There's something profoundly alienating about being a woman in 2015 and reading science fiction 20 years old. Especially hard sci-fi.
This is the thingThere's something profoundly alienating about being a woman in 2015 and reading science fiction 20 years old. Especially hard sci-fi.
This is the thing about this subgenre, for me: the ideas may be weird and wondrous, the technology artfully extrapolated, the projections of human futures fascinating... but I will never be able to get past the fact that most hard SF writers never apply all that fabulous imagination to human relations and cultures. In hard SF, technology advances but society (except where it directly relates to technology) stagnates. All lead characters are heterosexual and masculine, even when the story explicitly tells us (as in 'Genesis') that really, no gender is involved at all. All female characters are children or sexual encounters, and their sexuality is often the focus of a disproportionate amount of narrative. ('For White Hill' had a gorgeous exploration of a devastated, sand-blasted Earth - and a lot of digressions to describe the love interest's vulva.) It's a little hard to focus on the ideas behind the narratives when the protagonist's humanity seems to be verified only through their libidos (and again, 'For White Hill' is relevant here, where an asexual/agender character - who is nonetheless consistently gendered with male pronouns; one really wonders what Joe Haldeman meant here - is dismissed as less of an artist because he doesn't have sex).
But! you say. Aren't you just applying your 2015 Social Justice Warrior expectations to a book written far before those ideas existed?
To which I reply: Are you honestly telling me that 20 years ago no one had figured out that female characters could do more in a story than be flesh-and-blood sex toys? You do know that Ursula LeGuin existed before 1995, right? And Octavia Butler? I don't really think that a book whose stated goal is to thoroughly explore the future of humanity has any excuse for ignoring half of the human race.
Anyway. That blanket overview aside, some quick thoughts on the individual stories:
'Judgement Engine' was by far the most alien setting and the most difficult to understand. The end of the story was wrapped around (of course) the story of a heterosexual marriage ending in divorce, in a way which both increased readability and obscured the real meaning of the concluding events. More of a story you push through than feel pulled along by.
'Genesis' was much more readable, also confused by a shoehorned heterosexual romance subplot, and actually a fascinating exploration of AI and its potential motivations and decisions. It took me a bit to figure out how the story threads intertwined, but once I realized what was happening the desire to see how other characters would react motivated me to read faster. The romance had no value: there was plenty of emotional impact in other arcs which explored what Earth means to different people.
'Historical Crisis' reminded me of nothing so much as the way Atium functions in the Mistborn series (having it enables you to predict someone else's movements, but a fight between two people with it is impossible to predict). While the idea of psychohistory as a plausible future for humanity has never really made sense to me, it's an intriguing thought experiment and hits on some interesting topics regarding free will and individuality. This story also came the closest to having a non-sexualized female character... though since she was a 13 year-old who was introduced just after having slept with a much older man, it still doesn't get points. That's gross, folks. That's gross.
'For White Hill' was well-paced, slow and mournful and meditative, right up until the ending, which came entirely too quickly. Sex here substitutes for any other kind of bond between the narrator and the title character - artistic respect, friendship, etc. It highlights my problem with the romance subplots in many of these stories: there is a flat equivalency drawn between emotional ties, romance, and sex, when in fact these are three completely separate areas of human experience and do not even come close to encompassing everything there is to being human. It would have been a lovely break in monotony had one of these five writers used a different human bond as their story's emotional center (parent-child? friendship? sibling? 'Judgement Engine' could have run very well on estranged siblings, for instance).
'At The Eschaton' felt like an overview rather than a narrative, a quick tour through several ideas the author engages with quickly and then disengages from just as quickly. The final conflict arose with no real foreshadowing and wasn't really developed - it felt more like an excuse to make the writer's modern character relevant to the future than anything well-developed.
At least now I've read it, and I can take it to the used bookstore with a clear and incurious conscience....more
I feel like I've had the experience before of reaching the end of a Martha Wells book, reading the short author bio, and going "ohhh, that explains itI feel like I've had the experience before of reaching the end of a Martha Wells book, reading the short author bio, and going "ohhh, that explains it."
Wells has a background in anthropology, and so when she worldbuilds, she worldbuilds like an anthropologist - with a thorough understanding of the wild diversity of human cultures, which she builds into her nonhuman ones. For me I think that was the real draw of the book. I kept waiting for humans to show up, or species with a clear human analogue, but neither did. This setting is incredibly alien, and I honestly loved it.
The book overall nets three stars, though, because it was.. difficult to connect to. I think in part this is a consequence of 2/3 of the narrative overtaking the last: plot and world are dominant here, with individual characters falling somewhat behind. Despite Moon being the focal character of the entire book, I never really felt like I understood him or felt the emotional shifts he went through. And as much as I enjoyed the thoroughly inverted gender roles and sexual politics of the Rakasura, Jade's motivations and personality also felt unclear to me. In other words: as a worldbuilding exposition, this is an unqualified success; as a novel it leaves something to be desired.
I would, however, still recommend it - in particular, to aspiring authors looking to create second-world fantasy. Wells' cultures and settings are fascinating and well-integrated into their physical landscapes, and if you want to see how worldbuilding at its least derivative is done, this is a good place to start....more
After reading the titular novella of this book, I was sure it would be five stars all the way through... but, not surprisingly as this goes with the tAfter reading the titular novella of this book, I was sure it would be five stars all the way through... but, not surprisingly as this goes with the territory for short story collections, it was a variety of hits and misses. The first and last stories stand out: "Fire Watch" is a breathtakingly well-constructed narrative that withholds just the right amount of information, giving the reader glimpses at a future world through the protagonist's interactions with the past. Of all the stories in this book, this one had the best reveal and narrative tension. "Blued Moon" comes close, though it falls into humor more than drama. After those two, "Daisy, in the Sun" has the next strongest ending.
The rest are somewhat weak, which could just be me - I have a strong preference for longer-form stories in terms of narrative structure - or it could be that the seeds of explanation are planted too early (making the 'reveal' obvious) or too late (making it seem shoehorned). Though actually, reflecting, I think this is a case where one of Willis's biggest strengths is also a weakness. Her worldbuilding in these stories is fantastic, filled with offhanded little details that flesh everything out and make it feel more real - but this often ends up detracting from the emotional content of the story. "A Letter From The Clearys", for instance, was an emotional story related in a detached manner which robbed the ending of much punch. "Samaritan" gave information on the world's background, but seemed to lack crucial details about its present. "Lost and Found" felt like more of an exploration of concept than a real story; had it had fewer characters, it might have come off a little better.
That said, I'm definitely going to read more Willis. I picked this up as a manageable (compared to Doomsday Book, I mean) introduction to her work, and I'm thoroughly impressed despite my specific misgivings.
(necessary warning: the reason this gets shelved as 'trigger warning' is for the story "All My Darling Daughters". you can put the title + shelf together to guess why it goes there. It's a very, very unpleasant reading experience and I recommend skipping it if you're wavering.)...more
Nope. I kept trying and trying and at this point I really need to cut my losses and walk away. DNF at 27%.
This books' biggest flaw is its prose. DearNope. I kept trying and trying and at this point I really need to cut my losses and walk away. DNF at 27%.
This books' biggest flaw is its prose. Dear god, its prose.
She was too young, too young for him to behold in the nude!
When her lips opened to allow the phonemes to travel forth, they emerged with a slight accent Trevain could not place.
"That's due to the deterioration of the quality of communication between men and women in this society. It's really quite markedly manifest."
"Shanked?... Where did you pick up such smutty slang?"
"Forgive me for overhearing your bellowed accusations..."
And I could go on. I might forgive this from the isolated mermaid princesses, but the book is riddled with this kind of crap - human dialogue, mermaid dialogue, and regular old narrative prose. You know how some kids, upon figuring out what a thesaurus is, start randomly replacing words in their writing with 'synonyms' they think make it look more intelligent? That's this book. That's exactly what it reminds me of.
Then there's the sexism/slut shaming. This book is coated with it. Our Heroines may dance in a strip club - but they aren't strippers, oh no. They've adopted those women's method of making money, but it's made very clear that they should't be associated with them at all. No big deal, just take advantage of a market created and maintained by other women and abuse them for having done so.
The sexism is at times blatant: Aazuria has a gratingly poorly written confrontation with another female character in which we are constantly told how the other woman is 'embarrassed by the feminine appearance of the girl, and her elegant mannerisms' and 'was suddenly conscious of her own ragged jeans, flannel shirt, and manly shouting'. Because self-confidence can only ever come from femininity! And femininity makes some women better than others! not to even touch on the agonizing, moronic debate about the color of the ocean the two immediately get into. It's a manufactured catfight and it's gag-worthy.
At other times it's subtle: Trevain pays Aazuria for a 'private lap dance' and then only asks to talk with her... but the conversation quickly turns to him and remains there; her only function in the room is to admire and titillate him.
I can't put up with this anymore. What a waste of time....more
put this book in my hands or download it to my brain please between this and TASU I feel like I'm drowning in exciting, innovative queer girl books andput this book in my hands or download it to my brain please between this and TASU I feel like I'm drowning in exciting, innovative queer girl books and I'm simultaneously sad that it takes just two to get there and THRILLED THAT THEY BOTH EXIST...more
Another book I picked up in hopes of using it at work - alas, it's one grade level above what works best for our program, so it is not to be. That saiAnother book I picked up in hopes of using it at work - alas, it's one grade level above what works best for our program, so it is not to be. That said, I sat down to read it anyway, because what the heck... and it turned out to be a pretty cute way to pass a day's breaks.
Now, this book isn't really pushing boundaries, but there's a kind of innocent pleasantness to it that I really liked. Supportive friendships formed through baking, openness about differences in social class and family structure, and the hint that the four 'mean girls' will mature and come around over the course of the series.
Scholastic Book Wizard places this book at around a third grade reading level, and third-fifth grades are probably most appropriate for it. It's a book about starting middle school that takes a pleasantly upbeat, encouraging angle on it, and I'm sure it'd be great for the fifth grader on the cusp of a big change who needs just a bit of reassurance (and a recipe to try!)....more
I picked this book up from the library because, in my current job as a reading tutor at an elementary school, I have a student who pretty much only waI picked this book up from the library because, in my current job as a reading tutor at an elementary school, I have a student who pretty much only wants to read about dragons. As it turns out I found another book to fill that hole (Rise of the Earth Dragon), but I took the time to read through this one because hey, I love dragons too.
This book is completely charming. It's styled as a practical guide to dragon ownership, exactly like the kind of book you might find about your first puppy or kitten. This includes illustrated descriptions and histories of various dragon species, citing mythologies from all around the world; discussion of their dietary and housing needs; and instructions for training and even riding them. It makes reference to books (both real and imaginary) and international organizations. While it could use some more details for real verisimilitude, that's a critique coming from me as an adult, and not something that would bother most kids.
Definitely recommended for the dragon-loving elementary schooler in your life. Or someone older; I won't judge....more
First things first: strong trigger warning for rape in this book.
I am of... mixed feelings. I picked this up at a library book sale because I remembeFirst things first: strong trigger warning for rape in this book.
I am of... mixed feelings. I picked this up at a library book sale because I remembered reading the first book, but by the time I got around to reading it this year I could barely remember its predecessor. I have, therefore, no idea how it compares or how many of its qualities are factors in both books.
I can discuss this one on its own, though. The question is: where to start?
I guess the best way to classify this book would be as a veiled satire. It's brash, sexual, violent, and widely different in cultural norms, language, and structure than most science fiction's projection of our species' future. The thing is, though, that Barnes uses those differences to make sharp points about societal structures we are familiar with. I don't think some of the extremes he took it to were necessary (related to the above TW: (view spoiler)[using Shyf's sexual exploits and disregard for consent to highlight the corruption of absolute power and lack of concern for other people's lives and agency (hide spoiler)]) but I was pleasantly surprised to see a book that started out as a wacky college drama turn out to be about unionization and workers' rights in a hypercapitalist society.
Barnes also does a surprisingly good job at writing genuine, unfettered affection in the friendships between male characters - and complicated friendships, to boot. Jak and Dujuv have a surprisingly close, intricate, and sometimes strained relationship, and it's portrayed with a lot of heart and sensitivity despite the light brush-off tone of the book.
I don't think I could say that I recommend this series to others, but I'm interested enough that I may track down the third book someday.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more