419 Followers
368 Following
Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

I hate this book

The Headmaster - Tiffany Reisz

I don't know why I pushed through once I started getting irritated with the weird regressive snobbery of the main character -- probably because this is short and maybe she'd pull her head out eventually. An English teacher on her last dime is driving up from the deep South to Chicago to crash on a friend's couch and hopefully find a new job. She doesn't really have anyone in her life: parents are dead, boyfriend took off to Africa to Peace Corps or something. She gets into a car accident on the way to Spooky Gothic Boys Academy, and wakes up in the headmaster's apartment. She hassles him for a job and he puts her on a one week probationary period. Here's where things start to go to shit. 

 

First, main girl starts hitting on the headmaster like it's her damn job. This is unbelievably unprofessional, if not downright unethical. Which fine, this is a Gothic romance, whatever. The real irritation set in when she began outlining her curricula, and I fully own what a dork ass thing that is to say. It's a boys' school, yes? With a very frusty hidebound reading list? And she's like, I won't bother them with Brontës or Austen because boys hate romance. What in the actual fuck.

 

This is actually, literally a romance novel, and we're going to have to hear a bunch of fucking bullshit about how 1) the Brontës and Austen wrote romance and 2) boys shouldn't have to read writing by women because it's all fucking romance. Jfc does that piss me off. Brontës were Romantics, no question, but given that the modern romance novel wasn't invented until a century and a half later, they were not writing romance novels. Moreover, if they were somehow writing romance, given their position in the actual Western Canon, there is absolutely no justification for keeping them off a reading list for boys, other than boys might get cooties and feel uncomfortable, and their delicate feelings must be shielded from women blah blah.

 

This bullshit is repeated when Gwen(?) considers maybe she should include some works by black authors because there is a single black student who, it is assured to us assiduously, is completely extraordinary and the smartest kid in the school. Which is why the headmaster went to bat for him the previous year when he was the first black student in the school, and half the parents pulled their kids. There's a (stupid) reason for why the school just integrated in the 21st fucking century, but Gwen does not know that reason. Headmaster gets all the cookies for standing up to racists, but it's full on bullshit that there are only white dudes on the reading list, and Gwen is all la la la maybe I should remedy that lol, instead of asking very pointed questions about what the fuck is wrong with a school that accepted its first black student in 20 fucking 18. But really she's much more interested in banging her boss before she even gets the job. 

 

The ending is where I blew my top, but I'm not sure I should get into it because of spoilers. I'll just say that the horrible, inert ending of the Twilight saga, which saw Bella and Edward locked into enduring middle class perfection for ever and ever amen is, for me, the worst kind of hell. Aspects of that were replicated here, with an added bonus of the death wish of such a vision made more explicit. There's medieval heresies based on what happens here, and while I'm not usually aligned with religious crackpots high on ergot, we are in accordance here. What a strange world we live in. 

Credible mess

Seven Years - Dannika Dark

I've avoided Dannika Dark forever because that pen name hurts my feelings. I mean, maybe that's her real name -- and I don't have the energy to check the copyright -- but I would be hugely surprised if that were so. I was pleasantly surprised in the beginning. This is first person with a narrator who isn't mean about other women and kinda flailing in her life choices. Her family -- a mother and sister -- are still living with the grief of her brother's death 7 years previous. Brother's bff who totally bailed on them after brother's death returns to town and informs sister lady that her brother died because of shapeshifter politics. 

 

This part is fine. We are reading PNR after all. The opening is really grounded in the girl's life, and there's some nice detail about her co-workers and neighbors -- especially the neighbors. But then it imperceptibly just goes off the tracks, veering into some tragically stupid pack politics and mages and now her sister is some kind of mystical bullshit and oh my God corrupt police officers and absent dad is back and a psycho and on and on. It just completely loses focus. The pack gender dynamics are repellent, though admittedly main girl can see that they are messed up and pushes back. There are way too many near sexual assaults of our main character so shifter dude can swoop in. 

 

I dunno. This is fine, I guess, but I feel like maybe I should have heeded that pen name. Or, that's uncharitable. I did have a good time listening, and the narrative voice was pleasant enough. A credible mess. 

Why not both?

The City & the City - China Miéville

Mr. Ceridwen once had a very large public tizzy about how irritating this book was to him, I'm sure made all the more irritating because I had also just publicly declared my enduring love for Mr. Miéville. That was probably like a dozen years ago, which is apparently how long it takes me to get over my amusement at Mr Ceridwen's annoyance. Far be it from me to actually read the book in question, because I might actually agree with him, and then a very good source of bickering would be ruined. That whole anecdote is probably more illuminating of my marriage dynamics than I would prefer.

 

But then it turns out I earnestly have no idea what his problem was! The eponymous cities of The City and the City are Besźel and Ul Qoma, which are something like Buda and Pest: cities divided by a river and topography, but ultimately bound together into Budapest. Except entirely opposite of that: Besźel and Ul Qoma occupy the same land, the same space. People can be walking down a street in one city and dodging people in the other. But this seeing and in seeing cannot be done obviously or delibrately; the cities unsee each other. The borders are fiercely maintained even though they are diffuse and internal.

 

The plot follows Tyador Borlu, a detective from Besźel, who picks up a murder case that appears to be a matter of breach: her murder appears to puncture the inviolate membrane between the city and the city. Breach is one of those things that terrify the denizens of those cities, and it's hard to tell if it's social prescription or semi-mystical woo-woo -- and this is what irritates Mr. Ceridwen. Borlu in his detective plot moves through both cities and between to find the girl's killer.

 

My take is more ¯_(ツ)_/¯. Why not both? The social contract is rigidly enforced in just about any city, be that city authoritarian or boho. People have hundreds of internal rules -- thousands -- about who they interact with and how, who they see and unsee. Its both entirely mundane and semi-mystical. To misquote a favorite poet: we live in imaginary gardens with real toads in them.

Ahead of the curve

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast (Steampunk Proper Romance) - Nancy Campbell Allen

I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks recently. We recently moved, so I've been working on the various paint and plaster projects necessary to make this house not be the godforsaken beige that the previous owners thought was a good idea. Which means I have hours and hours of monotonous work that is perfect for audio. I listened to an urban fantasy trilogy I've read before, hit some China Miéville because rwrrr, and then moved on to midlist steampunk. 

 

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is one of those titles that promises some stupid stuff. I am not opposed to stupid stuff, per se, and I felt reasonably sure I knew what I was going to get, given my experience with steampunk on the romance end. There would be an inventor's daughter, one of those irrepressibly zesty daughters of the upper class who be impressed upon to find her father's killer / continue his work / fall in love with the staff / automaton / vampire / werewolf. I once read a short story collection of steampunk stories where two thirds of the entries went this way. 

 

But that is not what I found in Beauty and the Clockwork Beast! Or it is, just a very little, but the bulk of the novel is character study, riffs on Gothic fiction, and well written prose. Jeez, who even does that? 

 

The plot follows one Lucy Pickett as she goes to stay with a cousin who is more like a sister to her. The cousin, Kate, was recently married to the younger brother of an earl, but has been ailing since she took up residence as the lady of Blackwell Manor. The earl himself, Miles, has a pall upon him, after his wife and sister died within a day of each other half a year ago. The wife died in a manor befitting the Blackwell curse, and the sister was torn apart by wild animals. It's all pretty sketchy. 

 

Lucy is a botanist herself, and a member of a society that is working towards the usual medicinal uses, but also pharmacology that is useful against vampires. This is a world with magic and animal shifters (of which Miles is one) and vampires. But it's not a world with ghosts, so it troubles Lucy some to encounter the ghost of the earl's sister for several nights running. She and Miles end up playing detective in the earlier deaths, Lucy's sister's illness, and Miles' blackmail. 

 

While there are many things about the detective plot that make me want to tear out my hair -- there are ONLY TWO OR THREE VIABLE SUSPECTS JFC -- I was so in love with Lucy. She's no inventor's daughter, an appendage on a great man, but a scientist in her own right. This might be a little harder to explain, but hear me out: she's also not gadding about in trousers because she's so transgressive, but a careful woman of her class and station. 

 

Look, I love me a firebrand, a character who smashes shit and gets stuff done. But I weary of 1) characters who haven't earned it and are just middle class fantasies of rebellion dressed up in pantaloons 2) Strong Female Characters (tm) who do everything in their power to shit on girlishness, the trappings of femininity, and any woman who might still live under its aegis. Lucy is often well and truly frustrated by how she as treated as a scientist and a woman, but she's got good table manners, and knows how perform a perfect curtsey. She has good relationships with other women -- not just one, but several -- and even treats unlikable female characters with kindness and empathy. In short, she is a good person.

 

Her worth isn't predicated on her father, or her magical powers (she has none other than education and experience) or her anachronistic badassery. It comes from her diligent work ethic, loyalty to those she loves, and innate kindness. Which, whoa. I was well pleased to encounter someone of Lucy's mettle in this sort of steampunkery. 

 

There are things to complain about, for sure. The detective plot is almost offensively stupid, even while the technical details of this specific steampunk world are careful and considered. Miles holds onto his secrets 80 pages past when he should. People almost never ask the obvious questions when confronted with a mystery, and blithely go about their business like idiots. At a couple crucial points, characters forget important details like wow. 

 

That said! I feel like this was ahead of the curve. Lucy is such a practical, well drawn character, and she acquits herself with grace. May we all, etc. 

Ocean Light

Ocean Light  - Nalini Singh

If I believed in such a thing, the Psy-Changeling series would be a "guilty pleasure." While I don't believe in guilt-reading -- that's ridiculous -- there are aspects of the series that make me me feel kinda embarrassed. Any romance involving one of the changelings -- and they are always predatory changelings -- is so hopelessly mired in kinky Victorian notions of biological determinism and dominance and submission. I mean, that's usually what you find in animal shifter narratives, so Singh isn't outside the norm, but I know I'm going to have to grit my teeth through that stuff to get to the extremely cool mythology she's been spinning for almost 20 novels now. (I don't have the same problem with the Psy, who are Vulcan-like psychics, because their romances tend to center around recovery from severe abuse and personal sexual awakening, which I find much more interesting than YOU MAH WOMAN GRARR.)

 

Technically, Psy-Changeling wrapped up with Allegiance of Honor, which was a sort of clip show, where we checked back in with literally everyone who had ever been mentioned in the previous 14 books. I get why it was written that way, but romance epilogues make my teeth ache, and this was more than a dozen of them all piled up. It was also a letdown because the previous three novels, Heart of Obsidian, Shield of Winter, and Shards of Hope, are hands down the best novels in the series. Singh brings all of her complicated mythology to full flower in those novels, and in ways that make the romance plot absolutely integral to the narrative. Heart of Obsidian especially. That they're a dozen novels deep in a series makes them even more impressive; Singh had the opposite of burnout. 

 

Silver Silence, the novel directly previous to Ocean Light, was the first of the novels in Psy-Changeling Trinity, which details life after the fall of Silence (a form of widespread social conditioning practiced by the Psy designed to repress all emotion.) Like Ocean Light, it follows a character seen on the periphery for most of the series: Silver Mercant, personal assistant to all-around badass Kaleb Krychek. She falls in with a bear pack outside of Moscow, which was interesting because we've never seen bear changelings in action before. Bear changelings end up being annoying, but then they're not as drearily serious as either the cats or the wolves, so on the balance more fun to read about.

 

Like Silver Silence, Ocean Light centers on a peripheral group, one that has heretofore been shrouded in mystery: the BlackSea pack, the changeling clan that encompasses the entirety of the earth's oceans. Even the land-bound changelings think of them as out there. While we've encountered some of the BlackSea characters in Psy-Changeling novels, specifically Miane, the alpha, and her security guy, the pack itself has been secretive. BlackSea takes in Bowen Knight, head of the Human Alliance, in order for BlackSea scientists to remove a degrading chip in Knight's head. We've met Bowen many times before. As the head of the Human Alliance, he's tangled with both the Psy and changelings (both of whom tend to treat humans like butt monkeys).

 

The romance largely consists of Bowen and the BlackSea chef, Kaia, making eyes at one another while agonizing about how Bowen might die from a medical procedure. It's not particularly compelling. The non-romance plot has to do with ongoing kidnappings of BlackSea members, kidnappings that seem to be perpetrated by the Human Alliance. Knight and Miane's security guy work towards figuring out who the traitors in their organizations must be, but mostly through phone calls and data searches, so that plot-line isn't particularly compelling either. There is some movement at the very end, but reading about a grueling transatlantic flight isn't exactly action either. 

 

BlackSea itself, though, was interesting to read about. There’s still a fair amount we don’t know about the pack – pack members tend to be especially secretive about what their animal is – but the underwater city was beautifully rendered. While shifter narratives almost never address bestiality – and I am not suggesting they should – there was an ongoing tentacle-sex gag going on here that surprised a laugh out of me. All considered, Ocean Light was fine, but I felt like more could have been done with both BlackSea and Bowen Knight, alas.  

 

 

BBC 1! BBC 2! BBC 3!

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

A Cat Valente novel in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide, which both works and doesn't work in the ways one would expect from such a thing. Valente's prose has always been extremely ornamental, and she applies this to British-style humor with a trowel. Sometimes this becomes just deliriously, fabulously overdone, and sometimes it collapses from the weight. I hear it's getting a movie treatment (or possibly short series) which will probably be a better medium, especially if it's BBC micro-budget. 

Unfortunately bad

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever - Julia Quinn

I've generally enjoyed the Quinn books I've read, but this is a dud. Mismatched couple, dickish dude, doormatty lady. The first act complication -- love interest abandons Miss Cheever, who must weather an unplanned pregnancy alone -- was so awful I was done with main man completely. Second act complication was just stupid. 

Cozy Gothic!

Slowly Fell - Jayne Fresina

While I'm not sure such a thing can exist, I would describe Slowly Fell as a cozy Gothic tale. There's all the earmarks of a Victorian Gothic: lost babes and a crumbling manse, witches and curses, consumption, murder and missing persons. But the central character of the novel, Sarah Wetherby, is such a stalwart and unflappable person that she stares down any spoopy mysteries through sheer force of will. She is Lady Elizabeth's "coping girl", sent all around England to help those in need, as a sort of helpmate to people Elizabeth deems worthy.

 

Sarah is sent to the town of Slowly Fell to help the parson, whose wife is dying, to help with his copious children and the sickbed. The novel bops around in time, giving us backstories to Sarah, Elizabeth, the town blacksmith, and the history of Slowly Fell itself. Turns out, all those stories are interconnected, often in ways that seem very upsetting to the principles. Much of this just slides off, due to tone, in a way that should have been frustrating, but wasn't? Or not ezactly. I didn't know what to expect from the novel, so it's hard to say. I think I was expecting more Goth and less coziness, but it wasn't a bad way to spend the time. Reminded me a bit of The Thirteenth Tale, in that way. It's half spooking, but safe. 

Dancing Bears and Reverie: His Lordship's Last Wager

His Lordship's Last Wager: A Regency Romance between Bitter Enemies - Miranda Davis

A million years ago, I picked up The Duke's Tattoo by Miranda Davis because I read some sniggering reviews about it: get a load of this. And it's true, and funny, that the opening action is one of the heroine sedating and then permanently inking a certain peer's unmentionables, and then how their rivalry and his revenge turns into love, &c &c. Oh, and all of this takes place in a Regency romance, I believe in Bath. It's pretty much the best. Sure, whatever, none of that is likely, but neither is getting lucky in a barouche, and that happens in Regency romances all the freaking time. 

 

a four wheeled horse drawn carriage which seats two, open, but with a sort of umbrella over the passengers

 

Seriously, you're not getting laid in this comfortably even in modern clothing, let alone the yards of fabric those poor assholes had to wear in the Regency. 

 

Anyway, Davis's almost overblown prose -- she has an excellent vocabulary and isn't afraid to use it -- and sideways sense of humor completely won me over.

 

But then came the The Baron's Betrothal, which, while written in the same winsome prose, was a tiresome will-they-won't-they that I didn't appreciate. Admittedly, I almost never appreciate a will-they-won't-they, but then The Baron's Betrothal also was thin with the humor that so radiated from The Duke's Tattoo, so I don't think it wasn't just my predilections talking. Fast forward several years, and Davis's newest book, His Lordship's Last Wager, pops up on one of my if-you've-read-this-then situations, and I figured I'd give her another go. I mean, even the book I didn't like wasn't bad, per se.

 

Boy, but I found His Lordship's Last Wager charming. The set up is ludicrous, again: a zesty young woman gulls a lord-type into helping her transport a trained bear to Ireland. Look, I'm not going to explain how such a situation comes to be, partially because I can't remember exactly. Like the lord-type, the reader finds herself wondering what the hell happened to result in a trip through the aqueducts and canals of England of yore. I was super into it, because, wait, lemme tell you a story. 

 

My great-grandmother, the one I'm named after, was born in the US just months after her parents stepped off the boat. (I think assholes would call her an anchor baby.) Though we don't know for sure, my family suspects that great-great-grandpa knocked up the neighbor girl in a small town in Wales, and due to the fact that he was an inveterate alcoholic (ah, the Welsh), the families sent them on their way to America. She managed to have another child, a boy, before she succumbed to Industrial Revolution Pittsburgh. Great-grandma and her brother were settled into an orphanage -- her father being too drunk to care for them -- but not after the family in Wales entreated her and her brother to "come home". The trans-Atlantic voyage was too scary for a young girl, so they stayed.

 

Fast forward many moons, and my mother took that faded correspondence, and tried to find our living relatives in Wales. Several things hampered this: the family names were Jones and Edwards, which are about as common as you can get; the family wasn't Church of Wales, which would be the establishment church, but Baptist; and the Baptist church in the area burned down in the early 70s, so all the records were ash. We found the house on a trip to Froncysyllte when I was a teenager, and the current owners were kind enough to let us look at the deeds (which corroborated pretty much all of the family lore), but it was a dead end.

 

But we were in the area, so we touristed around for a while. One of our more memorable visits was to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which is still functional, a crazy waterway strung between high Welsh hills. Observe: 

 

a black and white photo of a large aqueduct being drained

 

Though I don't think our intrepid Regency lovers plied this waterway, much of the action of the novel takes place on the canals that crisscrossed Britain, moving goods and people just like the railroads. Davis notes that there is little contemporary description of the canals in their heyday in the 1800s, as they were largely commercial. Who writes stories about truck stops or container ships? So too, back then. But they're fascinating places, and it was entirely enjoyable to read a Recency romance that took place on the rough waterfront instead of the cultivated lawn.

 

Obviously, this is still a romance, so it's not going to get too icky or realz. And that's fine. I'm not usually reading Regency romance for the articles, and I don't need some big bummer to prove the situation serious. That said, this novel was charming and lively, funny and unusual, and totally worth it for the reverie about my lost family alone. 

Nightfall

Nightfall - Peter Kujawinski, Jake Halpern

Nightfall is an odd one, because I definitely liked the idea and the atmosphere well more than the actual book, so much so that I pushed through to the end. I am absolutely not the  kind of reader who must finish everything she starts -- I abandon things all the time -- so that I kept trucking is decidedly in this book's favor. That said, I still wasn't super jazzed about Nightfall, so. 

 

Three teenagers -- a sibling pair and another boy -- live on an island on a planet where the seasons are incredibly long. (Think Game of Thrones without the incest.) The entire community of the island comes in the spring, and leaves 14 years later in the fall. At that point, the island is given over to ... something, and everyone must leave their habitations just so. The teens get left behind in the push off the island, and must either make it through Night, or get off the island somehow in the cold and dark. 

 

The environmental stuff was bananas good, and I was all in on the descriptions of the changing seasons and the changing island. The teens, maybe not so much. Several footballs are hidden for so long that it was almost insulting, plus it just made it hard to care. I also didn't find the ending particularly satisfying, but, per usual, ymmv. Winter is coming, I guess. 

I gave myself a nice surprise

The Seventh Bride - T. Kingfisher

I'm a total mess when it comes to curating my ereader. I check things out of the library and compulsively download books both profligately and promiscuously. I follow one link after another in search of books that might appeal, and almost never make note of how I ended up with that one thing on the queue. And saying I have a queue is an insult to an organized and methodical list of readerly desire, because I pretty much read at whim (when I'm not reading for work) and my whims are scattered far and wide.

 

So when I picked up The Seventh Bride, I more or less assumed previous me had downloaded some crap that might be fun at bedtime, one of those first person jobs with a Strong Female Protagonist and some sexytimes, the kind where the Strong Female Protagonist spends all her time slut shaming everyone around her and sucking. Hey don't judge! I like getting pissed at my reading so I can get some godamn sleep once in a while. Alas, The Seventh Bride turned out to be well written and interesting. So much for sleeping! Sleeping is for suckers anyway. 

 

Turns out, The Seventh Bride is a retelling of Bluebeard, the folktale probably best known from its telling by Charles Perrault (who also wrote Puss in Boots). In the tale, a young bride marries an older lord of some kind, and is admonished by him never to look in one specific room. (Just fyi, a forbidden thing in a story is called by folklorists a narrative lack, and you can bet your bottom dollar that this lack will be fulfilled in the text.) So too, in Bluebeard: the young wife finds the key, and upon opening the forbidden door, finds the heads of all the previous wives, usually seven in number. Thus, the name of the novel. 

 

The Seventh Bride dispenses with the young wife's naivete. She knows the lord is bad news, but is more or less sold to him because of deeply unfair social architecture. Instead, the novel focuses on the relationships between the wives, some of whom are still living, and some of whom are, well, maybe not dead, but not altogether alive either. Kingfisher does a lovely job of detailing the strange connections between the women. One woman in particular is devoted to her evil husband, and a couple others are so twisted by their circumstance that they are fragile and dangerous in their fragility. This is no rosy sisterhood, but it isn't some bitch-fest either, where our protagonist gets to be Queen B because all women but her are the worst.

 

Nuanced relationships between women in a fucked up system? Who even does that? Kingfisher does; amen sister. 

Not Interesting South Africa

The Wingman - Natasha Anders Floored - Ainslie Paton

The Wingman is an eminently forgettable contemporary romance I picked up mostly because of its South African setting. I had this foreign language teacher who always said the best way to learn conversational chatter was to watch soaps: they tend to be real familial, familiar, and local. So I've enjoyed contemporary romances from other countries on this level: they give me a real interesting view of a country. I mean, of course it's stylized and perfected, but it can be unvarnished in a way you don't get in capital L Literature. I read like a half dozen novels by Ainslie Paton because she writes so winningly about Australia, and about the Pacific Rim more generally. Floored is a straight up road trip novel, and so much fun if you want to drive through a dozen shitty Australian towns. Which I do! 

 

Anyway, The Wingman is not that, not by half. There's a little chatter about how no one speaks Afrikaans, but then no one speaks Afrikaans. The main girl runs a clinic is the bad part of town (i.e. the black part of town) but pretty much the community exists to menace her with gangsters or rescue her from said gangsters. Everything is paint by numbers small town romance with requisite slut shaming and label dropping, but that kind of label dropping that pretends it isn't interested in status objects like those bitches over there. Sure, Becky. 

BONKERS

The Dragon Factory - Jonathan Maberry Patient Zero - Jonathan Maberry

I kind of can't even handle how ridiculously pulpy this series is so far. Patient Zero pretends to a kind of scientrism, wherein the zombie outbreak our intrepid heroes race to thwart has, like, a modicum of scientific plausibility, I guess. Baltimore cop and chiseled jaw hero Joe Ledger gets tapped by one of those shadowy X filesy governmental organizations to track down a terrorist with a name like The Jackal. The leader of said alphabet soup organization eats cookies as his ominous tic; Joe has to murder a terrorist twice in a week; international pharma phuckers are the absolute worst. Patient Zero is good fun, with lots of kickass and a fullblown zombie outbreak to salve your need for bloodshed. 

 

But it's The Dragon Factory which really swings for the cheap seats. There's literal Nazis, genetically engineered chimera, Neanderthals, evil albino twins with a side of incest, clones, and more, so much more. SO MUCH MORE. I kept cackling through this novel, unable to believe how fucking bonkers everything was, and just when I got a handle on it, it would get MORE BONKERS. Uff da, I haven't had as much fun with something this silly in a long time. I'm going to read the shit out every single Joe Ledger novel as long as they stay this goofy, 

Historical anachronism happens fast

This is the Way the World Ends: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Keith Taylor

This poor novel had the bad sense to be published in August, this year of our Lord 2017, though, presumably, it was written earlier. EVEN SO, at the very moment of publication, it was already woefully historically anachronistic. I'm going to blame this, like so much else, on the Trump administration, and the unbelievable chaos and unprecedented violation of governmental, social, and ethical norms that we've seen in this fine country, the US of A, since then. Writing near future science fiction is an unbelievable bitch.

 

This is what got me. So, This is the Way it Ends is avowedly a love letter and a riff on Max Brooks' World War Z, which is also glossed with the subtitle An Oral History of the Zombie Wars. The writer here, Keith Taylor, notes in his introduction how taken he was by the retrospective and documentary feel of World War Z, and how, after expecting a raft of novelists to take up the style, he decided to fill the gap when no one did. This is the Way it Ends is successful in this Brooksian ventriloquism for the most part, and it you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like. (Well, other than a metatextual spin wherein Keith Taylor, current novelist, inserts himself inside this fictional narrative as "Keith Taylor," the documentarian for the novel. His intro dragging on fictional zombie narratives was way too clever-clever. It's the kind of thing that's fun to read to your wife after you write it, but shouldn't make it into the final draft.)

 

Like Brooks' novel, this one takes place a dozen odd years after the initial zombie outbreaks, after humanity has gone through the meat grinder of a full on zombie apocalypse and come out on the other side, shaky, diminished, but still standing. This is the section that got me: a centrist Republican, one who shepherded the US through the zombie wars, tells a story from mid-2019. Apparently, there are outbreaks happening all over Europe, and there's more and more worry about the zombie threat. At a bipartisan meeting, a reporter asks if maybe the US should close its borders. A democrat steps up, and in an act of partisan showboating, begins reciting the Emma Lazarus sonnet that is carved into the statue of liberty. "Give us your tired" etc. At this point everyone goes nuts, freaking that closing the borders is evil, and certainly no sane (or not evil) person would suggest such a thing. The Republican president is rueful: if only those stupid liberals knew better. 

 

So here's the problem with this. First, let me tell a joke: at an intersection with four corners, on each corner stands an individual: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, a centrist Republican, and an alt-right nutjob. Someone drops a case of money into the center of the intersection. Which individual gets it? The alt-right nutjob, because the rest of these beings are purely fictional. Second, Trump already tried, and has been moderately successful, in implementing his Muslim ban, just recently adding to the seven Muslim-majority countries he's put on the shit list. Though the courts have put on the brakes a little, public outcry was nowhere near uniform. In fact, I think I was in a minority for thinking that was self-defeating and cruel, in addition to racist. The Trump administration is working hard at curtailing literally all immigration, legal and illegal, and we don't have anything near a zombie fucking outbreak to point at, though you wouldn't know it from some Brietbart articles, boy howdy. No one reads sonnets anymore; those are for effete liberals and they are decidedly not in charge. Third, what is this word, "bipartisan"? I do not understand this strange concept. 

 

In some ways, this anachronism is adorable, and it dovetails into some blindspots Brooks had in WWZ. The farther Brooks gets from his worldview, the less compelling his narratives get -- the American housewife one is a big fucking mess, but then I have a whole thing about the housewife in fiction. Ditto with Taylor. As a native Brit with a Mongolian wife who spends a lot of time in Mongolia and Thailand, his grasp on pan-Asian politics is pretty great. Americans? Yeah, not so much. I'm not picking on him here though. I'm not sure I understood (even as someone who purported to at least a modicum of wokeness) how unbelievably racist and isolationist the United States is until the last election. And that election technically didn't involve zombies! 

 

Except it totally did and we're all going to die. The horror of reading horror fiction for me these days is in how unscary it all is. It's nowhere near as terrifying as considering a malignant narcissist who considers Nazis "fine people" starting World War 3, the one that will kill us all, while tweeting on the shitter one Sunday morning. In the words of Mira Grant, rise up while you can. 

 

 

 

Like a good tv show in print

Bookburners - Jeffrey Veregge, Mur Lafferty, Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mark W. Weaver, Brian Francis Slattery

I'm a little wary of multi-author narratives in print, which is a little goofy, considering that this is basically how all television is scripted. I love me some television, but, of course, it must be said that the strength of the singular vision -- the showrunner or creator -- is a huge factor in whether any given show is successful. (Successful to me, anyway; I'm not talking folding green. That's a whole other thing.) But I've been burned with uneven and unsatisfying multi-author novels before, so. I picked this is up because I've been slow-burning my way through Max Gladstone's Craft sequence. Maybe his name is top of the marquee because he's the best known of the writers, but I suspect not. This has his fingermarks on it, narratively speaking -- from the baroque murder mystery plotting to the strange other gods and devils.

 

But even if Gladstone wasn't the showrunner, if you will, whoever it was did an excellent job. I greatly enjoyed Bookburners, even despite my prejudice.. I felt like it overcame the lumpiness of multi-author novels I've read through what must have been good editorial control, which nevertheless allowed the individual writers to show off their specific style. Each section is episodic like television, with a mini-arc that has its own satisfaction. Sometimes the episodes were more mythology heavy, and that's fun too. The possibilities of the premise are no where near exhausted by the end, which is also a plus, given how many television shows / series / trilogies / whatever should be strangled after the first outing. How many Matrix movies are there, for example? Want to talk about season 2 of Heroes? or Lost?

 

Anyway, much fun was had by me.

Light Space Opera Marred by Sexual Violence

Star Nomad - Lindsay Buroker

Lots of shitty sff tropes hitched to the specific kind of ugly sexual politics one finds in romance novels overwhelm what should (and occassionally is) a quipping romp through the universe. Rape threats and straight up sexual assault continue regularly from the first scenes to,the end of the novel. Before I get the "but that's realistic" chorus, I would like us to all take a minute and consider that this is clearly supposed to be a comic space fantasy with romantic elements, and the introduction of "rape as realism" is unnecessary, thematically jarring, and fucking stupid. And that's not even getting into a 45 minute diatribe about the very equation of rape with realism. 

 

Which is disappointing because there are some nice comic moments and a gift for the absurd in Star Nomad, hidden in under bad world building and rape threats. Sure, a lot of it was derivative -- Firefly has its fingerprints everywhere, from setup to character types -- but I'm not looking to some romp through a pirate-infested asteroid belt to blow my mind or anything. (Unless it's Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit, and that shit was amazing.) The Paradox series by Rachel Bach, starting with Fortune's Pawn, contains many of the same elements found here, but is much more expertly done. Start there for your lighter space opera.