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Tue, Sep. 6th, 2016, 03:15 pm
A month's worth of fiction

Mira Grant, Rise: Collected Feed universe short stories, with two new ones for the collection. One I hadn’t read: Everglades, about a person who chooses not to live in the new world order. New stories: All the Pretty Little Horses, the story of the elder Masons, and Coming to You Live, what happened to Georgia and Shaun after the main events. Grant desperately needs to stop with the epigraphs; they are cutesy and annoying and way too on the nose at this point. That said, of course I’m interested in the stories.

Mira Grant, Feedback: Revisiting the timeline of the first two books of Feed from the perspective of the news crew that wasn’t quite good enough to get the key job, but did get attached to a different presidential campaign and also targeted for assassination. I didn’t learn much from it.

Robert J. Sawyer, Quantum Night: A Sawyer book always has a fascinating idea, and often bobbles the execution. This one doesn’t screw up the dismount, exactly, but the idea is so frustrating that I couldn’t put this on my list of Sawyer novels worth reading even if it weren’t for the more-extensive-than-I-remember-others-being infodumps. (FWIW, the lead characters are all professors, and we totally do talk that way, so there was decent justification for the infodumps.) Basically, the book posits that about 60% of humanity are just stimulus-response machines, emulating consciousness without having any internal monologue—so-called philosopher’s zombies, or what I thought of as John Searle’s Chinese room. Two-thirds of the rest are psychopaths, and the remainder are conscious and have a conscience. Plot: When a psychologist discovers that he’s lost a year’s worth of memories, he embarks on a journey that puts him at the center of this research—because he was shifted from one state to the next. As the world descends into ever more violence at the local and international levels, he has to decide whether to try to shift everyone. Sawyer often tends to strong biological determinism, and this is pretty much the strongest I can recall. His leads all conclude that the emptiness of the majority of people has to be kept a secret or it will justify slavery, genocide, etc., and of course a conscious person can’t really love a zombie. I didn’t get it: if your measurements suggest that 60% of humans lack consciousness (setting aside debates about what that might mean), doesn’t Occam’s Razor suggest that you are measuring the wrong thing and might need to look elsewhere? The supportive description of humans mostly flocking to follow whatever the nearest people to them do was also unconvincing: the protagonist suddenly starts noticing his sister going along with whatever’s nearest, including nearly getting them swept up in a riot.

And this leads into the creepy gender politics—though the two key scientists who work with the protagonist are women, he’s a utilitarian and literally muses near the climax about how sad it is that his girlfriend (one of the scientists) is so focused on her own kid and not on the universal good, like he is. Then, at the end, when she’s been converted to a psychopath and he’s still got a conscience due to convenient plot reasons, she immediately hands over her kid to him because she doesn’t want to deal with neediness, thus providing him a replacement kid for the son he never sees because he wanted his then-wife to get an abortion when the son was diagnosed with Downs syndrome in utero. Which, not for nothing, contradicts what they’ve posited before about newly minted psychopaths remembering that they had consciences and thus behaving accordingly. Ugh. So that’s it for me for a while; as I recall, Sawyer’s trilogy on hominids had different, but also creepy, gender stuff/biological determinism.

Daniel O’Malley, Stiletto: Sequel to The Rook, though instead of focusing on magic secret agent Myfanwy Thomas, POV shifts to two new female characters, one a Pawn of the secret British magical agency the Chequy and the other a Grafter—a member of the Continental organization of self-modifying, biotech-so-advanced-it’s-like-magic people who have been at war with the Chequy for centuries (and that includes a few people who’ve been around the entire time). The Chequy and the Grafters have a fragile truce, but a series of gruesome attacks threatens to derail it. Fans of The Laundry Files will find similar wry bureaucrats here, though less Lovecraft and more Frankenstein.

Sarah Kuhn, One Con Glory: Bitter fangirl journalist meets the guy who’s, in her opinion, criminally miscast in the TV version of her favorite series. Unfortunately, he bids against her in an auction for her favorite action figure, and from there things get worse—he turns out to be hot, nerdy, and sexually compatible. Will she be able to rise above her fears and prejudices to get the guy? Short and full of inside fandom jokes.

Claire Legrand, Some Kind of Happiness: Finley is sent to live with her grandparents for the summer because her parents are having problems. What they don’t know is that Finley is hiding her own depression, as well as her extensive fantasy life played out by the creation of a fantasy world. As her fantasy world merges with the woods behind her grandparents’ house, and she draws her cousins into that world, old family secrets rise up and might destroy her. I’d give it to a preteen/young teen reader.

Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Perilous Gard: In 1558, Kate is sent in exile to a castle that turns out to be the last point of contact between elves and English people. She quickly starts trying to unravel the mystery of the elves, including the disappearance of the lord’s young daughter. Adventure and romance follow. It’s a good read with a strong protagonist whose stubbornness is her salvation.

Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Sherwood Ring: A young girl is sent to live in upstate New York with the uncle she never knew after her father’s death. Her uncle is hostile to outsiders, especially the young man who’s come to study the family’s Revolutionary War history. But she can talk to the ghosts from that era, and she learns their complicated secrets that reverberate into the present (the mid-twentieth century). Less interesting to me than The Perilous Gard.

Claudia Gray, Bloodline: Between RoTJ and TFA, what was Princess Leia up to? This installment follows her at the peak of her career as a Senator in the New Republic, which is increasingly caught between Populists and Centrists (hmm, no contemporary resonance there) and groaning under the strain. Ben and Luke are off somewhere and, though they’re still married and in love, she also lives separately from Han most of the time, because he can’t stand to stay still and she can’t be ripped away from her duty. Leia is a Populist, but increasingly dubious that either side has the right answer; she teams up with a Centrist Senator to investigate a criminal gang that might be a larger threat to the stability of the Republic. Really nice to see a middle-aged woman kicking ass, though Leia is obviously assisted by her Force sensitivity. Also really nice to see acknowledgement that all Leia ever knew of her father was as a torturer.  

Jaleigh Johnson, The Mark of the Dragonfly: On a resource-constrained world where strange things (music boxes, copies of The Wizard of Oz, etc.) fall out of the sky in toxic meteor storms, a young girl ekes out a living as a scavenger and mechanic, since she has an almost eerie talent for repairing machines. One day, she rescues another girl who’s been caught in one of the deadly meteor showers. The girl has a tattoo marking her as one of the elite, but she has no memory and she’s being hunted by a dangerous man. As Piper seeks to help Anna find her home, she learns about others with special talents and has to choose between loyalty to Anna and everything she’s ever wanted. Satisfying YA.

Sarah Rees Brennan, Tell the Wind and Fire: Loosely inspired by A Tale of Two Cities. Lucie Minette is a hero to the people of the Light city; she saved her father and herself from the Dark city, where those who use Dark magic—drained from the blood of those of the Light—are forced to live. Light magic is powerful, but builds up in the blood; Dark magicians are therefore required, but still despised. Lucie finds her perfect boyfriend accused of treason, then immediately discovers that has a doppelganger—a creature created only through the use of deeply Dark magic, and one known to be soulless and dangerous. She’s plunged into a dangerous political situation, and forced to pretend that the doppelganger is the boy she loves. I didn’t like this as much as Brennan’s earlier work; Lucie spent most of the book whining, usually repetitively, about how she didn’t want to participate in politics but was forced to stay silent and smile. Rather than applauding her journey, I just wanted to shake her. Also, I desperately wanted an editor to come and strike out all the repeated tropes of her silent suffering.

Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows: Kaz is a criminal mastermind given the chance of a lifetime in his magical version of Amsterdam—go kidnap a high-value scientist who’s invented a drug that enhances the magic that some people can perform to turn them into addicted, dying superweapons. Given that the world is already divided into people who value those with magical talents, people who enslave them, and people who kill them as abominations, this drug is highly destabilizing, and the merchants of alt-Amsterdam want none of it. Kaz assembles a team of helpers, each with some amount of tragic backstory, and they go for this great heist. I read the book in a day; it was lively all the way, though it helped to think of the amazingly talented people as in their mid-twenties rather than being from fifteen to eighteen, as Bardugo had them. (Alternatively, Bardugo’s year is just longer than Earth years.)

Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone: Alina Starkov is an orphan in alt-Russia, which is hampered by a dangerous magical rift dividing the kingdom from the sea; it can be crossed, but only with great danger. On her first crossing, an attack leads to the revelation that Alina is a Grisha (magical person) of great power, and she’s taken to the capital where she meets the inbred King, deals with palace intrigue, and falls under the spell of the Darkling, the most powerful Grisha in the kingdom. Will she help him destroy the Rift, or is his plan something different? Decent YA, but nowhere as complex and interesting as Six of Crows--a bit like Dragonsinger, with more romance. 

Lilah Pace, His Royal Secret: A prince who doesn’t want to be outed and a reporter who doesn’t want to be closeted or controlled by messy emotions. It can’t work, but their connection is undeniable … Good old-fashioned m/m. Yummy “each one thinks the other one is just in it for the sex,” without bad communication. The prince’s younger sister engages in self-harm (one reason he’s not willing to come out and abdicate).

Lilah Pace, His Royal Favorite: After the Prince comes out, he struggles with his family and his country/his church (of which he is the hereditary head, because religion is freaky); he wants the crown, but he wants love more. Meanwhile, his lover Ben is overwhelmed by the assault of publicity. They love each other and have hot sex, but in the crucible of endless, pitiless media scrutiny, will even that be enough? I mean, you know, but it’s a fun journey to read.

Scott Westerfeld, Zeroes: Teens with superpowers that are sometimes not that super, like the guy who no one can remember and the girl who can blow out any electric technology, and constantly wants to do because the feel of it hurts her. None of these superpowers is physically distorting, though, and so the racially diverse, conventionally attractive group gets to deal with a conflict between local thugs, the Russian mob, and a kid whose power lets him mouth off about anything, without knowing beforehand what he’s going to say. Solid Westerfeld if not as exciting as his best.

Tanya Huff, An Ancient Peace: Former gunnery sergeant Torin Kerr takes her team of off-the-book investigators/enforcers to find an ancient planet full of ancient weapons that’s about to be raided for its goodies. I missed a few volumes in this series, but it’s good old fashioned battling space pirates, the kind of thing that the Rabid Puppies might like if they actually cared about adventure and not about not having girl heroes.

Courtney Milan, The Suffragette Scandal: Tortured hero falls for free-spirited newspaper woman who is having none of his nonsense: she accepts that he’s a scoundrel but doesn’t let it get in her way. He’s a little over-the-top angsty, but the bit with the puppy cannon redeems it.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, ed. April Genevieve Tucholke: YA horror with various standard tropes, e.g. the serial killer whose scheme is turned back on him. I borrowed it for the Leigh Bardugo story, but enjoyed Jonathan Maberry’s “Fat Girl with a Knife” best.

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Fri, Sep. 9th, 2016 03:56 am (UTC)

I was taken aback when I read your review of "Lilah Pace, His Royal Secret". It sounds exactly like the XMFC fanfic, "Anarchy in the UK" by Yahtzee.

Unless she's turned her fic into an original m/m?

Fri, Sep. 9th, 2016 08:05 am (UTC)

Yes, she has.

Fri, Sep. 9th, 2016 05:16 pm (UTC)

Thanks for the reply! It's hard to keep track of all the fic writers turning pro these days.

Sat, Sep. 10th, 2016 06:00 pm (UTC)

Still loving your book reviews.

Sat, Sep. 10th, 2016 06:04 pm (UTC)

Thank you!