has suffered from the fact that I can only read ebooks on my phone and I dislike reading ebooks on my phone.
      I feel it. We are getting back around -- with such things as the webm format, for example -- to a place where Mac users have to download extra "codecs" in order to see content that's readily visible to other OSes (OSses?). That is not cool. Back in the day, there were HUGE LIBRARIES of "codecs" that we had to download in order to see, like, YouTube. We would fight over them, in Mac forums. But I digress. The digital book niche is def. not occupied in a 100% useful way.

      I love food blogs! I'm not skilled enough to make most of the stuff I see people post, and also I'm hampered by various dietary restrictions, but they're satisfying and non-demanding in ways that most other content is not.

      Also "At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees" sounds super awesome.
      IT IS SUPER-AWESOME, I THINK YOU WOULD LOVE IT. I CAN LEND IT TO YOU IF YOU WANT.

      I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas & a Happy New Year, too! I miss talking to you all the time on Tumblr :[

      Anything has got to be better than 2016, surely.
      You say the truth, stranger.

      Thank you for your comment!!!

      Delete
    2. IT IS SUPER-AWESOME, I THINK YOU WOULD LOVE IT. I CAN LEND IT TO YOU IF YOU WANT.
      Thank you for the offer! That's very kind of you. I'm going to pass for now, but only because I'm a slow reader and I'd like to get started on Valente first.

      Delete
    3. Don't worry about it, obvs; as a fully-adult and actually busy person, I can see where you wouldn't have the time to read fantasy novels 24/7.

      But if you ever want to read anything I'm "reviewing" or talking about, please remember that I'd be more than happy to lend it to you!

      Delete
  2. Would you consider writing more reviews, each with fewer books? Sad to say, I read Brightness Falls from the Air many years ago, and I don't remember anything about it. I usually have pretty good recall.

    The general consensus is that Tiptree was better as a short-story writer than a novelist (much like Margaret St Clair, whose novels I love, but find deeply flawed).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would you consider writing more reviews, each with fewer books?
      Oh my lord, what a nice man. The next time you talk to your mother, please tell her what a good job she did, from Emma on the internet.

      Yes, I will write reviews with fewer books. I did it this way because: 1.) These are the books about which I felt I had little to say, whether goodly or badly, believe it or not, and 2.) I was my ailing grandmother's primary/only caretaker at the time, and I was going for quantity over unnecessary thought.

      Sad to say, I read Brightness Falls from the Air many years ago, and I don't remember anything about it.
      Your mind loves you. I didn't care for it, as may be obvious.

      Tiptree actually makes me feel like I'm reading the retconned stylings of a pseudo-feminist who respects Frank Miller too much, & s/he is attempting to Trojan conventional gender politics inside his/her superficially-progressive scifi narratives. And then that's weird, because Tiptree is actually very sincere, an OG feminist, and one of the great masters of the modern genre establishment. Life is hard and unrewarding sometimes.

      Thank you for your comment!!!

      Delete
  3. Tiptree actually makes me feel like I'm reading the retconned stylings of a pseudo-feminist who respects Frank Miller too much, & s/he is attempting to Trojan conventional gender politics inside his/her superficially-progressive scifi narratives.

    That's the funniest thing I've read all day. High five! For the record, I can't stand Frank Miller.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OKAY LET'S SEE IF IT ACTUALLY WORKS THIS TIME

      For the record, I can't stand Frank Miller.
      I was a mega-Miller fan during my Libertarian Asshole Phase in high school. One time, when my class was reading Wuthering Heights, I actually complained that I wanted to read "real" books instead, like Frank Miller and Heinlein. Haha, what an asshole! (I grew out of it.)

      Seriously, though: I think Miller did some impressive things, authorially — we probably have him to thank for Comics As Literature, for example — but his stories are and have always been larded up with counterintuitive rightwing shit, and went pretty rapidly from "readable with reservations" to "no." And now he is a fulltime Crazy Wingnut Facebook Uncle on the Internet, so fuck him raw.

      Delete