Once again, Fanfic Flamingo knows my soul. (I welcome all feedback! I listen and try to learn! But sometimes I can't help myself.)
Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go: This dystopian sf YA has gotten attention for its inventive setup—a planet where all human men and all animals can hear each other’s thoughts (can’t stop hearing them, actually), known as Noise, and all the women died, both, our protagonist tells us, as the result of alien bioweapons in a war the aliens lost, or anyway lost worse than the humans did. Todd is a boy, the last boy in Prentisstown, and one day he goes into the swamp and finds something incredible: a girl. The long words are deliberately misspelled as part of Todd’s first person POV, something I didn’t cotton to, and the book is pretty unrelentingly grim. It is a great premise, and I can see why people would like it, but when it ended on a huge cliffhanger I couldn’t make myself want to read further.
Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker: I didn’t check the writing sequence, but this single volume fantasy reads like a rehearsal for the better Mistborn trilogy: elaborate magic system, contending forces who all have pretty decent, if self-regarding, reasons for their behaviors that put them in conflict with the other characters, sudden but inevitable betrayals and so on. I found aspects of the magic silly—BioChromatic Breath has, as a significant effect, enhancement of color sense so that at higher levels a possessor acquires “perfect color sense,” which is some kind of analogue to perfect pitch. And while the initial setup is good—in order to stave off war, a vulnerable kingdom sends the princess promised by treaty to its hostile neighbor to marry the God King, except the king sends the wrong princess since the treaty was written ambiguously—I didn’t have much sympathy for the resulting romance. On the other hand, the other princess has a very interesting journey, and when she suffers in obscurity it’s different from the ordinary sufferings of royals in obscurity in such narratives, and though she never quite gets over her hostility to “whores” even she seemed to recognize that this said a lot more about her than about the other women. Ultimately, a mix of neat ideas and hard-to-swallow ideas, likewise with characterization.
Max Barry, Machine Man: I find it difficult to read satire about corporate culture these days, because satire can’t approach the real world. In this case, our non-neurotypical narrator is a scientist who loses most of his leg in an accident at his military-tech-making job, and replaces it, and subsequently other parts, with “better” machine parts. Unfortunately, one thing leads to another as his employer tries to monetize and weaponize the designs, he falls in love with his therapist, and his legs develop a mind of their own. I like Barry’s style: “I realized the driver faced two mutually exclusive objectives: to bring the car down onto four wheels or to not ram a ground-floor meeting room. This was really an either/or decision but the driver tried to accomplish both and the Hummer hit the building at a thirty-degree angle and disappeared halfway inside.” But as I said, the satire sat ill in my stomach. Barry did lead me to this funny (incredibly geeky) story about programmers interacting with nonprogrammers.