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.
Nova, Samuel R. Delany
I’ve meant to read this for so long, because it’s a total classic and everyone seemed to expect me to love Delany’s work. Although the writing is clever, the way some of the characters speak (verb last) just got infuriating, and I don’t think any of the characters are really there to be liked. As for the grail story narrative that’s supposed to be there, well; knowing the grail story as well as I do (clue: very well, thanks to Cardiff University’s medieval lit tutors) it didn’t really feel like a grail story. Moby Dick, perhaps; that’s a comparison that does feel apt.
There are some gorgeous bits of prose and intriguing ideas, and I did want to read it all and find out how things turned out, but… it just didn’t blow me away. Possibly the fault lies in me, since Delany is a classic SF writer; I’ve still got Babel-17 to read, and we’ll see if I like that better.
The City of Dreaming Books, Walter Moers, trans. John Brownjohn
The City of Dreaming Books is delightfully whimsical, crammed full of ideas that practically want to burst out of the pages, and it’s all about books and writing and the love of reading. There’s so much going on — so much humour, so much inventiveness — and it’s all supplemented by the illustrations. I was a little worried after reading a synopsis of one of Moers’ other books (which is apparently in the same world, though this one stands alone) that it’d be too childish, but it didn’t feel that way at all. Of course, it’s a total adventure yarn, but it’s the sort that I think should appeal to anyone who likes a bit of adventure.
There are catacombs full of books, creatures that live only far beneath the surface of the city and devote their lives to learning to recite a single author’s output, deadly books and living books, monsters made of paper… And, you know, the main character is a dinosaur (who loves books excessively and wants to be a writer), and…
It’s hard to describe all the stuff that’s going on in this book. I can only conclude by saying that I found it deliciously readable and a lot of fun.
Bloodshot, Cherie Priest
There’s a lot to love about Bloodshot. The protagonist is a flapper vampire with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who uses her skills to steal things and sort of looks out for two street urchins who’ve taken up residence in her warehouse. Her client is a blind vampire who may be able to control the weather, having been experimented on by the government, and her eventual sidekick is a crossdressing ex-Navy SEAL who looks fabulous in either male or female clothing, kicks complete ass, and is trying to find out what happened to his sister in the same sort of experiments. The interactions are delightful, and Raylene’s tone is often funny.
There are some quibbles — Raylene tends to ramble, and on a second read it becomes obvious how long it takes for the plot to get off the ground. I’m still immensely fond of the characters and all the ass they kick, despite being tiny and obsessive-compulsive (Raylene), in high heels and a glittery thong part of the time, including during action scenes (Adrian) and blind (Ian). They make for a great team. Raylene’s a little too trigger happy — or rather, I guess, fang-happy; she’s definitely morally ambiguous, for all that I totally rooted for her throughout.
It might possibly work better as a TV show or movie, in that Raylene’s inner monologue is part of what slows things up. Not that I can imagine anyone making something of this and not utterly butchering it in some way — what charms about it is partly that these characters would rarely be allowed to shine in quite this way in mainstream fiction, and it’s possible in another context Adrian would be used as comic relief in some way. (Which he isn’t, which is great.)
Still very fun, but also definitely still flawed on a reread.
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Ancillary Sword has a smaller scale than Ancillary Justice, which actually continues into book three. It’s not that the wider events are forgotten, but it narrows down to the narrow section of space Breq can protect, her ship, and Athoek Station. As with the first book, I liked this more on the second reading — probably because, yes, I did know what to expect, so I could appreciate it better, but also because on reflection I like that Leckie doesn’t try to tackle the huge sweep of events. Instead, she focuses in on Breq and those around her, and keeps it manageable in plot and for the reader to appreciate.
There was less of Seivarden in this book than I remembered, and actually I think I’d have liked to see more of Seivarden. She’s got learning to do, but all the same, I’ve come to appreciate the character. She’s far from perfect, and she’s not even an anti-hero — she’s just a flawed person. But nonetheless, she grows and develops.
Sometimes Breq is a little too… far-seeing. There are things she suspects in this book that only really become obvious in the third book. In retrospect, I enjoy the way things come together, but the first time it felt like Breq was a little too good. But then, of course, she’s not human. She’s an ancillary, and so she thinks differently. I suppose that’s part of what we’re being shown here too.
So, yes, conclusion continues to be: well worth the reread, and definitely as good as or better than I remembered it.