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Wed, Dec. 28th, 2016, 12:20 pm

Ray Bradbury, The October Country: Bradbury’s lyrical horror has aged pretty well, with the exception of a really stereotypical portrayal of an African-American in one story, complete with terrible dialogue (that’s not how AAVE works!). Men generally treat women with condescension, but they are not portrayed as right in doing so; their indifference to what women think is just part of the horror that our indifference to the subjectivity of others helps create. Bradbury’s repeating use of circuses, freak shows, exotic-to-the-protagonist locations, etc. helps highlight that the ordinary human heart is where the worst fears and hatreds lurk in his stories.

Courtney Milan, Trial by Desire: I’m not really into historical romances, and yet I really appreciate Milan’s attempts to create unusual situations in which mostly privileged men and women fight the prejudices of the time and place (which I understand is between the Regency and the Victorians, if I have it right). This round, it’s a hero who’s chosen to fight his depression by running away from his new marriage. When he comes back, he has to win over his profoundly pissed-off wife, who has secrets of her own surrounding her covert rescues of abused women. The attraction between them feels real, and the barriers are mostly internal but not misunderstanding-based.

Claudia Gray, Ten Thousand Skies Above You: Second book about dimension-hopping Marguerite, forced to travel through multiple different versions of herself to find the scattered pieces of her true love Paul. In the process, she finds some complicating factors to what she’d convinced herself was her destiny to love Paul no matter what—call it “the perils of Paul,” maybe. It’s interesting to see the fandom convention of the –verse suffix in use to identify the different places she travels; several big pieces, such as the reappearance of a person who didn’t seem very important at first, seem like setup for the big finale, and the ending cliffhanger certainly is.

Monica Youn, Blackacre: Disclosure: I knew the author, many moons ago. A collection of sharp, short poems about the boundaries of the body, the openings and closings of the body, death, and infertility.

Brenda Shaughnessy, So Much Synth: Poems that use a lot of assonance and quasi-repetition to make their aesthetic impact (e.g., “my well-filled, ill-hid diary” and “Who wears it and where?/I will, from the bed to the chair./Headrest, clotheshorse./Designer and model: mutally orbiting/the best metaphor for bodiless idea. Amorphous, amorous, amoral,/immortal.” The longest one, about being a half-Japanese, half-white girl going through puberty in the 80s—interspersed with Erasure lyrics, so I relate to a lot of it—doesn’t have many insights you wouldn’t get from the average feminist blog, but I enjoyed the other poems more. Shaughnessy’s narrator was more into Duran Duran than I was, which gives her a nice pun with “Le bon mot swallows the night.” The best line about female bodies, I thought, was “Isn’t blood a woman’s ink?”

Dawn Cook, The Decoy Princess: Good premise—a girl thinks she’s a princess and is raised to defend herself and govern, but it turns out she’s the decoy to protect the real princess. When the king and queen are killed, she flees/seeks revenge and discovers that she has the opportunity to be part of a larger game, including magical powers. I just didn’t feel it—the characters seemed oddly flat, despite the appeal of the premise.

Joe Hill, The Fireman: The Girl with All the Gifts meets Stephen King (and yes, I know the relationship, but a guy who repeatedly invokes how people have “forgotten the face of their fathers,” has the pregnant lead adopt a deaf boy named Nick, and names a journal-keeping, loutish character Harold Cross cannot complain—if you can’t escape comparison, why not lean in?). A fungal infection is destroying the world; the people who have it eventually start to smolder and burst into flames. Harper’s realization that she has it is closely tied to her realization that she’s pregnant. The dual revelations drive her turns-out-to-be-loutish husband into abuse and insanity; Harper escapes to a community of the infected who have figured out how to survive. But survival, which requires feeding the fungus with oxytocin, has its own costs—oxytocin can be produced in a lot of ways, including by attacking outsiders. A good, fast read with pretty standard “many people are awful in extremis and a few are very good” and “way too many men are sexist assholes, but the heroes aren’t” features, as is consistent with the models.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season: I see why this got so much buzz; it feels like a huge leap forward for Jemisin. There are three stories—it’s not entirely clear for a while if they’re in the same time or how they relate—set in the Stillness, a continent on a world wracked by hugely destructive earthquakes. The biggest ones trigger Seasons, where human survival is possible only by careful preparation for long years without growing food or clean water outside cached stores. Between seasons, orogenes—people with special powers to sense and manipulate the energies of the earth—help quell minor quakes. Hated and feared, they risk being slaughtered if discovered outside the confines of the one place that trains them—and leaves them constantly in fear of being killed by Guardians, the few who are immune to orogeny. And there’s lots more I’m leaving out, including the giant floating obelisks and the stone eaters. Warning for pretty much every kind of child harm, at least discussed if not observed. It’s unsettling, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate: Things get worse on the Stillness: Essun the rogga has found a new community while she’s searching for her daughter, but it’s going to starve as the Season kills everything aboveground. Her daughter Nessun has been rescued from her father, sort of, by the same Guardian who once tormented and loved her mother, but is now altered in a way that may put Nessun in even more danger. I’m still not entirely clear on all the politics between stone eaters, Father Earth, and various human factions, but the pieces are in place for a final showdown—involving the long-absent moon, it seems.

Ryan North et al., The Midas Flesh vol. 2: The Midas Flesh, which turns everything it touches—and everything touching that—into gold, is now on the loose, and as the villainous Federation and the reckless rebels fight for control, it becomes increasingly clear that this weapon is just too big for anyone to survive. There’s really only one way that things can end—but can they begin again? It’s hard to imagine finishing this premise without some letdown, but it’s quite a dramatization of “violence begets violence.”

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