Hurley is an amazingly inventive author; there’s no doubt about that. Each of the worlds she creates is full of fascinating detail: in this book, it’s the living worlds and all their layers, the different environments that Zan travels through in the course of the book, the living or semi-living technology they use. The details are, well, visceral — which is a bad match for the squeamish. Surprise! That includes me. The sensory aspects of this book just had me constantly wincing, not wanting to even try imagining them.
It doesn’t help for me that the characters are not entirely likeable, and their endgame is necessarily a secret from Zan (which leaves the reader figuring things out at the same pace). Terrible actions for a goal I can support, I can get past — when characters just do terrible things and interact with terrible people and I’m not sure if the goal is worth it, even to them… Well, it’s difficult for me.
I think Hurley is a great writer with a lot of intriguing ideas, but I prefer her non-fiction essays and commentaries. It’s not her, it’s me.
I wouldn’t read this just for the geek feminist point of view, or just for Hurley’s thoughts on writing; I read this because I know that Hurley can write stunning essays, like the Hugo Award-winning ‘We Have Always Fought’, that she has interesting thoughts on media, because I know that she’s not afraid to take down an idiot. She’s also unashamedly about the self-care: despite being outspoken in many ways, she also has a very carefully filtered Twitter feed, and blocks people as necessary. The general feeling I get from Hurley is that she hasn’t got time for bullshit: she’s earning her living, dealing with chronic illness, and sometimes pausing to hold a mirror up to society’s bullshit because it’s getting in her way.
She writes engagingly and honestly makes me consider watching things like True Detective, because her essay just makes it seem all the more interesting through her analysis. And if there’s anyone who has taught me to be a better copywriter by viewing my writing as work, it’s Kameron Hurley.
My only quibble would be that I’ve read quite a lot of these before, in the collection I think I got for free which contained ‘We Have Always Fought’. I still enjoyed them, but as a collection, I could wish for more of Hurley’s hard-hitting awesomeness.
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley Received to review via Netgalley
It took me long enough to get round to this one, I know. Props to Ryan from SpecFic Junkie for poking and prodding me to finally get round to reading Kameron Hurley’s fiction. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, because I had read the start of both this and God’s War before, and bounced off. That seems to have been a timing/mood thing, because I found a lot to fascinate me this time. Hurley can really do weird, in ways that come to feel more organic than, say, China Miéville’s brand of weird. I can never forget that’s weird. Reading The Mirror Empire, carnivorous plants and mirror worlds and all the other details quickly settled into feeling normal for the reality I inhabited while reading the book. It was never not fascinating, but I learnt the rules, and I didn’t feel like bizarre things were there just to be bizarre. It was part of building a whole world with a coherent mythology.
The contradictions that other reviews I’ve seen have mentioned… well, I didn’t notice them. To me, the whole concept of the mirror worlds came together well. Likewise, the stuff people accuse Hurley of putting in just to be shocking. Like, the ataisa, people who are neither male nor female but somewhere in a grey area. That’s not new in speculative fiction at all, and it’s baffling when people say it is. It isn’t even new in the real world for people to feel that way. What’s shocking and new is apparently just the fact that Hurley includes them, matter of factly, and it doesn’t have to be plot-relevant. I’d love to know more about Taigan and why she is the way she is (I use ‘she’ because that’s how she identifies at the end of the book), particularly the fact that unlike other ataisa, her transformation is physical. But it doesn’t have to be plot relevant: it’s character relevant, it adds another layer to the world. Why not?
There’s also polyamory, queer relationships, female-led societies and relationships. None of that is shocking — or rather, if it is, then you’re living your life with blinkers on.
I did struggle with the rape elements in this story. The degree to which particular characters consent or not, whether we’re meant to see one character in particular as heroic. In the end, I felt that Zezili — for example — was a character with nuance; her relationship with Anahva was unequal, and it didn’t seem to matter whether he gave consent or not, to her. But I didn’t see that as being excused by the story. It was a part of the character, like killing innocents, like opposing the Big Bad of the book. Good and bad in one person, and not always distinguishable.
As for the complaint about a lack of strong male characters… uh, Taigan? Roh? Ahkio? Oh, I see, your problem is that they aren’t all traditionally strong (or male all the time, in Taigan’s case). But it’s nothing like the straight flip that people are making out: the female characters aren’t all one brand of strong, either.
In the end, I enjoyed this a lot. It does feel a little too dark for me at times, but there’s a lot to enjoy too; loads of world-building, interesting characters and relationships, etc. I’m looking forward to the next book, and to going back to God’s War.
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is ‘Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn’t Get To’. I probably just need to look back at my Netgalley account for this one, ha.
Willful Child, Steven Erikson. A spoof on Star Trek, by Steven Erikson? Yes, please. I had this as an ARC, but… Yeah.
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley. I’m just hangin’ my head here, guys.
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie. Uh, ditto.
The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley. Had an ARC. Am terrible. ’nuff said.
Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor. I love this series. I think I might be a bit afraid to read the last book.
Landline, Rainbow Rowell. In fairness, I didn’t ‘discover’ Rowell’s work until Landline was already due to come out.
Illusive, Emily Lloyd-Jones. Superpowers! Heists! An ARC I still need to get round to…*
The Girl With All The Gifts, M.R. Carey. I think I picked up a library copy of this near the start of 2014. I dread to look.
Of Metal and Wishes, Sarah Fine. I’ve seen some mixed reviews, but I wanted to pick this up just from the cover… I don’t quite know why.
The Falconer, Elizabeth May. I picked this up a few months ago and still haven’t got round to it. Gah.
There’s just too many books, too little time, am I right?
*I should perhaps at this point note that I will get round to every ARC I’ve received, though in many cases I have to order them from libraries or buy them now that they’re no longer available to download.
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is “Top Ten Books I Read in 2014”. This one you can probably predict if you follow this blog, but I won’t leave you guessing. Also, links don’t show up on my theme very well, so I’ll just say now that all the titles are links to the reviews I wrote earlier in the year.
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. Yep, you probably predicted this one. I just loved it to bits — I’d have happily gone back to page one and started all over again right away. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it was pretty perfect for me.
The King of Elf-land’s Daughter, Lord Dunsany. This is definitely not new to a lot of people, but it was new to me. I think I’d read one of Dunsany’s short story collections before, but not this one. It’s a lovely mythic/fairytale-like world. In style and the like, it’s not like the more typical modern fantasy, but that doesn’t put me off at all.
We Have Always Fought, Kameron Hurley. I haven’t read any of Hurley’s fiction yet; she may even be a writer who appeals to me more as a commentator than as a creator, since I did start God’s War at one point and put it down again. But I loved this collection of her essays. She very much deserved her Hugo.
My Real Children, Jo Walton. Again, probably predictable. I loved the characters in this — the sheer range of them, the ways small circumstances could change them. It was quite upsetting on a personal level because of the mentions of dementia, but the fact that it had the power to upset me only made me like it more.
The Movement: Class Warfare, Gail Simone. I think this is a pretty timely comic. This sums it up, from my review: “[T]his is a group of young people getting together against injustice. Not supervillains: injustice. Crooked cops who beat poor people and POC because they can. The whole system of privilege and disprivilege. It’s a team of heroes for the Occupy Movement, for the 99%, for the disenfranchised.”
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge. Read this all in one go on a train journey and resented every interruption. There’s a great atmosphere to this book.
Behind the Shock Machine, Gina Perry. I’ve always been fascinated by Stanley Milgram’s experiments, and this was a great way of delving into them — looking at it not from Milgram’s point of view, not looking at the results, but at the people he used in this experiment.
What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton. This is kinda cheating, in that it’s a book chock full of the books Jo Walton likes. Not limited to a top ten, of course, but I have a feeling it could furnish the whole contents of this list.
Spillover, David Quammen. Fascinating stuff, with some very obvious conclusions that apparently still need to be said. We are destroying habitats, forcing animals closer together and closer to us: we’re creating the perfect situation for a pandemic. It’s going to happen again, as it’s happened before, and we’ve just got to hope it isn’t something exotic and deadly. Even the flu is bad enough when it sweeps the world.
The Broken Land, Ian McDonald. This is the only book in this list I didn’t give five stars. But it’s stayed on my mind the whole time, and the issues it examines aren’t temporary ones that’re about to go away.
This is gonna be a really interesting week to check out other people’s lists; I’m looking forward to this! Make sure you link me to your list if you comment. I’ll always visit and comment back.
This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More”, which… I’m not quite sure if I can do, since I tend to go on sprees. Let’s see what I can manage.
Steven Brust. I’ve only so far read Jhereg, though I know I’m gonna read the rest of the series.
Laura Lam. I’ve read one of the short Vestigial Tales, but not the main series.
Phyllis Ann Karr. I loved Idylls of the Queen (and wrote part of my dissertation on it). Lucky for me, I have a few more of her books waiting in my queue.
Steven Erikson. I’ve got almost the whole Malazan series to go. I might have to reread Gardens of the Moon by the time I get round to that, though.
Philip Reeve. I’ve read Here Lies Arthur, and have a bunch of others on my list.
Jorge Luis Borges. This is more because, much as I wanted it to, The Book of Imaginary Beings didn’t wow me.
Italo Calvino. Same goes, with Invisible Cities. There’s a lot I wanted to love.
James Morrow. I haven’t actually quite finished This is the Way the World Ends yet, but it fascinated me the way he managed to draw me in, despite my usual aversion to comic novels of any kind.
Kameron Hurley. I’ve actually only finished reading her book of essays. I really need to read God’s War and Mirror Empire.
Lucius Shepard. I’ve only read The Dragon Griaule, and that was just fascinating, the weirdness of the world and the way he built it up.
Oh, I could manage after all. What about everyone else?
Have you ever connected with an author through social media? Do you think it’s important to have things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as a blogger, reviewer or author? Why or why not? How do you think social media has progressed and changed the bookish world in recent years? And, now for a fun question: Are there any authors who’s Twitter feed you just can’t get enough of?
I have connected with authors through social media, quite a lot. I tend to follow authors I like or who say interesting things on Twitter, so I do actually discover new books through Twitter sometimes. I met Jo Walton through LiveJournal, and after a couple of years chatting on there, I met her in person a couple of weeks ago and spent the day with her and a lot of other people. So that was pretty cool. I’ve also got some authors on Facebook and stuff like that — Chris F. Holm is on my FB list after he linked to a post here and kindly added me so I can read the discussion, and I follow him on Twitter, etc. It can be a really good tool for just getting brief but meaningful and non-stressful interactions with authors: I’ve had back and forths with Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, Joanne Harris, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin… It’s great. Some interactions have been more positive than others (Nnedi Okorafor and I didn’t completely get on), but it’s always interesting.
I think it helps to have at least one social media account, to boost your profile a bit and give you another medium to talk, maybe less formally than in a blog post. Instagram seems less important to me, and I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but Twitter and the ability for people to RT my reviews is great, plus there’s plenty of competitions for ARCs and so on that go on via social media. Goodreads and LibraryThing are also good ways to connect with other book reviewers, and a lot of the reviewers I follow are still on those platforms — I transitioned to my own blog because I disagree with some GR policies, and didn’t want them to have my content exclusively, plus it wasn’t a good place for posts like this. It’s also better to have your own blog for getting ARCs, and you can’t really do blog tours on GR or LT, so there’s that as well.
It does change the way the book world works in some ways, for those who do interact with authors on social media, and for authors who interact on social media. Sometimes I think authors do themselves a disservice by airing their opinions hastily (or sometimes at all) on Twitter. Sometimes authors really promote their work that way, though.
As for authors whose Twitter feeds I can’t get enough of, there’s obviously John Scalzi, who is usually smart and pretty much always hilarious, and Kameron Hurley, because I enjoy her blog posts and her thoughts on pretty much everything. N.K. Jemisin often has smart things to say and interesting links, too.
But really: fuck yeah, Kameron Hurley, and I just have to say… the results this year clearly show where SF is going, and where people want it to go. For all those claims that SF readers want “real” SF and don’t want “pink SF”, look at those winners.
I won’t do that whole ~she’s so inspiring~ thing about this, but she writes frankly and clearly about chronic illness and how close she came to death. She writes her truth hard and clear, and speaks up for herself and others in a way that’s frankly admirable. She can recognise and break that inertia people get, bystander effect, and yet her saying so doesn’t come across as bragging. I feel like if I asked her one of the questions most important to me for judging people, she’d give me a straight answer: do you think you could say no to authority? And I don’t think she’d shame anyone else for not being able to say yes, yes I could, right away, even if she could. She knows life’s tough and people are people.
This is also great for picking up recs for other books/media. Orphan Black might be a thing I look into, and I think her analysis might encourage some people towards True Detective, though it doesn’t sound like my thing. Must look up Tim Akers; I’ve always sort of meant to read his stuff and then the first book hasn’t been in the library or whatever.
I really enjoyed reading these essays, and now is as good a time as any to mention that you can (as of the time of writing, at least) get them free. Here! And don’t say I never give you anything… Uh. Well.