The Glass Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg
Like the first book, this is basically a bit of cotton candy, and I enjoyed it as such. The alt-Victorian-ish world isn’t sketched out very clearly, but the magic system is fascinating, and it gets extended somewhat in this book, which is interesting. And I can’t help but want Thane and Ceony to get together, even though it was kind of abrupt in the first book.
Ceony herself continues to be irritatingly impulsive and lacking in self-awareness. In the last book, it made a certain amount of sense; no one else was planning to go and rescue Thane. In this book, there are plenty of people who are way more qualified than she is, and she succeeds only in making things more complicated (although of course, in the tried-and-true style, she ends up saving the day even despite that because she has heart and pluck and throws herself in there).
It’s not a particularly surprising story or world, but it remains fun.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
I know that there’s probably a ton of “problematic” themes/scenes/descriptions in this book; without paying much attention to the specifics, I’ve still gained the impression that Gaiman isn’t exactly beloved of the social justice crowd, for various reasons. And I can definitely understand the criticisms of some of his actions, statements, aspects of his writing… but American Gods is still a really satisfying, solid read, and I enjoyed it. I found some of the mythology a little too obvious this time round — “Low Key Lyesmith”, really? The hints were just way too obvious for someone with a solid knowledge of Norse mythology.
Still, the other mythologies that are glimpsed are less well-known to me, and I love the way they’re all woven together to make a rich story that’s like a tour of the US and of its people’s history. I’ve no doubt there are gods that should have been included and aren’t, and that other gods have more prominence than they probably should (well, Odin for one). But honestly, I wasn’t thinking that while I was reading. I was just enjoying it.
It’s true that Shadow, the main character, is a bit of a cypher — intentionally. It’s hard to like someone who seems to go through life so numbly. But really, I’m here for the game Gaiman’s playing with the mythology, so it works for me all the same.
Some of the stuff that really doesn’t work for me, though, would include the way the female characters are treated: so much sex and lying, and “bitchiness” (for lack of a better word)… I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
It’s a fun read, though not perfect. I think that has to be my conclusion.
Spellslinger, Sebastien de Castell
Received to review via Netgalley; published 4th May 2017
I’ve read one other book by Sebastien de Castell, Traitor’s Blade, and it was a lot of fun, much like this — although aimed at a different audience, somewhat, given that this is essentially a coming-of-age story, and deals with the various trials and tribulations of proving yourself to your society, living up to your parents’ expectations, and discovering you’re just not like everyone else. It surprised me in that it doesn’t take the easy way out, emotionally. Kellen has to get through the whole book with more or less the same advantages he started with.
The family dynamics are just… painful. They’re plainly abusive, even when they express affection/pride in any way, and it’s just not at all fun to read for me. The way Kellen’s friends turn their backs on him, too. I don’t want it to be a true depiction of people, of family and friendship, but I’m afraid it really can be, and that’s kind of awful.
Spellslinger doesn’t go easy on the protagonist or the reader, it has a pretty cool magic system and world-building, and plenty of space for more adventures. Oh, and a talking animal sidekick which is not a dog, but a squirrel cat. I’m here for this.
There’s plenty more room for world-building, and I feel like things might really kick off in later books — this did feel like an origin story, though there are one or two themes that I imagine will be explored further.
The Martian, Andy Weir
Reread, because I just felt like it. It’s a great adventure story which uses a lot of reasonable, modern science to imagine how we’d get people to Mars to explore — and what we’d do if someone was stranded there. The main character, Mark, is funny, which both builds sympathy for him and ameliorates some of the frustrations of the way things just keep going wrong. I love the bit in the afterword by the author where he explains that he found that each solution to the last problem naturally presented a new problem for the characters; now that’s a good way to put a story together.
Most of the characters aren’t that well rounded, because so much of it relies on reporting Mark’s diary entries as he struggles to survive on Mars. It mostly still works, though, and there’s some excellent snark I just love, e.g. the whole “Elrond” meeting.
It’s not a perfect book, but I enjoy it a lot. If you’re a fan of the Apollo 13 movie, or of space stuff in general, then I think this should appeal — as well as if you’re into survival adventure stories.
The Paper Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg
The Paper Magician isn’t epic fantasy, it isn’t some big sweeping narrative; it’s rather short, and to me it feels like cotton candy. In some moods, that’s just perfect, as far as I’m concerned, and I did indeed enjoy this a lot. The magic is fun — in the case of the paper magic, it’s whimsical, and yet in surprising ways it turns out to be useful. I found the main character, Ceony, a little annoying at first, in her preoccupation with the fact that she didn’t get to do exactly the kind of magic she wanted. Emery Thane is pretty awesome from the beginning, and he goes out of his way to be sweet to her — it’s no wonder she becomes interested in the paper magic he teaches.
The relationship forms a little bit quickly, which I kind of expected given these books are romances as much as fantasy, and definitely more so than historical fiction (nearly not at all, despite the semi-Victorian-ish setting). It makes sense, more or less, though Ceony’s a bit of a twit in her rush to go off and confront the Big Bad.
It’s not the most substantial, deeply thought out world ever, is what I’m saying. I still found it fun, and it’s certainly a fast read.
The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu
If you’re not into comics, you might not know about the trope of “women in refrigerators”, recognised by Gail Simone. Basically, it involves female characters who are killed off to further a male hero’s story — like Alexandra DeWitt, who is literally shoved in a refrigerator to die for the manpain of Green Lantern. Catherynne Valente takes a bunch of those stories and lets the women speak for themselves. If you like working it out, don’t worry; I won’t spoil which women are included in the line-up.
It’s a fun bunch of stories; they don’t end well for the women involved, because that’s the set-up here, and there’s a certain amount of rage at how this shit keeps on happening in Superhero Land (not to mention everywhere else as well). So if you’re looking for a transformative work that changes these stories, that’s not what this is. For now, it just gives the women voices; lets them tell their half of the story.
I enjoyed it a lot, and I’ll be looking out for a copy just to have — I borrowed the copy I read. The art included is pretty cool too (though this is a prose work, not a comic).
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
If there’s a place that this trilogy disappoints me a little, it is with this book. There’s plenty of action and character development, and if it were the middle book I’d probably be perfectly happy. But it isn’t; this is the end, and it’s unsatisfying in the sense that we have no idea how things will turn out. It makes sense as a decision, when you see it in the context of the second book in particular — this is really about Breq and her relationships with those around her, and less about the Radch. Breq’s story, and especially that of the Radch, go on before and beyond the books.
But still. I want to know what happens next. Do the Presger rule in favour of Breq’s little republic? What happens to Tisarwat? Does Anaander Mianaii try to take control back — or rather, being Anaander Mianaii, what does she try to get control again?
There are many things I love about this book, but it’s still a little bit in danger of getting only four stars because I just want more. On the other hand, there’s all the delicious dry snark from Breq and Sphene, there’s continued exploration of AIs and personhood, there’s the Translator and her fish sauce and her improbable digestive system… There’s all the heroics and the goodness of Breq, and the desperate moves Station makes to protect its inhabitants —
So in summary, there’s a lot to love, and I want more of it.
Machine, Jennifer Pelland
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. Machine is a powerful exploration of body dysphoria, set in a world where your consciousness can be downloaded into a medical android body replacement, while your human body is cryo-frozen to prevent the progression of disease. It reflects on body dysphoria in general, of course, and it’s pretty inconclusive about the answer — should you modify, should you learn to live with it, how will people around you react…
There are parts of this which are frankly disturbing — the erotica parts didn’t interest me, obviously, but I actually found them actively discomforting even to skim past. That’s 100% intentional, and that’s obvious, so that’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just something you might want to bear in mind if you find the book interesting.
I found it difficult to believe in the central couple, whose separation sparks the whole plot. Rivka doesn’t seem like a great person, if she couldn’t even tell her wife that she wasn’t happy with the medical replacement body before she went through the whole procedure. Character-wise, no one really shines — even the main character’s closest friend and people who are sympathetic to her do stupid things which out her to the world (which is fairly anti-robot), things which I wouldn’t tolerate in a friend even in the less fraught environment nowadays for queer people.
It was interesting and powerful, but not something I was willingly emotionally involved in, or emotionally involved in for the reasons I’d usually enjoy. The ending… it was what I wanted, in a sense, but it felt like a cop-out as well. Consequences-be-gone.
Killing Is My Business, Adam Christopher
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 25th July 2017
I’ve enjoyed the other books and stories in this series a lot, and this is no exception. Take a Raymond Chandler-esque world, and apply one robot trained as a PI who has been somewhat repurposed as an assassin. Add the complication that he runs on limited tapes of memory — 24 hours at a time, no more storage than that. Add his AI handler, Ada, who very clearly has her own agenda — one which doesn’t always align with what their creators envisioned for them.
And, in this book, add the mafia.
I started it when I couldn’t sleep, and finished it an hour and a half later, without stopping once. Adam Christopher writes crisply, precisely; there’s no dead patches where you feel like you can put the book down, because if you did, well; something interesting might happen while you aren’t looking. I love the way Christopher uses Ray’s limitations to create parts of the mystery. This isn’t just a book with a detective/assassin who happens to be a robot; the fact that Ray’s a robot is vital to the whole thing.
Raymond Chandler’s probably rolling in his grave at the comparison, given he had no great opinion of sci-fi, but I’m not going to worry too much about giving him an unquiet rest.
Reality 36, Guy Haley
Many, many moons ago, I think this is one of the books I got free from Angry Robot when I visited them as a contest winner. But I’d been meaning to read it before that; I love the idea of cyberpunk and virtual realities, love messing around with the idea of AIs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this too well; first off, it felt unfocused because it took so long to figure out who the protagonists are. Okay, you get Richards in the two-page prologue, but then not again until fifty pages later. Veronique might be cool, and feels at first like a potential protagonist, but it’s clearly meant to be Richards and Klein — given the book’s called a Richards & Klein investigation.
I got a little further in and wasn’t a fan of Otto at all; he’s brutal, makes homophobic jokes about rape (there’s a whole scene with him taunting someone he sent to prison about how he must’ve been raped there, seriously), resorts to torture, etc. Just… not the sort of character I enjoy spending time with. So I skimmed from that point on, and didn’t really find anything that hooked me back in. The story very obviously continues in Omega Point, but I’m not interested enough in reading it. I get that a lot of the unpleasant stuff is part of the genres Haley’s playing with, but… it’s not the good stuff about those genres.
Disappointing, especially as I came back to this to give it a second chance after enjoying The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley.