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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Star’s End: An Inner Space Opera

Star's End - Cassandra Rose Clarke

Man, I really like Clarke's stuff. Not real flashy, but emotionally detailed.

 

My latest at B&N SciFi & Fantasy

Wrong Title, help?

Star's End - Cassandra Rose Clarke

How do I go about changing an entry? Four Sisters is the working title of this novel, not its actual title. Which is Star's End, and quite good. Maybe not as affecting as her other stuff, but still something that I'll be thinking about this week. 

I didn't get this PhD for nuthin

The Silver Skull (The Elemental Web Chronicles Book 2) - Anne Renwick The Golden Spider (The Elemental Web Series) (Volume 1) - Anne Renwick

The Golden Spider and The Silver Skull are both fairly paint-by-numbers steampunk: it's vaguely Victorian-ish, with the ton & the peerage and all that, but there are Babbage cards and steam mechanicals and such too. 

 

The Golden Spider is probably the better novel, following a girl scientist trying to stop a killer and cure her brother and also there are spies.The Silver Skull relies on one of those "we have to pretend to be married so we might as well bang" scenarios, which I find tedious, and I didn't buy the reasons for the lovers to be apart anyway. But bonus points for pteranodons that the evil lady saddles up so she can have sky battles with airships. That was fresh. 

 

What I really wanted to say about this series, the thing I found utterly charming, was the epically nerdy science behind both of these plots. A science that was lovingly detailed with so much legit scientific terminology that I would just start skimming at points as the principals breathlessly talked chemistry at each other. The author's bio states that Renwick has a PhD in chemistry, and it shows: she loves this shit; she's not going to dumb it down; and she's going to work out the science plausibly, even if it's fictional. 

 

Hard science is very rarely my thing. I simply do not care about verisimilitude, unless you wrap it up with some actual characters, which doesn't happen as often as I'd prefer. And generally I'm not reading steampunk for the articles, but because I like the dash-punk pulp aspects: I want to see me a fucking kraken, or an airship battle that crashes, burning, into the sea, or some automata struggling with sentience. But here, in books where the steampunkery was wan and drab, I lived for the nerdy stuff, in a weird reversal. It just goes to show that the enthusiasm of the writer towards the subject, be it chemistry or krakens, goes a long way toward my enjoyment of a novel. 

New York 2140 Offers a Fascinating Tour of a Drowned Manhattan

New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson

I am not fucking around: this is a great Kim Stanley Robinson novel. It's got everything I like about him: a bunch of hugely nerdy digressions, some legit science, a little light-hearted didacticism, and words words words. This man can write. Ok, sure, the plot is loose, but who even needs a plot when you've got a world like this, like ours but in extremis

 

My latest at B&N SciFi. 

10 Characters in the Mercy Thompson Series You Must Meet

Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs

So this is a round-up I did for B&N SciFi, which is a little listicle-y because it's number 10 in a series and nobody much cares about, like, an actual review at that point. Either you'll read it because you're on the hook, or you won't.

 

But coming up with the list kinda reminded me how kinda terrible the Mercy Thompson series is about relationships between female characters. I think there's a big step forward in Silence Broken -- Mercy has real conversations with Honey, that Russian witch lady, and Marselia -- but that doesn't precisely make up for the previous 9 novels. It ends up being one of those bummers where I pretty much like everything about a series but a huge fucking gaping hole where normal human interaction should exist between people of the same gender, but alas, it doesn't. Or it does a little not, but. 

 

Oh, but as per the actual plot: I thought this one unstuck some stuff that had been, um, stuck, in the few previous. Mercy ends up kidnapped into Europe, so we get a whole new political and literal landscape to deal with. I though it shook up some things that needed shaking up in the Mercyverse. 

Fiasco and WTF

Venom and Vanilla (The Venom Trilogy) - Shannon Mayer

Uff da, this is some silly stuff.

 

Venom and Vanilla started with a bang. We're introduced to Alena on her death bed, cut down by a communicable disease that's so virulent that she's flown out to Whidbey Island off the coast of Seattle to die isolated and alone. It's a sad, slow beginning, nostalgic for her simple life and small rebellions. Alena was a member of the Firstamentalists, an almost cult-like religious group who brooked no contact with the Supernaturals: vampires, werewolves, etc. Of course, fiction being what it is, the narrative lack dictates that, in order to cure the fatal disease rapidly killing her, Alena must become a Supernatural. 

 

I actually loved watching a protagonist struggle with her religion. Alena holds to her principles, even though she'd long questioned them, long past my expectations. While I found her childish refusal to do anything close to cussing annoying -- for fuck's sake, donkey butt has nowhere near the frisson of asshole -- I commend the commitment to character. Alena is a good girl, a religious girl, and she's not going to shed her convictions just because she's like a giant snake or there's a hot vampire or whatever. 

 

But that's about where I stop my praise, because this novel is such an absolute fiasco. Alena is turned into an ancient Greek monster by Merlin, THE Merlin, of all people, to be murdered by Achilles, who is apparently a thing, and Zeus works for Wal*Mart, plus there are vampires and naga and werewolves and satyr and god knows what fuck all. Oh, and there's a standard dystopia where Supes are second class citizens dumped onto the other side of a wall (oops, sorry Canada, you're now the dumping ground for supernatural creatures). 

 

This is one of those stories that is so far gone that I enjoyed it, just waiting for whatever bananas ass shit was going to happen next. Lightning shootout in Wal*Mart? Fine. Naked girl fight in a Queen Anne neighborhood attic? Sure. Casual slut shaming while reveling in the lead's nascent sexuality? Whatever. A house-sized snake fighting minotaurs? I guess. So much random shit happens, SO MUCH. SO MANY characters hide footballs, and not even stealthily, but like right in front of you like you don't have eyes in your head. It's so blatant it passes over insulting into something else completely. 

 

Anyway, I guess what I want to say is that the reader for the audio is fucking amazing, and I think she's the only reason I finished this thing. Her name is Saskia Maarleveld, and I really like her voice. 

 

The End. 

12 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Updates of 19th Century Novels

Heartstone - Elle Katharine White
Arguably, 19th century literature is defined by the extravagance of its poetry. (The Vampire Lestat ain’t got nothing on Lord Byron.) But the craft of the novel was percolating in the background, too, undertaken by such undesirables as women, satirists, and social reformers. If you care to, you can find Victorian jeremiads railing against the social rot perpetrated by novels, which read like anti-television tracts from the first decades of that medium. (My take: give any genre long enough, and it’ll become preferable to the newest alternative. I am constantly begging my children to rot their brains with television instead of YouTube. For crying out loud, put on headphones at the very least.)
 

Because early novels were written on the edge of things—not precisely respectable, and new enough for wide experimentation—many bucked the often rigid social structures of the times. In the second edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which had been subject to much howling by moralists, Oscar Wilde declared, “all art is quite useless.” By which he meant (among other things) that the novel should not be used only as a moral punchline, but should explore the wide variety of the human experience. From Trollope’s intricate family sagas, to the Brontë sisters’ howling family Gothics, to the lurid and/or didactic serials of Conan-Doyle and Dickens, the novels of the era tread a lot of ground.

 

Maybe that’s why they’re such good fodder to update for a contemporary audience: they managed to hit first, and definitively, a swath of the human experience. No, no one has to worry about the entailed estates of the Regency period, but the social burlesque of Pride & Prejudice, the relationship between the sisters, and the sting of betrayal—all still hold true. (Plus, Darcy: rwrrr.)

 

Here are 12 sci-fi and fantasy updates of major 19th century novels. I’ve not included works that already have a science fictional or fantasy twist to them, like Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; they almost need their own roundup. I haveincluded edge cases like the Gothics, because any supernatural element tends to be ambiguous at best. (Quick: are the ghosts real in The Turn of the Screw?) Come let’s see what’s happening on the manse, in space.

 

I know this is super annoying, but my actual list can be found at B&N SciFi. It was hella fun to write. 

Invisible Library series is ridiculously fun

The Burning Page - Genevieve Cogman

My latest at B&N SciFi.

Alas, because I like Elizabeth Hunter a lot

Building From Ashes - Elizabeth   Hunter

I should have known I was not going to be into this. We've met one of the main characters, an Irish priest named Carwyn, in the Elemental Mysteries series. He was fine as the duffer coot friend of the hot lead, but promoting him to romantic lead himself is way too much. He's officious and holier than thou, and his crush on the girl was gross. Hunter sidestepped a lot of the pedo-stylins of vampire fiction quite neatly in the Mysteries series, making her characters perfectly cognizant of the ethical problems of their predicament. Here it's like Carwyn is so busy being right all the time that he can't see how wrong he is. 

Not my particular poison

Beyond Shame  - Kit Rocha

Picked this up because I saw it on a list of completed romance series -- you know, don't get stuck hanging for a year because Moning can't help but end everything on a cliffhanger -- and the list included a couple series...es that I liked. (Brothers Sinister by Courtney Milan and The Guardians by Meljean Brook, specifically.) This is sold as post-apocalyptic, set in a post-solar storm America. There's a religiously oppressive city with all the money and power, and a ring of sectors beyond with various governments or lack thereof. So far so good. 

 

I kind of can't believe I'm saying this, because I like sex writing as much the next sex-positive feminist, but there was way too much pointless sex for my tastes. I want to be clear I'm not saying "I'm not a prude, but", a phrase that is an exact indicator that the speaker is a massive fucking prude. None of the sex depicted was beyond my comfort level or anything. I mean, sure why not have a ruthless gang of bootleggers have a company orgy every Wednesday; seems legit. But I didn't feel like much of it was in the service of, like, plot or character development, so it ended up often feeling mechanical. 

 

There was a sort of trajectory, sexually speaking, for the leading lady. She is ejected from the confines of her shitty, repressive city life for being sexually precocious, and then learns a little something about menage, BDSM, and blowjobs, and maybe, just maybe, something about herself. This trajectory was undercut a little by having her jump immediately into public sex and blowjobs after maybe sixteen seconds of thinking, oh no, my repressive upbringing, I couldn't possibly. So, it's not so much a trajectory as a backstory we are only told about, and a present course of complete sexual openness. That's not a story; that's a situation. 

 

One of the reasons I like PNR is that it so very often deals credibly with body trauma, people moving from grief and brokenness to wholeness. Because there was no real emotional trajectory for anyone (and I do not credit hero dude struggling with these completely new feelings of tenderness and possessiveness, what are these things I'm feeling?) nothing that happened, no matter how theoretically sexy, had much juice to it. It was stuff that was happening. Except for the tattooing sequence; that was hot, rarrr. 

 

I guess what I'm saying is that I want this book to buy me dinner before we skip to the fucking. I didn't realize I was that old fashioned.

 

Anyway, if you like kinda light BDSM and lots of group sex, you could find a lot worse. Nobody is slut-shaming or becoming a massive alphole. I mean, even when the main pair get together, they still fuck around with other people instead of reverting immediately to middle class American monogamy. So that's good! But I'd prefer a little more apocalypse in my post-apocalit. Alas. 

The Edge

On the Edge - Ilona Andrews

I thought I'd check this out while waiting on the most recent Kate Daniels to get its ass in at the library. On the Edge deals with a pocket universe called, ahem, the Edge, that exists between the Broken (us'ens) and the Weird (magic'ens). The Edge is a narrow band separating the two, where magic and tech mix. The people the occupy the Edge tend to eke out a pretty haphazard existence, working shit jobs in the Broken because they don't have the requisite papers from our world, or bartering between the Weird and the Broken for trinkets and Pepsi. Or they farm, or cook meth, or whatever. Altogether, a pretty great metaphor for populations who live in poverty for one reason or another, be it cussedness or that they're los illegales.

 

Main character Rose is in her 20s, raising up two much younger brothers after her mom died and her dad run off (again). She's got a grandmother who helps out, but that's about it, and a minimum wage job in the Broken cleaning offices for 10 hours a day, no time off for good behavior. The novel opens with one of her brothers tearing up his new, expensive shoes by being a boy, and the crushing decision to buy him new ones. Because she knows he'll be laughed at in school with the wrong shoes, or torn shoes, or, God help them, no shoes at all. He'll be laughed at anyway, but new shoes is just one fewer reason. Shoes bought, then she has to figure out how they're going to eat for the next week. 

 

So, so rarely does pop fiction deal in actual poverty, working poverty, the kind that so many of my fellow Americans have to live with. A good friend of mine is getting foreclosed on -- she's losing the house she raised her boys in -- because she donated a son a kidney after his utterly failed. I'm not sure how this would have been treated under Obamacare,  but this was before the ACA passed, and was treated like an elective surgery. ( I know the ACA kept me out of a spiral of medical bills, which was passed just months before I would have been crushed by the "preexisting condition".) But before Obamacare, her kidney transplant to save her son set off a spiral of medical bills and lost work that lead her here, looking at getting turned out of the home that she's spent 25 years paying a mortgage on. Fucking hell. 

 

So it was, refreshing isn't the word, maybe satisfying is what I mean, to see characters grapple with the implacable cruelty of poverty, how poverty gives zero fucks if you have a degree or a good work ethic or a dying son, it's just going to grind you down like glaciers. And other people, otherwise well meaning people, are going to judge the ever living fuck out of you for your bad shoes and bad car and bad food. For having the temerity to be poor. 

 

On the Edge ends up being something of a Cinderella tale, all told, which I don't quite know what to think of. On the one hand, I don't mind a wish fulfillment exercise when the wishes are "get me the fuck out of this impoverished nightmare". Rose is not a pretty useless nothing, but principled and disciplined, understandably more competent than her 22 years might imply. She's had to grow up, and grow up fast, and has too many people counting on her to swoon or moon over a rich dude. Rich dudes are dangerous and trouble; they think they can own you.

 

Nor do I particularly want it to end with dire disaster. I can read miserablist fiction for that, thank you, not urban fantasy. I guess I just wish there had been a middle path, one that let Rose live in her Edge community, near her grandmother, on the land of her ancestors. Maybe that's the real wish fulfillment exercise, a naive wish within myself that we can break out of the rote poverty without severing ties completely, cut off from our peers because they are no longer our peers. Alas. 

Yeah, no

Unborn - Amber Lynn Natusch

Unborn pretty much exemplifies everything that I find unpleasant about paranormal fantasy; not sure why I finished it. First off, we have a lone woman, an exemplary special girl who has untapped powers surrounded by a whole bunch of dudes. Then said dudes spend all kinds of time treating other women like shit, and this is somehow a reflection on the women and not the dudes. Then, and this is my special favorite, most of these dudes are the main girl's brothers, but they persist in treating her like a sex object, and this is funny. Because incest is funny. Why are you being such a buzzkill? 

 

Oh, and it ends on a cliffhanger. I know, right? 

 

This is the sort of book that makes me appreciate this book's antecedents, stuff like Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Fever novels. I made some fun of those at the time, but actually the way those series navigated some seriously problematic shit was pretty deft. BDB has the whole dudes-only feel, but the banter is honestly amusing, and the whole thing ends up being an exploration of masculinity that doesn't have to hate on every woman but the protagonist. Fever, well, Morning turned the cliffhanger into an art form. Unborn does neither of these things well. 

Gothic angel morality tales are a thing; who knew?

Cruxim: You Are Never Alone (Dark Guardians Fantasy Series Book 1) - Karin Cox

Odd little book. The blurbcraft I saw for this book all called it a paranormal romance, but that really isn't right. It's more dark fantasy or Gothic, like Interview with the Vampire period Anne Rice. The plot concerns a Cruxim, an angel like being that hunts vampires. The novel takes place over the 16th and 18th Centuries, and our cruxim is a man of his time, convinced of his righteousness and utterly bought into the virgin/whore dichotomy.

 

Which is what makes this so not a romance, because when his now adult ward throws herself at him, begging for him to release her from the nunnery so she can marry and have a life, he completely freaks out. Like oh my God you can't want to have sex you slut! Then of course when he runs off like a big idiot his ward is deflowered and turned into a vampire OH MY GOD THE IRONY.

 

It's first person, and there isn't much authorial commentary on this, which makes the whole thing interesting indeed. The prose is overheated and formal, which I completely adore for the right subject matter, e.g. tortured angel morality tales. Oh, and there's a sphinx character who is the most impressive mix of sinuous sexiness and alarming bestiality. Bravo. 

Liu is so awesome

A Dream of Stone & Shadow  - Marjorie M. Liu

She did it again! I am growing to love how delightfully bent Liu is at times, in a way that few urban fantasy writers will even touch. For all the shapeshifter and werewolf romance out there, no one acknowledges that a shifter could have sex in its animal form, or that the whole shooting match isn't tinged with bestiality from the get go. Not that there is anything wrong with that! There's a great scene in an Angela Carter short story where the lion beast flenses the skin off the girl, revealing the fur underneath. She was so good, god.

 

Anyway, this book is about a disembodied gargoyle and a precog falling in love. I know, I know, that sounds ludicrous. But it is real sweet, the way the dude is almost like a ghost, just this hint of sensation and a voice in her ear. She eventually meets the gargoyle in the flesh, and he's totally, you know, grey, with big bat wings and red eyes. And she is totally into it. I got all excited about the tiger bj in Liu's first book -- who even does that? -- but that ain't got nothing on gargoyle blow job. He's got knobby bits on his knob! Love conquers all! 

After Atlas is Painfully Good Science Fiction

After Atlas (Planetfall Novel, A) - Emma Newman

I completely adored the book previous to this one, Planetfall, and it's so wonderful to see the second meet the same impossible standards. After Atlas is not a sequel so much as a companion novel, and I suspect it could be read as a standalone.

 

My latest on B&N SciFi 

Jews vs Zombies

Jews vs Omnibus: Jews vs Aliens and Jews vs Zombies - Naomi Alderman, Daniel Polansky, Sarah Lotz, Shimon Adaf, Rachel Swirsky, Eric Kaplan, Rebecca Levene, Lavie Tidhar, Sarah Anne Langton

So that happened! 

 

For whatever reason, I ending up being assigned a bunch of Jewish science fiction (or science fiction written by Jewish writers, if you prefer) by my editor, which ended up being a fun mini-class. I picked this up as it's edited by the fabulous Lavie Tidhar. His A Man Lies Dreaming is one of those most bananas alt-history pulp meltdowns; it must be seen to be believed. 

 

I only read Jews vs Zombies, but BL doesn't have anything but the omnibus listed. Like most short story collections, it's a mix of better and worse. "Zayinim" by Adam Roberts is a standout, a sly alt-history that could easily keep going to novel length, given the richness of the detail. "The Scapegoat Factory" is funny, which one does not expect from zombie fiction, as is "the Friday People", but there the humor is black as pitch. The real Talmudic ones didn't work for me, too abstruse, but they may work for others. Definitely a better collection than the silly name implies. 

 

Ta da!