What I found most interesting about my experience reading The Best of All Possible Worlds was that it was entirely possible to read it as a romance. NWhat I found most interesting about my experience reading The Best of All Possible Worlds was that it was entirely possible to read it as a romance. Not just as romantic science fiction or science fiction with romantic elements, but as a genre romance, period dot full stop: the romantic arc extended throughout the book and the romance directly tied into the character development and the plot. And given the episodic nature of the book, the romance shared equal billing with the worldbuilding as the book's points of focus.
I did enjoy TBOAPW, not just because it was science fiction AND romance, but because the worldbuilding was often SO COOL. Anthropological science fiction is so much fun to read, so much fun to think about, and TBOAPW spends a lot of time investigating all sorts of creative cultural mixes. The existence of psionic, telepathic, empathic powers, and how this affected things ranging from relationships to theater, was all very interesting. The idea of a planet built by and devoted to refugees of the universe's greatest disasters (guided by the mysterious Caretakers) is SO COOL, and I love how Lord ran with developing all these ideas and concepts. However, this was also a place where I felt like I wanted something different from what the book wanted to do, though: it has a very episodic plot (at this place, we did this and this happened; we traveled to the next place, where that happened and this happened--and yes, I know, Candide is probably on one of the book's influences, up there with Pride and Prejudice and probably The Left Hand of Darkness and Star Trek), which meant there was a lot of coverage in a diverse range of cultural and scientific and societal stuff, which was all fun to read, but the events of the story often just felt so disconnected from one another. It was good that the romance arc was interwoven from the very beginning: the tension and gradual trust involved in the slowly budding relationship between the protagonists really helped hold the book together for me.
The tone was another one of my stumbling blocks to loving TBOAPW more than I did. The majority of the book is first-person and chatty, and that's a stylistic technique and tone especially neat to see employed in a science fiction novel. Because the book's plot was so episodic, this first-person journal-ish kind of account worked. But, man, did it sometimes feel limited, especially when I wanted to know more about the Sadiri, or when I was annoyed by the jarring nature of how progressive the book seemed to want to be (for example, fantastic representation of all sorts of women of all ages--pretty essential when the Societal/Cutural Need To Procure Women To Breed With is a major part of the plot motivation for the characters--as well as normalized representations of polyamory) but how in practice, the ways the book fell sort of actual progressiveness annoyed me (there's a character, Lian, who is registered as "gender-neutral," but Delarua makes what was probably supposed to be a chatty [but I found obnoxious] comment about hugging them and knowing what they actually "are" but isn't going to tell the readers, and then there's the weird narrative assumption that because they're gender-neutral, Lian is also asexual/aromantic; and omg I'm going to sound like a total fucking bore here, but there was not enough interrogation of the assumed gender binary and gender roles and heteronormativity and that kind of stuff when, as stated above, the Need For Women To Breed With is the important, motivating force in the narrative). The book takes pains to show how women weren't just need for their reproductive abilities but also as part of cultural/societal reparation, but there was just such an uninterrogated oldfashionedness and conventionality to i, all the same. I mean, this fits in with it being a romance novel, upholding the courtship narrative and heterosexual pairbonding for the good of the community and all (and I'm not criticizing it FOR that, because…well, I have a GoodReads library that demonstrates that I mostly read romances involving heterosexual pairbondings ANYWAY; I'm criticizing how little examination the narrative devoted to this, when it seems like this kind of planet, with so much diversity in just about EVERYTHING, would have plenty to interrogate about it).
I just vastly prefer my science fiction to be less conventional about gender, because I want all my imagined futures to be less conventional about gender. Anyway, this was an enjoyable, unique book, but I did kind of end it wanting to reread the more thematically-coherent Ammonite....more
I read this because of Niall Harrison's Strange Horizons review, especially for the comparison to Helen Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox re: meta-narrative experimenI read this because of Niall Harrison's Strange Horizons review, especially for the comparison to Helen Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox re: meta-narrative experimentationesqueness. And I wasn't disappointed, because there's a lot to think about in Elysium's treatment of love and grief and death and memory, about stories, and the narrative was gorgeous: splintered and poky, raw and open to layering hurts upon hurts but still retaining a hopeful heart.
It soared. Sometimes it crashed. And it lived.
For readers unsure about wanting to be spoiled beforehand (and this is a book that doesn't reveal its entire hand until later in its pages): I enjoyed this book even though I was spoiled for its basic concept (I did read the first two sections of that SH review before reading the book but didn't read the third). I liked having that background knowledge and handful of spoilers to help me through the instability of the early parts of the book, and it didn't ruin the book. There were enjoyable revelations all throughout the text just from reading attentively....more
Fera Jones is a champion boxer known for her knockout punches. When she starts fighting and beating men, the attention of the world falls on her in soFera Jones is a champion boxer known for her knockout punches. When she starts fighting and beating men, the attention of the world falls on her in some uncomfortable ways. Why she fights seems like a simple matter--because she can, because she's good at it, and because the money helps her and her ill father--but over the course of the story, what becomes most important is that how she looks into the past--her past--helps her discover what kind of future she wants to fight for.
For such a short story, there's some lucid, remarkable world-building. A lot of the gender politics--which comprise the most obvious and most boring aspects of the story--came across as laughably old-fashioned (this story was first published in 2000). Like, the "feminist studies" department at Smith College that runs illegal genetic experiments, and the FemLeague political party that's the third largest party in the country and whose head is a denim overalls-wearing man-hating stereotype. I LOLed quite a bit over stuff like that, unfortunately. Given that more people today are more familiar with the complexity and fluidity of gender, and how this is becoming a greater and greater focus of feminist movements (I say this optimistically, I know), the gender politics in this story were a throwback to second-wave feminism fears and stereotypes instead of a glimpse into the future. The economic and class aspects, however, were the most interesting to me and, I thought, the most pertinent to today's real world. Namely: there's a perpetual underclass, some literally living underground, and matters aren't helped by the legalized drug Pulse.
Pulse is a "gene drug [that] altered the structure of the pleasure centers of the brain, temporarily allowing consciousness some measure of control over dreams. With just the right amount a pulsar, as the users called themselves, could create a complex fantasy, build a whole world and live in it for what seemed like days, weeks." Pulsars tend to check out of real life, unable to hold down real jobs, preferring their dream worlds to their daily lives. Additionally, "it turned out that after four or five uses, the brain collapsed in on itself without regular ingestion of the drug. It was an addiction from which death was the only withdrawal." While wealthy Pulsars can afford private health insurance coverage and can keep acquiring the drug as necessary, the poor aren't as lucky and tend to suffer and die when they're broke and unable to source more drugs, and all Pulsars die sooner rather than later, due to long-term effects on their brains. Fera's father is one of these Pulsars, and through the course of the story is undergoing experimental treatments to try to cure him. Fera's relationship with him and the motivation he provides her--and the insight he can provide into the life of her long-lost mother--was the most compelling part of the story to me.
My favorite passage was when Fera asks her boyfriend Pell--who is one of the impoverished Backgrounders and who becomes her trainer during the story--if he loves her:
"We don't use that word underground."
"What do you say then?"
"I look for you, I see you, I won't turn away."
"That's a lotta words to say the same thing."
"It's not the same thing. Not at all. 'I love you' means 'I need you.' The way I say it means that you can count on me. The way I say it is strong."
The story ends with a glimpse of resisting ownership, asserting independence without ignoring interdependence, and I thought this conversation about love was the starting kernel of that theme....more
I was expecting all that racism to be purposeful for narrative purposes; I found that it wasn't. If you're going to make me sit through repeated descrI was expecting all that racism to be purposeful for narrative purposes; I found that it wasn't. If you're going to make me sit through repeated descriptions of a brown person as simian and chimpanzee-like (especially when the same POV also refers to aliens as human), at least use it to spark some sort of thematic turmoil or maybe even a self-realization on the part of the protagonist. Don't make me sit through that shit for nothing.
I should be the universe's easiest sell when it comes to mixing religion and science fiction, but the story was tedious and the main character too much of a dumb-ass to cultivate an interesting story. I'd rather have the aliens' stories, or the stories of the other USIC employees, who despite (view spoiler)[being unemotional, asexual ascetics (hide spoiler)] were more interesting than Peter. I did think the long-distance relationship between Peter and Bea was more engagingly and movingly portrayed than the stuff on Oasis, but jfc when I read science fiction, I need a protagonist more nuanced than this, preferably one with more brain activity than this one.["br"]>["br"]>...more
I could have read an entire book narrated by the swordfish. Loved her POV.
So, the alien invasion of Lagos begins in the ocean, and it coincides with tI could have read an entire book narrated by the swordfish. Loved her POV.
So, the alien invasion of Lagos begins in the ocean, and it coincides with the literal cross-pathing and metaphorical destiny-entwining of three strangers, there on the beach beside the invasion: Adaora, the marine biologist cooling her head after a troubling fight with her husband; famous Ghanaian rapper Anthony, compelled to seek fresh air after a concert; and battered soldier Agu, who fled from his unit after he attempted to intervene when his superior attacked and raped a woman. Nearly as soon as they meet, these three are swept out in the ocean, and then, things start getting really, really strange.
This book's primary strength is in its wide-view, cross-sectional sociological interest in What Happens When Aliens Invade. There are a lot of POVs utilized in the narrative, and since the book is often a love letter to the city of Lagos, there is a lot of focus on communities, groups of people and the ways they interconnect, overlap, hurt, bleed one another, are the same in many ways, etc., and that was all engaging. The members of the evangelical group overlap with members of the LGBT group who include someone in the group planning to kidnap and ransom an alien, etc. There's not a lot of deep character development to be found, but with the book's wide focus, that didn't seem to be necessary for this particular story.
Readers who want an action-adventure alien story, one with a heroic journey, will probably be disappointed, as are readers who want a tight narrative or deep characters, but I like this kind of science fiction: mosaical in form, ecological and sociological in interest, with an intent to use The Strange to learn more about ourselves as humans.
Also, the militant environmentalist swordfish. ♥♥♥...more
It is winter now in Area X. Do you know where your borders are?
Acceptance is an unsettling but satisfying conclusion to the Southern Reach trilogy, cIt is winter now in Area X. Do you know where your borders are?
Acceptance is an unsettling but satisfying conclusion to the Southern Reach trilogy, chronicling human interactions with a stretch of land conquered by inhuman forces and now resistant to comprehension. (And see, I wrote that, and okay, it kind of gets at the wider premise of the books, but it's also far too dualistic and too trite and too wrong to explain it all. So.) The first book, I thought, was perfect and could stand alone (my review here), but the trilogy as a whole was really good, and a really engaging reading experience for me.
I'm not usually into Weird fiction, not into Horror, and not into unexplainable shit, but I still really liked this trilogy. While the middle book was purposeful in its bureaucratic, lulling listlessness and splinters of creepiness, it was still listless, and long stretches of it were dull to read--and it's only now, after having the final book shed light on so much of the second book, that I can better appreciate its flashes of brilliance. Like the first book, though, this third book is pure energy; I both couldn't read quickly enough and couldn't read slowly enough. I wanted to have all three books in front of me so I could go through them with highlighters in hand, cross-referencing themes and imagery and clues.
Acceptance is about meaning-making, what's knowable and what's not, naming and identifying, the foolishness of causality as an organizational principle humans cling to. There's epistemology and biology and parents fucking up their children and how it's all terroir. And then there's the setting. The setting! VanderMeer could just write about the natural history of the forgotten coast and it'd be compelling. Of everything--after so many prickly, distant characters and shadowy conspiratorial forces--it's the setting that feels so real and so vivid to me. VanderMeer's prose, even when describing the obscure at the limits of the imagination, can be so clear and quick-sharp ("Lowry isn't your direct boss, is more like slant rhyme, not there at the end of things but still in control"), even if it sometimes gets too fragment-y for my tastes.
I liked how this final installment utilized multiple points of view, from multiple points in time. It shifts beautifully between first-person, second-person, and third-person, depending on the character, and VanderMeer chose among the key characters whose perspective are not, of course, objective, but are essential for this story: (view spoiler)[The Director (the Psychologist, Cynthia, Gloria), Saul Evans (the Crawler, the lighthouse keeper), Ghost Bird (not the Biologist), Control (John Rodriguez), and also--much to my excitement--the Biologist (singularly named, singularly known). (hide spoiler)] With so many voices from so many different whens, the book played beautifully with the concept of time, and the way time is used to create/force meaning, and when I arrived at the epilogue, I realized how much my assumptions were making me an active participant in this meaning-making out of what may not have meaning at all.
The other thing I really liked about Acceptance was the inclusion of Saul Evans, the lighthouse keeper of Area X before it was Area X. He's been present in some form in the prior two books, but here, in the final book, we get his life before-ish the catastrophe. Saul was a preacher before he was the lighthouse keeper, a man of sermons and negotiator of divine mysteries, and I liked his sections of the book not just because I demand religion in my science fiction (they often do such similar work omg why isn't more science fiction also about religion okay!) but also because belief in the existence of God isn't at all the interest of the book (that'd be obvious & low hanging-fruit to mull over in the universe of the Southern Reach trilogy, and so I like how deftly VanderMeer avoids that route) or of Saul. The focus is on his actions, his relationships with other people, his role of mediating experience.
Once, from this vantage, he'd seen something vast rippling through the water beyond the sandbars, a kind of shadow, the grayness so dark and deep it had formed a thick, smooth shape against the blue. Even with the binoculars he could not tell what creature it was, or what it might become if he stared at it long enough. Didn't know if eventually it had scattered into a thousand shapes, revealed as a school of fish, or if the color of the water, the sharpness of the light, changed and made it disappear, revealed as an illusion. In that tension between what he could and couldn't know about even the mundane world, he felt at home in a way he would not have five years ago. He needed no greater mysteries now than those moments when the world seemed as miraculous as in his old sermons.
So. I recommend the trilogy, while noting that a) this is not where you should look for solutions, answers, or explanations, and b) the second book is different and not as successfully executed as the first and third books, but it's still necessary to read.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I loved how so many of these stories echo Dawn, which makes me even more eager to read more of Butler's long fiction. I thought there were four very gI loved how so many of these stories echo Dawn, which makes me even more eager to read more of Butler's long fiction. I thought there were four very good stories, one frustrating but still thought-provoking story ("Book of Martha"--THAT is what you suggest to God? I am unconvinced), and two meh stories in this collection. One of the very good stories, "Bloodchild," is available online....more
The most gripping book I've read recently. There's a lot of interesting intellectual work being done about love, captivity, oppression, resistance, anThe most gripping book I've read recently. There's a lot of interesting intellectual work being done about love, captivity, oppression, resistance, and collaboration. The latter two themes interested me, because in a lot of ways, Dawn was an antidote to the hero-rebels-against-oppressive-government stories dominating a lot of popular fiction, and it's pretty brazen in portraying challenging, layered, complicated systems of oppression, and in its insistence on asking constantly, "At what cost? By whose choice? Is this a choice? Is choice something to be prioritized? What about survival itself? What does survival even look like?"
So, yeah, there's a lot of uncomfortable stuff here, amid an immediate and intense story about the questionable survival of the human race....more
This book was ridiculous, and I really liked it. It was a perfect summer read, and it served up exactly what I wanted: an exciting action adventure scThis book was ridiculous, and I really liked it. It was a perfect summer read, and it served up exactly what I wanted: an exciting action adventure science fiction medical thriller YA with the flimsiest of plots but a strong voice. Though all its flaws shined through, still I read on, enjoying every popcorn-y moment of it....more
Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective--even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth
Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective--even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.
For years, teams of volunteer researchers, of scientists and explorers, venture into Area X, a mysterious, dangerous, wild, horrific place abandoned by human life. The survival rate of these researchers is dismal, and if any progress is being made into understanding the nature of Area X, it's not public knowledge. On this, the twelfth expedition, an unnamed biologist narrates the fate of her team and maybe comes closer to knowing some truth behind this terror. Things are strange from the start, when arriving at their base camp they are surprised by the sight of an elaborate entrance to a tunnel--or perhaps an inverted tower--unmarked on their maps.
I didn't think I'd be an ideal reader for this book. I'm not really one for Weird--though having been devoured by Welcome to Night Vale last summer (I think that's the way it went, not the other way around), my appreciation for it has at least increased. Additionally, I'm not typically drawn toward Horror, because fear and dread aren't emotions I'm really interested in being manipulatively whipped up within me, and gawking at fictional inhumanity isn't my bag. In this book, however, I really liked the tone used in regard to all the weird horrors encountered: straight-forward and blunt without being sensationalistic. It helped that the story belongs to a fairly unemotional narrator: she's not devoid of emotions, but she's distant and she knows it. She's introverted, she's used to holding herself apart from other people, and she's long found safety in her role as an observer. And yet with all this knowing distance and all the increasing shakiness of what the narrator observes and relates, I thought the emotional story underneath it all--the biologist once had a husband, and they both were clear-eyed about the differences between them even if they couldn't bridge the gap with love completely--remained the engine of the narrative thrust, from the first page to the last.
Okay, so I really liked the narrator and the depth and nuance brought to her, that she was brutal and self-contained and a mix of untrustworthy/trustworthy and, at one time, loved. If the book does not finish with any answers, the biologist's arc ends triumphantly and beautifully. (Readers who want answers and want definitive status updates on characters might not be so satisfied, however. Most mysteries remain mysteries throughout this book, and IDK if the future books will explain/reveal everything.)
I also enjoyed the ways this was a survival story, a story of exploration, and a first contact story. Well, a first contact story that knows it's not FIRST, not really, but still doesn't know the half of what they're to come up against. The biologist may not be an everyman representative of an average human being, but her humanity, and what she loses and what she gains in that inhumane landscape, is unquestionably human. And that's what I want from my science fiction, even when set in an inhuman world.
The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it could not be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.
"At this point, I had no idea where the text would go. My sense of the narrative direction had been twisted too many times — I was being conned, and I was delighted. Everything depended on the characters' choices at this point: there was no one story shape (reunion story, Presents romance, redemption arc) that was controlling the narrative's direction..."
I've been struggling with some romance reads recently, needing not to see the well-worn tracks the story was running on, and Rulebreaker was a refreshing change. The plot and character arcs weren't fleshed out enough to make this a five-star read for me, but the first-person POV was well-done (and not employed as a purposeful untrustworthy gotcha!...I'm still ugh-ing over a recent read that used first-person POV for that) and the characters were engaging and unpredictable enough to keep me turning pages. The use of science fiction is about on par with J.D. Robb's In Death series, so not terribly much, but I hope the other books set in this universe expand on those interesting sci-fi aspects....more
A dark page-turner, but the ending was a letdown. Like the ending to The Mirage, it worked and seemed inevitable enough and I couldn't read fast enougA dark page-turner, but the ending was a letdown. Like the ending to The Mirage, it worked and seemed inevitable enough and I couldn't read fast enough, but it did nothing for me on an emotional level....more
What a half-assed ending. I'm left with a bitter taste despite finding this book, as well as the trilogy as a whole, very gripping and very uncomfortaWhat a half-assed ending. I'm left with a bitter taste despite finding this book, as well as the trilogy as a whole, very gripping and very uncomfortable-making.
I still recommend all three books, but with the caveat that the ultimate deus ex machina ending isn't at all earned, neither as a coherent emotional arc nor, well, as a consequence of all the plot that came before it....more
Set in an alternate-universe fascist Britain in 1949, this is a cross-genre thriller featuring a genderflipped performance of Hamlet in which the leadSet in an alternate-universe fascist Britain in 1949, this is a cross-genre thriller featuring a genderflipped performance of Hamlet in which the lead actress (Viola Lark, who comes from an infamous Mitford-like family) is a reluctant conspirator in a plot to kill Hitler during their opening night performance.
Honestly, the book had me enthralled at simply the prospect of genderflipped Hamlet (and it delves into the acting implications and all the theatre-side stuff wonderfully!), but the continuation of the world set up in Farthing is also breathlessly and twistedly done. The ever-tightening fist of fascism is relentless, and the depiction of Inspector Carmichael as a reluctant agent of this system is rendered with very patient delicacy.
Survival demands change. It means exposing your weak side. It means the death of something in exchange for hope, in exchange for further vulnerabilitiSurvival demands change. It means exposing your weak side. It means the death of something in exchange for hope, in exchange for further vulnerabilities, in exchange for further change. But even if change is a universal condition of humanity, acceptance of change doesn't seem to come easily to humans, no matter what planet those humans are from.
So. This book. An anthropologist from Earth lands on a planet-of-women for a six-month mission to study the people of this world and to test a recent medical advance. Everyone who sets foot on this planet comes down with a debilitating virus -- a virus that kills all men and some of the women -- and Marghe, our anthropologist, is the first person to test a vaccine intended to resist this virus. Marghe, though, gets swept up in an unexpected mission: a woman who was supposed to be her assistant disappeared in the far reaches of this planet prior to Marghe's arrival, and Marghe ventures into some dangerous territory to find out what happened to her.
I fell pretty hard for this book in its dramatic moments, and I loved the thematic work from beginning to end, hence the five star rating, even though there were lots of poky faultlines marring the book's landscape that both felt weird and didn't match up with my personal tastes. For example, Marghe was an irritating construct of a character at times; I could accept some of the foolish things she did as her just being a bad anthropologist or being an emotionally stunted person, but it was still annoying at times. But other times, I felt for her so, so deeply.
The book's treatment of gender (and sexuality) gets a straight A from me. No fuss over the lack of men, no weird essentializing of women, just people of all types getting on with their lives and these people just so happen to all be women. No big deal....more
A sci-fi thriller that was deliciously over-the-top with plenty of "No real person would ever do that!" moments and "LOL I love your non-straight forwA sci-fi thriller that was deliciously over-the-top with plenty of "No real person would ever do that!" moments and "LOL I love your non-straight forward evil plans that have immense holes in them" moments but still fun to read. The prose was a bit above Dan Brown level. Pages were turned at a rapid pace, and I remained thoroughly entertained.
Content warning for some racism (tell me more about the foreign hostiles' "jabbering"!) but less than I usually expect in this genre, as well as female objectification and sexism (tell me more about how, after seeing the heroine tortured that she'd be beautiful on anything but other than this, her worst day) but it was all so overt and obvious that I could overlook it to get to ALIEN TECHNOLOGY and A GLOBAL SCIENTIST CONSPIRACY and SHOOT THE GUY IN THE INVISIBILITY SUIT OMG DO IT NOW!!...more