Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
Reading this again, there are two main things for me. 1) Nancy, and 2) I love the idea of all these kids from portal fantasies finding a home away from home together. And what happens if you didn’t quite fit in your world, the way Kade didn’t? What happens if you want to go back forever, and what happens if you can’t? How can you cope with “real life” when you’ve spent however long learning the rules of another world? But I talked about this in my first review.
This time, I focused on Nancy. The fact that she’s asexual, and the fact that it avoids the usual stupid pitfalls. She cares about people, for one thing. And though you might think that it’s a bit of a cliche, having a girl who went to an underworld be asexual — of course they’re not sexual, they’re dead — it actually makes a point of mentioning that it isn’t true at all. She’s still different in her underworld; her asexuality isn’t a plot point in the sense that it proves she belongs in some other world. It’s just a part of her, and her world suits her for other reasons. The fact that she’s asexual — and for that matter, that Kade is trans — feels organic.
I love the diversity, sure, but I also love the fact that it’s matter of fact and part of a world I love for other reasons too.
Good morning! It’s the weekend! Whew. I’ve set myself up a deadly study timetable, so I’m just glad to reach a breathing space. I did get some reading done too, though; good thing, or I’d go bonkers, I think. (More bonkers.)
Received to review
A nice little haul, as you can see! I’m pretty excited about all of these, honestly.
Books finished this week:
I swear, I’m trying to read more fiction again!
Sneak peek at ratings:
–Four stars to… After Atlas, Britain After Rome and The Vital Question.
Reviews posted this week:
–Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. I think this might be most appealing to those who don’t know the Eddas well in the first place. As it is, while I could appreciate the clever takes on the old stories, I knew what was going on a little too well. And some of the cleverness is not Gaiman himself, but straight from pre-Christian Norse tradition. 3/5 stars
–Deadly Companions, by Dorothy H. Crawford. A great survey of how disease has shaped human society. Not very in-depth, though. 3/5 stars
–Britain BC, by Francis Pryor. I have some issues with some of Pryor’s theories, based on my understanding of genetics, linguistics and literature, but the archaeological evidence discussed is fascinating. 4/5 stars
–Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham. Solid theory, and really engagingly written. 4/5 stars
–Ruddy Gore, by Kerry Greenwood. A reread, and still fun, though there are aspects of Phryne’s character/treatment and understanding of others I’m a little tired of. 3/5 stars
–Proof of Concept, by Gwyneth Jones. This took a while to come together for me, but there were aspects I enjoyed. 3/5 stars
–Brisk Money, by Adam Christopher. More fun with Christopher’s noir robot PI world. 4/5 stars
–Top Ten Tuesday: Comics I Follow. The theme was fandom, and I went with comics!
–What are you reading Wednesday. My weekly update.
Brisk Money, Adam Christopher
I’ve gone about things a bit backwards, because I only read Brisk Money after already having read Made to Kill (and Standard Hollywood Depravity, too). So the twist in this tale was one I already knew. It’s still a fun short story; good set up for the later stories, and a good pastiche of Chandler’s general style — if not quite his flair at coining a phrase. It doesn’t take itself too seriously: honestly, all through it you can feel that the author is having fun. It’s Chandler-esque sci-fi, where Chandler called sci-fi fiction crap, and Christopher takes obvious joy in using the noir setting and bending it to take account of a robot detective.
I can’t promise it’ll blow your mind, but if a noir detective robot story appeals, then I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to have fun. It’s well-structured, too, which is also a delight to me in a short story.
Proof of Concept, Gwyneth Jones
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th April 2017
I’m not sure if it’s my reading comprehension or the book at fault, but I did have some trouble understanding the technology and political background to this. There’s stuff which is obvious (overcrowding has forced people into hive-like cities, people want to go to nearby habitable planets) and then there’s the science and the politics of funding the venture and… whatever all that means.
However, on the personal level it worked: Kir’s connection with Margrethe, her difficult relationship with Bill, her half-a-relationship with the computer in her own head, Altair. The hothouse effect of the confined living space felt real, as did the consternation spreading through the group. The ending worked as well, though it felt a little rushed.
Overall, not the most effective of the Tor.com novellas, but that’s a pretty high bar to try and clear. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading.
What have you recently finished reading?
I juuust finished The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. I’d like to read some papers on this kind of thing, rather than a pop science book; he seems so certain about how life evolved and why life anywhere in the universe is probably under the same constraints! And the best bit is, this is kind of my field, so I probably can follow up on some of it. It does give me that wonder-of-science feeling.
What are you currently reading?
I just started The Furthest Station, by Ben Aaronovitch, and other than that I think Samuel R. Delany’s Nova is next on my list to finish.
What will you read next?
I haven’t really decided that yet… I have a new method which my wife taught me. I pick five books out that I’d like to read, she picks two of them, and then I pick one of those two. It seems to be working surprisingly well so far. And I should do that now, probably.
Ruddy Gore, Kerry Greenwood
I might’ve enjoyed this a bit more the second time than I did the first time, though it’s by no means one of my favourites. It does introduce Lin Chung, but I don’t really enjoy Phryne’s attitude to female characters like Leila Esperance. It’s that slightly bemusing attitude that all actors are the same, and all musicians, even to the extent that all trombonists are a pain in the neck and inclined to murder (see: The Green Mill Murder), and following that attitude, the consequent assumption that all actresses are fluttery and silly and not very smart.
Still, the puzzle comes together well, and it is the book that introduces Lin Chung and all the connections his family will bring. There’s a nice social awareness to the way Lin and Phryne are treated in society, making it more than just wishful thinking — even if Phryne herself is over-the-top liberal. Or perhaps that’s not the term for Phryne, just… “permissive”, maybe.
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Richard Wrangham
I know I’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of non-fiction lately, but this is probably one of the more entertaining and accessible of the bunch in style. It’s a convincing idea: what caused humans to be able to evolve such big brains and short digestive tracts, compared to other species? The answer, according to Wrangham: first the ability to hunt and eat raw meat, then control of fire for cooking meat.
It’s a very readable book, making all the science and history easy to follow. For me, it was an enjoyable read, though not exactly revolutionary; I was aware of most of the ideas already, since I’m fascinated by human evolution. It pulls together various different threads of the story, bringing together evidence from different ways of understanding human evolution.
(Oh, but if you don’t believe in evolution, this… will not be the book for you. That’s definitely an assumption of the book.)
This one is a “fandom freebie”, which I’m going to spin to being about asking which comics I follow (or try to follow), because I’m not so much into fandom, especially book fandom, lately.
- The Wicked + The Divine. It’s gorgeous, for one thing. And I’m kind of hooked on the story too, even if the third volume didn’t really advance it.
- Young Avengers. And any/all of the characters from that series — Hulkling, Wiccan, Speed, Ms. America, Hawkeye… I love that they’re starting to appear in the adult Avengers teams now.
- Captain Marvel. Because Carol’s pretty amazing and the series has had some gorgeous art. I wasn’t totally wowed by Rise of Alpha Flight, and Civil War II sounds like a nightmare of a crossover event, but I’m still here for Carol.
- Ms Marvel. Because Kamala Khan is badass.
- Captain America. Kind of… I love Cap, but mostly the MCU version.
- Spider-woman. Because who doesn’t love Jessica Drew and her, uh, sismance(?!) with Carol Danvers. Speaking of which, who noticed they stuck Jessica Drew’s wings on Spiderman in the trailer for the new one? Ugh.
- Silk. Because I love the starburst of spiderwomen we’ve had lately.
- Spider-Gwen. Ditto!
- Thor. Mostly the Jane Foster version, mind you.
- Avengers. Sort of. Mostly I love the MCU version, but I’m very much here for the new team-ups like A-Force in principle. I need to catch up, though…
So yeah. Fandom! Ish.
Britain BC, Francis Pryor
Having read Francis Pryor’s Seahenge, and of course knowing his work on Channel 4’s Time Team, I was very interested to read this. The prehistory of Britain is mostly not my main period, at least where it applies to the Stone Age, but it is the focus of about half of this book — and of much of Pryor’s interest. That’s fine with me, because though it might not be a period of literature and known culture, it is the period of henges and causewayed enclosures, burial mounds and early humans. It helps that Pryor’s enthusiasm is obvious throughout, and his writing is approachable.
(I can actually understand the people who find it dry — when you’re not that interested in the subject, anything can drag, and Pryor does spend a fair amount of words on flints and the evolution of their form and use. But for me, that enthusiasm carries it.)
His theories and interpretation of the evidence more or less goes along with the other work I’ve read, for example from Mike Parker Pearson, who wrote an excellent book on the conclusions of the Stonehenge Riverside Project. Beyond that, I’m not really qualified to comment, though I do find myself wondering somewhat about his opposition to the idea of any mass migration happening from Europe. The thing is, mass migration must have happened sometime, or there’d be nobody in Britain even now. It’s true that we’re pretty sure now that invasion is the wrong term, and that often the spread of ideas was more important than the spread of people. But there are genetic differences between the Welsh and the English, language doesn’t change as completely as from the Celtic languages to the Anglo-Saxon language without some kind of impetus… I mean, the people in Britain today are not going to adopt French unless there’s suddenly a big need for us to communicate with people speaking French — and that isn’t likely to be talking among ourselves unless there’s a significant presence and intermarriage with French speakers. There’s also the influx of Anglo-Saxon mythology and attitudes; Beowulf is not a native British poem by any means, and there are plenty of parallels between English and Scandinavian languages and culture which don’t exist between the Welsh (for example) and Scandinavia.
So I’m somewhat sceptical about the suggestions in this book that the British have more or less been the same people for such a long period of time. There are definitely things which have survived which point to a closer and less adversarial relationship between the incomers and the residents of Britain, but incomers there must have been.
When it discusses archaeology, it’s probably on safe ground. I’d be less sure when you also need to consider non-physical culture and language.
Deadly Companions, Dorothy H. Crawford
If you’re looking for a book about how human history has been shaped by microbes, and to some extent the evidence from microbes about our own development, this book is definitely going to be of interest. It’s not just diseases, though it does mention a lot of them; it does also touch on some of the more harmless microbes we’ve been carrying around. And of course, it talks about how we’ve shaped the evolution of microbes, as well.
If you’re a nut about this kind of topic, this isn’t very in depth and I don’t think you’re going to learn much from it. Something like David Quammen’s Spillover hits some of the same points while going a bit more into depth. But it’s a well-written survey of the subject, perfect for a layperson.