Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jemisin is a big thinker and an autobiographical writer (the latter in this series, at least). I really enjoy big ideas, so this story was appealing. It didn't blow me away as it has some readers, but it's a worthy conclusion to the series. And as I have found over the years, that's no mean thing. Concluding a series effectively is incredibly hard.

I learned a lot from reading the afterword. Jemisin became a full-time writer during the writing of this book, and that shows despite the fact that she had a lot of external challenges. She is focusing on refining her style. For me, some of those edges show, in the way Hoa tells Essun's story. Throughout the series I sometimes had trouble keeping track of her identity with all the name (and truly, identity) changes. One thing that comes up persistently, and is always a challenge for writers who work at her scale, is how to convey the action. It's meant to be more visual, with lots of CG effects and breathless, strained, exclamatory dialog. I really could see this being a big-budget movie, but in print there's a bit of a struggle.

These are pretty minor points. The story speaks to us, in our time, about our history and how we restrain people with unknown power through fear. In the end the story is grand enough to fulfill its scope. Jemisin did an effective job of conveying how the earth had come to its present pass, and awesome is an accurate word for it.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Black Tides of Heaven, by J. Y. Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate, #1)The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y.  Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot packed into this little book. The magical system, Slack, is interesting in itself (though we don't really learn much about it besides the fact that it is difficult to master). I think there's some significance in how it's named that may become more apparent later. It's also not a completely fantastic world--technology progresses, and things that can be done in Slack might also be accomplished without magic. This gives the relationships and the politics a more grounded feel.

All this is illustrated, rather than described, through the relationship of Akeha and Mokoya, twins who at the start have yet to declare their sexuality. The author is non-binary, which may account for why the non-binary nature of children and sexuality as a choice feel very natural, and contribute to the Otherness of the work as a reflection of ourselves.

Since it's part of a series I expect that all this is going to get filled in a bit. I think it will be worth it.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth (River of Teeth, #1)River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The one good thing about this story is hippos. Introducing African wildlife to the U.S. is a thing, and Gailey gives us some good background on how this got considered. Hippos as potentially dangerous beasts that are a challenge to domesticate but repay the effort is pretty cool, and a great driver of the book. But that's about all there is to it. The characters are forced into two molds--roles in an Old West outlaw gang (explained, and deliberate) and also into modern sex and gender roles (not explained, though with more development it could have been illustrated).

The book has the feel of a YA novel but doesn't work as one--there's a lot of violence, including some very sad stuff. The plot is pulled off well enough around these forced characters, but it's necessarily uncomplicated in a short work. There's a couple of big gaps:

1) Gailey explains in the introduction that she has taken the real interest in hippo imports back about 60 years to set it in the old west. Trying to imagine some steampunk or Wild Wild West type technology to get the hippos to the Americas would have added a lot, but she chose not to.

2) The gender roles could have worked if Gailey had gone more in for this story as alternate history--where those gender roles are known and out but still marginalized. It sort of makes sense that these characters would be criminals in the Old West, because what else would they be in that society? Instead it just feels like modern liberal sensibilities are picked up and dropped into a Western setting. Not really helpful.

But 3 stars and yay for hippos.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Extracurricular Activites, by Yoon Ha Lee

Extracurricular Activities (The Machineries of Empire)Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This prequel centers around Shuos Jedao when he was alive, early in his career. It's a lot more madcap than I remember the novel to have been, and much more action-oriented. There's a lot of fun in here, but I still found it very disjointed and hard to read in places. Somebody else mentioned the hair thing--yes, it's frustrating not to know what was up with that. I have not read The Raven Stratagem yet, but plan to, hopefully it gets more coherent as the series goes along.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Clearly Lettered In a Mostly Stable Hand, by Fran Wilde

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady HandClearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I just finished this story, and read all the reviews below to see if there was something I missed. If so, the rest of us did too. If there isn't some kind of a reveal that any of us can figure out, then it's just a series of disturbing little vignettes. Fran Wilde is a better writer than that, at least in her novels, so I'm willing to give more of the benefit of the doubt once I find out what all this is a metaphor for, but so far it eludes me.

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Carnival Nine, by Caroline Yoachim

Carnival NineCarnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clockwork universes are a great plot device, as they simplify the workings of that universe so that they can be exposed. Yoachim's clockwork dolls have a very simple economy based around carnivals that proceed along the tracks. They have no doubt who their Maker is, as that Maker winds their mainsprings every day. Otherwise, it's a story of our lives, translated into this clockwork universe. So it's 100% predictable, but suspense is not the point. We get a new perspective on what it means to care.

Thing is, it's a nice story and well written, but for me not super engaging. I do think it has a decent shot at an award.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceWelcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So we have a story by an authentic Native American, about a character who is an authentic Native American, but has a job as a VR immersive experience lead doing a kind of "therapy" as an "Indian". This story works better if you've read more about the experiences of Native Americans and people of color outside of the story, and can identify with it in that way. There's a lot of potential depth and ideas to explore about "passing", and what Native Americans have to do to get by in a White world. (view spoiler) Subtle and wry. I wish Roanhorse well in her writing career.

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