A Month of Books: November

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: Okay, I love this book. It is such a delicious, rich, flavorful book, and it touches on so many things that I, personally, find fascinating. Culture and cultural exchange across cultures. Language and how language changes. The idea of being in love with a culture not your own, and equally being afraid of that culture subsuming yours. The question of what it means to be human. The whole concept of memory and personality, and the effect each has on the other, plus the fascinating question of, if you have two sets of memories, one present and one past, are they the same person? Are they different? And where, when memories of two different people are combined into one brain, we become I and I become we? And what it would be like to experience memories that aren’t yours? (True, I’m biased, since that’s one of the major elements I’ve been exploring in my own novel, so it’s wonderful to see someone else tackling the same questions that I am, but with a different lens and perspective*). I am also excited to learn that this is only book 1, and that all those dangling plot threads at the end might be answered in the next installment (and it’s saying something that I didn’t even notice there were unanswered questions till I started writing this, the end was so satisfying). True, I will now have to wait until 2020 to read A Desolation Called Peace, but will mean that future-me will have the satisfaction of a good read.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Irreverently giggle-inducing, often gruesome, and occasionally downright weird. The combination of magic and space ships is both different and pleasantly jarring—those shouldn’t work together, and every so often, don’t seem to work together, BUT the mixture is unique and unexpected, and I felt that outweighed the odd hiccup. In a way, the plot’s structure reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a cast of characters with dubious morals trapped on/in an inescapable location, being murdered one by one, the only suspects each other. And that end. All I will say about that end is “Hm. Now that is interesting.” However, just as a note, the beginning can be a bit tricky; there’s a lot of jargon and quite a few sentences that I needed to read a second time to get their meaning. But once they’re at Canaan House, I found things either smoothed out or I gelled with the writing style, and it became easier, and once a certain conversation happened late in the book, the relationship between the main characters sat better with me. It also has a tendency to leave things visually vague, which calls for the reader to do some imagination legwork. Unrelated to the actual content of the book, the hardcover with the black side-trim is absolutely gorgeous, a total work of art. It’s such a pretty book. Harrow the Ninth looks like it’ll be just as pretty (and maybe answer some of my blasted questions!).

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold: So. This year at Windycon, I was on a panel devoted entirely to discussing the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, in particular The Vorkosigan Saga (the theme this year was Space Opera), and I realized it’d been awhile since I’d reread the earlier books in the series, seeing that with this latest reread, I was for some unfathomable reason reading the books backwards. So I jumped back and realized…I’d conflated a lot of the events in The Warrior’s Apprentice with events in The Vor Game. Anyway, it’s interesting to go back to young Miles, and to see what’s being setup for later books.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold: Continuing my reread in preparation for the panel. Not much to say other than, still vastly enjoyable, four rereads later. Seriously, The Vorkosigan Saga is one of those where I can read and reread and not be bored, even though I know how everything turns out. Instead, I get to look forward to the parts I know are coming, and it’s with giddy anticipation that I read. The Vor Game is still a delightful romp, pre-Miles-as-professional-deep-cover-agent, so it’s just so much fun to see him mess up and save it, and somehow make it look like he was planning for that eventuality the entire time.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold: Cetaganda can be a bit…odd, compared to the others. Tonally, in some ways, it’s almost more in line with the later books after Miles is medically forced to retire from his double life as Admiral Naismith. This one is, in a way, an early precursor to Miles Vorkosigan, the Imperial Auditor, since he gets to investigate and do his hero-ing under his own name. Only thing is, all his heroics end up swept under the rug of “so classified, the classification is classified” due to him…saving? what is, ostensibly, the enemy. However, the thing I so love, absolutely love, about this one is the humanizing of the Cetagandans. Up until this point, they were more of bogeymen wearing terrifying face paint; there’s a brief moment of screen-time for them in The Warrior’s Apprentice, but for the most part in the first few books, they’re either a threat in the past or faceless ships. It’s in Cetaganda that we get to see them as individuals…and they are simultaneously characterized as both incredibly alien and incredibly human.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado (series editor: John Joseph Adams): This one was intriguing to analyze from the perspective of a writer writing and submitting short stories. While the majority of my reading tends to be novels, I do enjoy a good short story, particularly during my lunch break. Anyway, the majority of stories included in this year’s The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy leaned heavily into unusual/nontraditional story structures, often riffing on other forms not usually used for fiction (such as “Poor Unfortunate Fools” by Sylvia Park, which is told as an academic paper, “STET” by Sarah Gailey, which is told through editing notes and notations, and “Dead Air” by Nino Capri, which is an audio transcription), but had its fair share of traditional narratives as well (and an interesting use of second person right off the bat in “Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro).

Godblind by Anna Stephens: Hrm. I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I devoured this book in two days, and it’s not a small book. It was compelling and kept me turning pages. On the other, it didn’t feel quite…deep enough for what I was wanting. I like to be entirely immersed in my fantasy, and Godblind seemed more keen on fast pacing than immersion. Yes, it moves at a very quick clip; things start spiraling out of control for the main characters practically from the get-go and don’t let up. But that fast pace is at the expense of the world- and character-building (more so world than character). It also has a lot of viewpoint characters (ten, count them, ten!), which can give you a bit of whiplash when you go from one end of the country to the other in the space of three pages (though if I remember right, Mark Lawrence did something very similar with Red Sister, so it might just be a mark of the subgenre). These two things combined in such a way that the book didn’t—hm—have the chewiness I like in my fantasy. Still, if you’re a fan of fast-paced grimdark, Godblind is a good addition to the genre. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


* I also have found a new comp title for when I start querying the new novel. Am pleased. Am very pleased.

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