WWW Wednesday

Posted 10 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

I’m tearing through books right now, so that question is a bit of a toughie. Technically, I’ve just started on Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland, so we’ll say it’s that one. I’m a little nonplussed as to why black girls specifically would be used to fight zombies — the notion of black people in general being used to fight zombies in this time period because their lives are considered worthless is quite obvious, but the school for black girls specifically… why? Hopefully that will somewhat get explained, because right now it feels odd.

Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona AndrewsWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finished rereading Magic Strikes, which is mostly just a lot of fun. Partially because it’s a reread and I knew what the stakes were and how things turn out, sure, but also because the relationship between Kate and Curran sparkles. I’m not sure yet whether I’m going to start counting these books as romance as well, now Kate and Curran’s courtship is really off the ground. Really, it feels… not incidental, because it is key to their characters and to later events, but it doesn’t feel more like romance than any of the other genre books I read. I feel like the paranormal romance stamp got applied to this series because they eventually get together, and it just can’t shake it.

Still, I gotta decide soon when I made its motif for my blanket. Any thoughts, folks?

Cover of The Cruel Prince by Holly BlackWhat will you be reading next?

Most likely it will be something from my July TBR, which I have been tearing through. I think either The Cruel Prince or The Fated Sky are likely to be up next, because I’d like to keep up my book-a-day streak, and I think I can finish those in a day each. Record of a Spaceborn Few, possibly.

But mostly, as always, we’ll see where my fancy takes me.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Lifelode

Posted 9 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Lifelode by Jo WaltonLifelode, Jo Walton

Lifelode is a mostly domestic fantasy: the central character (for the most part) is Taveth, a woman whose lifelode (chosen purpose in life would be a simple way of “translating” that) is taking care of the home. There are lifechanging things for the characters of the book, but Taveth is usually making the bread or washing the clothes or cleaning out the bedrooms when it happens. When there’s an attacking force, she’s the one who worries about the supplies; as people storm the gates, she’s making stew and figuring out what will keep the children happy.

Arguably the other central characters are Hanethe and Jankin, but they aren’t really the emotional heart of the story: they’re the movement that stirs the whole pond, but Taveth is the core of it all, what holds it together. It’s tempting to talk about the plot and say too much about the way Hanethe is being pursued, the cause of the problems that she stirs up, but really the key to this book is the domesticity and also — to me, at least — that concept of a lifelode. Something that you not only intend to spend your life doing, but which to me gives you more life. You can pour everything you have into doing it, and it repays you tenfold.

When I first read this, I was 21, and I don’t think the idea resonated with me so much. I would’ve been towards the end of my first degree, and planning a fairly straightforward track through academia. At 29, with another two degrees behind me and eagerly looking forward to the next, it’s clear English Literature was not my lifelode, but just a part of it. Really, what gives me joy and feels like my real work is finding out more, about all kinds of things. Not just with the degrees, but with everything I read and do and talk about. It’s such a powerful concept, and probably not enough of us in this world think about finding our lifelode and making it work — and I’m glad I picked this book up again now and got to have a think about that, and about what I’m willing to do to keep pushing through and doing what I love.

There are also other lovely things about this book — the domestic detail, the casual queerness (including asexuality), and yes, the magic and the actual plot, and the structure of the narrative. But really this time what stuck with me and resonated with me was that idea of a lifelode. I’m really very curious as to why I never seem to have thought about it the first time I read it, but then, I know I hadn’t figured out yet that there was no straight track through to an obvious career that was going to satisfy me!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Revenant Gun

Posted 8 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha LeeRevenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee

I don’t know how to review this book! The first thing to say is that it’s a beautiful conclusion to some of the character arcs and questions, while leaving a big wide universe full of questions, and a history full of things to unpick as well. I’m sure I won’t understand everything until I read it again, and I could probably benefit from reading it again right away. So many things answered, so many new questions… gah!

It’s hard to give a precis of this book since it’s so strongly following the first two, so I won’t try. I definitely don’t recommend it as any kind of starting point: I think that would be a miserable idea, and unnecessarily annoying to anyone who could just pick up Ninefox Gambit and start there. It continues to make me feel in ways I don’t expect, to surprise me in how things work out while making them feel perfectly in tune, and it continues to have dozens of small moments that delight me — witness my expression when it mentions that Mikodez crochets, for instance.

It’s also delightfully queer, both in gender roles and in sexual roles, and it’s a delight that it’s so brazen about that. There are no apologies.

I enjoyed it greatly, and if it isn’t my vote for Best Novel in the Hugos I’ll be surprised; I will also give this my vote for Best Series. It’s not that it has no flaws, but if I tried to name them I couldn’t right now; I enjoyed it fully, and am glad I read it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Just City

Posted 7 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Just City by Jo WaltonThe Just City, Jo Walton

This whole novel is a bit of a thought experiment about people enacting a thought experiment: what would happen if people travelled through time to make Plato’s thought experiment of the Republic real, with the help of the Greek goddess Athene, the participation of her brother Apollo, and the addition of robots to do the hard work. There are multiple points of view: Maia, one of the readers of The Republic who comes to the city to found it; Simmea, one of the 10-year-olds recruited to be the first generation raised in the Republic; and Pytheas, the god Apollo incarnate in human form as another of those children. Those three perspectives together give us the City, from start to… well. The end of the book.

It’s really fascinating reading about the arguments for setting up the Republic, the way the Masters (Maia’s generation) interact and react to each other — because of course, very few people read The Republic and think that Plato’s suggestions should be implemented exactly as he says, but most people disagree on what things are right. And Walton has fun with who might plausibly be part of setting up the Republic: Pico della Mirandola, Ficino, Lucrezia Borgia… along with other people real and fictional.

(It’s especially fun going back to this after reading Lent, and seeing two different…ish takes on Pico!)

It’s also fascinating following Simmea and Pytheas, seeing the way they pursue excellence not only for themselves but for each other. If there’s an ideal love affair in fiction, this might be it: while there are physical elements to their relationship (more implied in the second book than actually seen here), that’s not the basis of their love for each other, and they’re never static. Right to the end, they’re always pushing at each other, demanding excellence of one another, and it’s lovely.

And then of course there’s Sokrates, brought into the City in its fifth year. With him comes change: greater freedom for Simmea and others like her who are deemed to be ‘golds’, or budding philosophers, and greater questioning of what Plato meant, what will work, and of almost every assumption the Republic has been founded on. I’d have loved to see more of Crocus and the other robots and their developing intelligence and sense of self.

Really, I could delve into several different aspects of The Just City, have it all in much greater detail, and be pretty happy.

Before writing this review, I deliberately refused to look back at what I thought when I first read it until I finished writing this. It’s… a quite different review, from a different me, and probably also worth reading; I still agree with it, but I experienced the book differently this time!

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 6 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a quiet week on most fronts, but I’ve done a fair bit of reading. What’s more, I had a greedily-awaited book come in months ahead of schedule, since I just got an e-ARC ooooof…:

I am very excited!

Books read this week:

Cover of The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells Cover of Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

Cover of Forces of Nature by Brian Cox Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton Cover of Lifelode by Jo Walton

Reviews posted this week:

The Afterward, by E.K. Johnston. An enjoyably fluffy fantasy romance about what happens after an evil god fails to take over the world. 4/5 stars
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. A beloved favourite and a timely reread. This time I couldn’t help but appreciate the science the most. 5/5 stars
Extraordinary Insects, by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson. Insects might be extraordinary, but this book wasn’t. Maybe a good introduction? 2/5 stars
The Ninth Rain, by Jen Williams. A deeply satisfying fantasy world, with some fun characters to boot. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

A July TBR. Here I go, possibly biting off more than I can chew. It’s going well so far, though.
WWW Wednesday. The usual update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘NEAT RNA.‘ Yes, I found that there’s an RNA called NEAT1, and I had to write about it, because… well, what it does really is neat.

So what’s everyone else been up to? Good reading week? Anything enchanting on your pile?

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Review – The Ninth Rain

Posted 5 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsThe Ninth Rain, Jen Williams

I put off writing this review to try and sort it out in my head, and not just lean on what I already said in the readalong posts about it, but I’m not sure that’s served me well — especially since I read the sequel in the meantime! But let’s see what I can do. The Ninth Rain is a fantasy novel that reminds me a lot in some ways of sci-fi and horror; in fact, it reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It’s a human world, but one that’s full of strange flora and fauna wiped by the remnants that a mysterious attacking force, the Jure’lia, leave behind them. In this world, we follow Hestillion and her brother Tor, a scholar named Vintage (“Lady Vincenza de Grazon”, actually, but she doesn’t stand on ceremony), and a young witch who wields fire fuelled by energy ripped from living things.

Hestillion and Tor are not quite human: they are Eborans, formerly sustained in long, healthy, beautiful lives by the sap of their tree-god Ygseril. But he’s been silent and dormant for years, leaving the Eborans at a loss — though they did find that human blood makes a substitute for the sap, leading to monstrous barbarism, and later prejudice. Tor’s not like that: he’s only interested in blood given willingly, and probably during sex. I find it interesting that he’s one sort of vampire, but arguably the witch, Noon, is an energy-vampire. They’re both pretty prejudiced and awful to each other about what they are, when their paths cross, but really they’re neither better than the other.

Vintage is mostly just a delight. Older than the others, and sure of what she wants, she is passionate about the remains of the Jure’lia and finding out what exactly is going on with them. Naturally, this steers a course straight into trouble, bringing Noon and Tor along for the ride.

Noon herself… is not really a favourite for me. She’s damaged and desperate, and horrible things have happened to her, but I don’t find her motivations as interesting as Vintage’s. Vintage has this scientific curiosity that really appeals. Tor’s alright as well, and I’m entertained by the female gaziness of the descriptions of him, but I don’t adore him.

Hestillion, though… she’s so clever and so manipulative; she’s both a horror and a delight, because you need to know what she’s going to do but ai, you wish she wouldn’t do it. That’s more or less what this whole book does: it’s an awesome ride, and it does some awesome things, but they’re also awful and whyyy do they have to happen.

It’s immensely satisfying — like filling up on a good meal.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Extraordinary Insects

Posted 4 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-ThygesonExtraordinary Insects, Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

I am not, as most people know, a fan of insects. In fact, there was a time not long ago when the mere thought of insects practically made me hyperventilate, and I’d still appreciate if they could keep their creepy little feet well away from me. But there’s always a world of things to know, and actual knowledge helps to replace instinctive fear, so I’ve been reading around somewhat, now and then, just as I did with deadly diseases. It’s kind of helping.

Anyway, Extraordinary Insects has some interesting titbits, it’s true. A lot wasn’t surprising to me — I have a biology degree, I think we can take it as read that I can grasp taxonomy — but there were some interesting facts. It was just… kind of thin, in the end; there were a couple of eyebrow-raising points where I quibbled with the facts as presented*, but the most part it was just a moderately entertaining, quick read, suitable for a layperson but not for anyone looking for depth. (Which is a big ask from popular science, perhaps, but I know plenty of popular science books that have been satisfying to me!)

(*For example, she claimed that binomial species names are always, invariably, in Latin. They are not. Many contain Greek as well, not to mention those that contain names.)

So in the end, fairly ambivalent. Meh.

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 3 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of The Just City by Jo WaltonWhat are you currently reading?

I’m getting stuck into a reread of The Just City! I never got round to reading the third book, and then I felt I’d better remind myself of all the details, so here I am. I do enjoy the way Simmea throws herself into her new life and makes it sound so wonderful, while we do see the gaps from the other points of view. Also it is weird reading this and knowing a character or two from Lent (and again, yes, I keep saying it, from Assassin’s Creed).

What have you recently finished reading?

I spent today (Tuesday, when I’m scheduling this post) finishing off Angela Saini’s Superior. It’s an interesting history of race science, but I’m not entirely sure I’d call it pop-science myself, though it seems to be being categorised there. I don’t feel like it gave me a good handle on the actual data presented by race scientists, or why it’s wrong other than It Just Is and some generalities. Granted, I haven’t looked at the original work at all yet — there is definitely science you can critique by saying it just does not work that way.

Cover of The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew WilliamsWhat will you be reading next?

Not sure! I should make a start on The Stars Now Unclaimed, as that’s a book club read. Admittedly I’ve peeked into it and read a handful of chapters already, but I’m really not far in. Not even enough to understand what I’m getting into, really!

What are you currently reading?

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Review – A Natural History of Dragons

Posted 2 July, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie BrennanA Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

I thought I’d read this more recently, but apparently not since 2016? It’s surprising how fresh it all stayed in my mind, really! This is one of my favourite series, I think, and there’s so many reasons why.

Reason one: Isabella. She’s far from perfect as a person — she’s prone to speaking before she thinks, thinking badly of people, thinking herself above people — but she also grows throughout the books (learning that her colonialist assumptions are just that, for instance). From the start, she has a thirst for knowledge, and a commitment to science; to finding out the truth and sharing it, while doing her best to be ethical and deal fairly with the people she meets.

Reason two: the science. It’s dragons, but it’s also a Victorian naturalist going through proper scientific process. Making a hypothesis and testing it. In this book in particular, I laughed because she called out bad statistical analysis in her younger self, pointing out that the cry that “it can’t be coincidence!” is really… not how science is done, and it could be coincidence.

Reason three: the dragons, of course.

There are other reasons to love the series, though they mostly come in the later books. I do enjoy the romance between Jacob and Isabella; I think I’ve gained in appreciation for it since I first read the book. It feels necessary to shaping who Isabella is, what she believes, what she’s later able to do.

When I first read the book, I worried a little that it would set up a kind of pattern: Isabella goes to research dragons, stuff happens, she returns home to prepare to do it again. But it’s better than that: you can follow genuine scientific progress through the series, as Isabella slowly starts to piece things together, and there have been hints all along. It’s great. I do recommend these books so much.

Rating: 5/5

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A July TBR

Posted 1 July, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

How did I do with my June TBR? 10/10! Hurrah. So it seems like this idea is still working for me — and to be frank, between the Hugo nominees I still need to read and some agreements to catch up with particular series/authors, I’ve got quite a lot on my plate this month…

So here goes:

Cover of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyumi Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews Cover of The Cruel Prince by Holly Black Cover of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers Cover of Hild by Nicola Griffith

  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. I’ve been meaning to read this forever, and it’s on the Hugo ballot.
  • Magic Strikes, by Ilona Andrews. Always good to have something I know I’ll eat up in minutes on the list!
  • The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black. Was this really out just last year? (Oh, I see, just barely.) Anyway, it’s on the Hugo list, so I’m fitting it in at last! I seem to remember not always loving Holly Black’s books, but let’s give it a whirl.
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. I pounced on this when it was out in paperback, and then got busy. With the Hugos coming up, it’s time to dig back in!
  • Hild, by Nicola Griffith. I’ve, uh, had this half-read for a while. It’s time to finish up.
  • Forces of Nature, by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. I started this last week, and it sounds like a good way to get some non-fiction mixed in!
  • Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman. For the Lodestar Award voting!

Cover of Forces of Nature by Brian Cox  Cover of The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

  • Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland. I wasn’t actually sure if I was going to vote in the YA category of the Hugos, and then the library had this in. So it’s this book’s fault I have such a full menu this month.
  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. “Gah, finally” — my sister, probably.
  • The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I hear that the books are best judged together, so…
  • Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier. Yay! Finally I will get round to this!
  • Late Eclipses, by Seanan McGuire. It’s the next in the series, and I really don’t want to lose sight of the series I’m reading in between all the other lovely books I want to cram into my brain.
  • Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. For whatever reason I’ve forgotten, I promised to read this by August, so okay, here goes! I’ve tried starting it once before, but it didn’t really work for me at the time. I was busy, though.

Cover of Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier Cover of Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire Cover of Too Like The Lightning Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton

  • Superior, by Angela Saini. This is a book on race science I just picked up last week. I enjoyed Inferior, so here’s hoping this is as good.
  • The Just City, by Jo Walton. Technically I’ve promised to finish this whole trilogy, but I’ll start by rereading the first one!
  • The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton. Well, in for a penny…
  • Necessity, by Jo Walton. In for a pound. I haven’t actually read this one, but I’ll need to reread the first two before I can get to this one. My brain doesn’t hold the details, these days!
  • Lifelode, by Jo Walton. I loved this book, so I’m excited to revisit.
  • The Poison Song, by Jen Williams. I just finished The Bitter Twins and aaaah! Gotta know what happens.
  • The Stars Now Unclaimed, by Drew Williams. My Habitica book club pick for July, so it kinda has to go on my list.

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton Cover of Necessity by Jo Walton Cover of Lifelode by Jo Walton Cover of The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Should keep me busy, right?

N.B.: The original version of this to-read list had a book by a notorious racist who supported eugenics on it. I had no idea, and I’m sorry. I’ve swapped a different book in.

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