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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Republic of Thieves is the third book in Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastard series. I'm glad to be able to say that it does indeed feel like a Gentlemen Bastard book, despite the long wait for it. Unfortunately, because it's also the third of seven books, it's hard for me to assess fully; even though the individual episode this book is concerned with is wrapped up, some major things are set up in this book that won't shake out for a while, it seems.

This suffers from being a middle book in another way: it has to live with the prior decision to keep Sabetha off-screen until now. Since she is the woman who Locke has never gotten over, the anticipation of her arrival was moderately high. But because she was absent in the prior flashback portions, it's hard to fit her into Locke and Jean's past; and because a lot of her and Locke's conflict then and now is about Locke not understanding her, it's pretty hard work getting a full picture of her character when most of their interactions are from his point of view.

I enjoyed the shenanigans of the main plot just fine (influencing an election), though at one point the characters were forced to be very stupid in order to keep the plot moving, which is always regrettable. But I'm very dubious about the major elements this book introduces to resolve another day; they could be fine, or they could be stunningly awful, and my guess is that we may have to wait a long time to find out which (in terms of number of books, not years). That's not the kind of narrative suspense that I personally favor, probably because I'm getting older and more cynical.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

I have a lot of other books in the queue, of course, but I seem to have started reading Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series and I made a deal with myself that I would write it up no more than three books at a time, to keep from having everything completely blur together.

I knew very little about this when I started; I think I'd picked the first book up very cheap and knew it was popular and urban fantasy of the first-person, supernatural creature + romance variety. It caught my eye when I was scrolling my ereader looking for inspiration, and then I was off.

The first is Kitty and the Midnight Hour, and it's actually considerably different than I expected. Yes, it's first-person and it's supernatural creatures living parallel lives in modern society. But the thing with werewolves is that I expect a lot of focus on the tropes of pack dominance and hierarchy, especially with regard to mating, in a fantasy/id-tastic/eroticized way. But Midnight Hour takes these elements and positions them as, at best, raising genuine questions about how werewolves live in a human society, and at worst, the mechanisms for abuse. In fact, the whole book is about Kitty learning to reclaim agency as a survivor of abuse of various kinds. This made it more emotionally tough going than I expected at times, but was also a welcome surprise.

The next book, Kitty Goes to Washington, deals with fallout from Kitty coming out as a werewolf on her radio show in the last book, as she's subpoenaed by the Senate. Kitty meets other groups of weres and vampires and sees different ways of organizing and living, which is clearly going to be a major concern of the books. And the upshot is that magic in the form of supernatural creatures comes out in a big way, which is also a thing I enjoy exploring in these kinds of worlds.

The third book, Kitty Takes a Holiday, struck me as somewhat less strong, for two reasons. First, to the extent these books try to do mystery elements, they aren't particularly successful; in both this book and the first I spotted those responsible for various acts almost immediately. Second, this book shakes up the personal side of Kitty's life in a way I didn't find very convincing; it may be that I'm not supposed to be convinced in the long-term, so we'll see how that plays out. It does feature further conflicts as supernatural society and ordinary law enforcement interact, however, and like the others, was a fast and entertaining read.

There, now I can dive into the next one . . .

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Finally for tonight, an entry written many moons ago and just unearthed; it appears to be complete, and I have no idea why I haven't posted it before.

A while ago I watched Stargate Atlantis. In many ways it was not a very good show, but I watched 99% of it [*] because it was very undemanding material to stitch to, that is, I could listen and only need to look up occasionally.

[*] I skipped the season five clip show because, first, clip show, and second, its frame story sounded guaranteed to drive me up a wall.

I got into watching the show to provide context for fanfic that I more-or-less-randomly started reading, which also led me to Martha Wells' two tie-in novels, Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary and Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement. These were terrific: the kind of exciting SFnal explorations that the show mostly did not manage on its own. Partly this is of course the greater scope a book allows, with no special effects budget or time limit, but also it's a willingness to be more complicated and thorough that the show didn't achieve even in multi-episode arcs. If you liked the idea of the show and the characters when they weren't suffering from plot-induced stupidity, then it's worth checking these out.

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Since those were quick, one more from the Discworld re-read backlog, Thud!.

Unfortunately I think this is the beginning of the end for the Watch books. I am definitely over Vimes and his primal anger/inner policeman issues, and also I can't believe I didn't realize the first time through the awful abuse of power represented by his heartwarming "home at 6:00 to read to Young Sam at any cost" (Carrot is the one to stop traffic, but Vimes doesn't tell Carrot to desist or not to do it again). And while there are some welcome things here about social issues (Detritus gets some good moments that really show how he has changed), there are also some things that feel either very tired and repetitive (non-assimilating dwarves are still a problem, again? With veils, even?) or just awful (you can tell female dwarves, no matter how they choose to present gender, because they're the ones who coo over babies? Excuse me?).

The end scene is a still powerful image but it's not sufficient, either for the in-story effects or for my overall enjoyment of the book.

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Picking up the logging of the Discworld re-read after a long delay, with two quick reports.

A Hat Full of Sky: I liked this more than I remembered or expected, which was a lovely surprise; this is getting close to the end, and I was worried about the downward slide. The external threat here is so tense, and all the pre-adolescent stuff feels real and uncomfortable the way Tiffany's relationship with Granny Aching did in the first book. There was more Granny Weatherwax than I remembered, too, and I love their interactions. And I will always laugh at Rob Anyway holding up a scrap of paper with "PLN" written on it and declaring that now they have a plan.

Just one spoiler comment, which hardly seems worth going behind the jump, so ROT-13 (see sidebar): gur uvire pbagvahrf Gvssnal'f geraq bs haqrefgnaqvat bccbaragf orsber qrnyvat jvgu gurz.

Going Postal: Still love it.

Okay, okay, that's not all there is to say: one of these days I will read The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers and doubtless want to re-read Going Postal yet again; and the ending is an interesting data point regarding Discworld's attitudes towards elites and power. Aaand . . . that's it.

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The urban fantasy book I needed a palate cleanser before reading was Broken Homes, the next book in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series. It won't be out in the U.S. until February 2014, but I bought a U.K. edition.

Plot is not the strong point of these, but this one's seemed a little shaggier to me than usual—slower to develop, only loosely fitting into the shape of the book, and maybe relying a bit much on Peter being an idiot. However, there's good stuff with the Rivers, and further developments that support my thesis that the long game of the series is magic coming back and coming out, and Peter is always fun to spend time with.

All that said, on the whole I find myself extremely apprehensive over the direction of the series, to the point where I think I will have Chad read the next one first and tell me if I should read it. Fortunately for the rest of you, this reaction is fairly personal, more about my emotional attachments than an objective assessment of quality. Unfortunately for the rest of you, you'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about, because there's really nothing else I can say about it here. Sorry.

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After the Dresden Files, I needed a palate cleanser before I went on to another urban fantasy book, so I returned to the world's slowest Donald E. Westlake Memorial Dortmunder Re-Read. Why Me? is the one where Dortmunder accidentally steals a ruby ring that gets everyone, and I do mean everyone, out for his blood.

This is the book that introduces Stoon—though, as I recall, we never actually meet Stoon, he's always the hope that falls through and requires Dortmunder to deal with Arnie. It has more slurs than usual thanks to the POV of Chief Inspector Mologna, another to-be-recurring character. It's also the book with Dortmunder and Kelp's phone adventures, by which I mean landline because it was written in the early 1980s. Oh, and it has one of the very few queer characters in any Dortmunder book—at least, right now I can't think of any others—in Mologna's gay assistant, who is stereotypically flamboyant but (1) highly competent and (2) possibly playing up the swish to get on people's nerves.

Anyway, great fun, well into the stride of the series, and just what I needed.

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I am skipping past the rest of the Discworld re-read (and a bunch of other things) to get to some books while they are still reasonably fresh. First up is my marathon Dresden Files read: from the second book, Fool Moon, all the way to the most recent, Cold Days.

Some of you are now giving your screens weird looks and asking, "Kate, why on Earth did you read all of these? They are so not your thing." I know this because Chad did the exact same thing, only in person. All I can say is, beware of reading fanfic for sources you haven't read/watched! You'd think I'd have known better after I ended up watching all but one episode of Stargate Atlantis, but then I managed to avoid watching any of Merlin and Teen Wolf, so I thought I was safe. . . . until I found myself wanting some context for the stories I was reading, and a lot of my friends read them so I'd be able to participate in those conversations, and they didn't sound very demanding so they'd probably go fast . . .

Anyway. For a while this worked reasonably well. I was bulling through them at high speed, so I can't even match events to titles for most of them. I do remember that Fool Moon is pretty bad, with a distinct air of "I have suffered for my research into every single possible kind of werewolf, and now so must you." But Harry's horrible "don't tell women potentially life-saving information because chivalry!" thing does go away pretty early—hilariously, his subconscious literally manifests to yell at him about it—and he does grow up some in other ways, too (I can't remember which book it is, but there's a bit where he thinks that once he would have tried to blow a door up, and now he's going to use magic to remove its hinges). While I was aware that there were some unpleasant things going on, I could mostly skate over them while watching magical pyrotechnics and Harry getting the shit beat out of him and admiring Harry's friends and acquaintances (who generally deserve a better protagonist than him).

And then Changes happened, and all the things I was skating over and had been glad to leave behind came crashing down, only worse. Women as a fuel for Harry's manpain; Harry's impulsiveness and self-destructiveness; and all the Madonna/whore, sex-negative, Puritan rape culture stuff the books have going (Exhibit A: the White Court). Ghost Story was okay, kind of disjointed and rather anti-climatic in some senses, but Cold Days was a ball of do-not-want. It was all the things I did not like about Changes, plus way, way too much of Harry finding it so difficult not to rape and murder all the time—I wanted to reach through the page and say, "Here, have your goddamn cookie, already"—and then an ending that promises even more ickiness in store next time.

So if you're in the mood for some fast-paced snarky urban fantasy, well, you should read Midnight Riot. But if you must read these, stop with whatever book is before Changes. Me, I will probably rely on other people's reports to see what happens; I suppose it's possible Butcher might get out of the current situation in some interesting way, but then again, the endgame of the series is apparently "a 3-book apocalyptic trilogy", and I'm not sure I want to see Harry in an apocalypse. On the other hand, I'd originally misread that as post-apocalyptic, which I definitely do not want, so it could be worse.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

I re-read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird late last year, because I'd agreed to beta-read a Yuletide fanfic story based on it. I ended up more cheerleading the resulting story than anything, but I was glad of the opportunity to revisit a book I'd not read since high school.

It's an incredibly tense book and the narrative voice is great. I had completely failed to remember (or, more likely, recognize) how central is Scout's changing conceptions of femininity and relationships with women. I had also failed to recognize, because I neither had the tools to do so nor was given them in school, the way that its portrayal of racism is incredibly limited and, as a result, misleading and harmful.

Which is half of the reason I'm writing about it tonight, here past midnight when I should be asleep. The other half is that despite knowing what happens, somehow I got hopeful at a certain point in the book as I was swept along, and it was like running into a brick wall when my hopes were dashed. And I think the truest demonstration of Mockingbird's limitations is that I feel the same kind of crushing sadness in response to today's news (well, yesterday's, now) as I did in reading the book. Only, of course, much worse.

Nb.: I do not have the emotional resources to engage in education in the comments; please consult your search engine of choice if you feel the need.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

And now on the Discworld re-read, Monstrous Regiment, which needs a spoiler cut; my prior booklog entry is spoiler-free.

( Read more )

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