I really liked the first John Cleaver trilogy, and I knew this novella served as a bridge to the next one, but I did not know that it's not actually aI really liked the first John Cleaver trilogy, and I knew this novella served as a bridge to the next one, but I did not know that it's not actually about John Cleaver, oops. Instead, we get the POV of one of the demons! A very sad demon who eats memories, who becomes attached to the wife of a man whose memories he ate (he doesn't kill people, simply drinks their memories after they're dead). It's a fairly short novella (more of a novelette, really), but it makes you feel for poor Elijah fairly quickly. There are some lovely musings on death, memory, and human connection, and also there are demons....more
In Nova, Samuel R. Delany's classic science fiction novel, a captain recruits a ragtag group of misfits to go on an impossible mission: fly directly tIn Nova, Samuel R. Delany's classic science fiction novel, a captain recruits a ragtag group of misfits to go on an impossible mission: fly directly through a nova in order to harvest a massive amount of energy that will destabilize the economy or something and stick it to his nemesis. It's a rollicking space adventure! Well, it's in space, at least. There's a little adventure? Sometimes there is rollick.
Although the book opens on a character called the Mouse, he's basically the Ishmael of the story, and the coolest thing about him is his sensory-syrynx, an instrument that plays all five senses (kind of like that thing in the original series finale of Futurama). There's also Katin, who spends the whole novel talking about how he's trying to write a novel but he doesn't know what to write about, which gives the book some cute meta-commentary, especially since in this world the novel is a lost, dead art form. Dan has already been through a nova once before and came out blind and deaf in a horrifying way. And then there are these two other guys who have birds on their shoulders or something and speak in alternating dialogue.
But the real story is about Lorq, who gets a huge flashback chapter early on explaining how he came to know some rich siblings named Prince and Ruby, the former with a cyborg arm he's very sensitive about and the latter with...being hot, I guess. It's a race to see who can fuck each other's shit up first!
Delany's worldbuilding is massive, as he imagines centuries of human development and space expansion. The intricate details are fun, but I especially enjoyed various long monologues opining about the state of things, as they helped form a larger picture of what the world is like and how it relates to our own. Katin in particular is alternately nostalgic for and disdainful of the twentieth century, which offers a point of comparison.
Overall, though, I just didn't...care about anything, really? There are some great moments, and Prince makes for a good nemesis (he has a pretty amazing villain monologue at one point), but most of the time I didn't really know what the fuck was going on and why. Despite a clear goal of Get to the Nova set up in the first chapter, the plot meanders a lot, and I couldn't get into it. It's got a vibrant, lush narrative voice, but one that's mildly impenetrable. By the end, I thought the book was okay (and goddamn, what a cheeky fucking ending), but the style wasn't my thing....more
Nimona is a cute, fun-loving, murder-loving shapeshifter. Ballister is a grumpy, robot-armed, science-loving supervillain. They do crime!
I've loved NoNimona is a cute, fun-loving, murder-loving shapeshifter. Ballister is a grumpy, robot-armed, science-loving supervillain. They do crime!
I've loved Noelle Stevenson's art style and her sense of humor for years, and Nimona collects her long-running webcomic in glorious book form. You want a sharp, distinctive art style for a variety of body shapes and skin colors? You got it! You want character-based humor that's silly without being absurd? You got it!
The fantasy world of Nimona makes no sense—it's a medieval-inspired setting yet there's plenty of modern technology—but that's part of its charm. I love how well it actually works. Stevenson overlays a lot of modern sensibilities onto the historical (you know, "historical") narrative and it feels right; that's just the kind of world these people live in. There are dragons and knights and there are also television reporters. It's fun!
On the second page of the book, Nimona turns into a shark and yells, "I'M A SHARK!" and that tells you everything you need to know about Nimona. She's the best, endearing as all hell, even when she's complaining that Ballister won't kill people. Especially when she's complaining that Ballister won't kill people. I loved Nimona, but I found Ballister to be the most compelling character in the book, a very conflicted supervillain who has a complicated relationship and history with the town's resident hero, Sir Goldenloin. Goldenloin seems like a simple enough character at first, but he's also got layers, and all three main players become more interesting and complex over the course of the story.
Page after page—this is a page-turner—I found myself smiling at practically everything, be it Nimona's wacky shapeshifting, her playful antagonism of Ballister, fun action sequences, betrayals and darkness and tragedy and pain wait I did not sign up for this. Stevenson foreshadows early on that things may not be as sunny as they seem, and the shift to a more serious narrative happens with ease. While I think I wanted a bit more from the ending, the epilogue does put a lovely coda on the series. (And I know I have been complaining about how much I want books to be stand-alone but ugh I want more don't go away from me I just met you even though most people have been hanging out with you for years.)
Nimona is an excellent combination of funny and feels, and definitely worth your time....more
The God Engines is not your typical Scalzi, which I knew going in. The characters aren't quippy, there's a mildly explicit sex scene, and although theThe God Engines is not your typical Scalzi, which I knew going in. The characters aren't quippy, there's a mildly explicit sex scene, and although there are spaceships, it's more fantasy than science fiction (and there's some elements of horror as well). Because these spaceships, as the title implies, run on gods. Enslaved gods. Captain Tephe has issues with the troublesome god running his ship, but he's chosen—because of his extreme faith—to go on a secret mission for His Lord, where he learns, well, secret things. The God Engines is a very dark take on gods and faith, but, like typical Scalzi, it's a good, fast-paced read. It's almost exclusively male, though: the only women who show up are nameless antagonists, and one character's gender is not identified so they could be a woman (as I initially read but then decided to imagine as a man to see if that would make the novella almost exclusively male after all). Maybe it was a deliberate choice, to represent the male-dominated clergy. In any case, it was neat to see Scalzi outside of his comfort zone....more
Imagine Entertainment (definitely not the SyFy Channel, nope) sends the Atargatis out into the Pacific to film a "documentary" about discovering mermaImagine Entertainment (definitely not the SyFy Channel, nope) sends the Atargatis out into the Pacific to film a "documentary" about discovering mermaids. Even if you've never read Mira Grant before, you will not be surprised to learn that they do discover mermaids and everyone dies, because that is how she rolls. As in several previous works, she sets up an ominous framing device about a doomed group of people and lets the bodies fall where they may (in the water). There are lots of people on the ship, and only a few really stood out to me; it was hard to keep up with all of them. But what I loved most was how Grant plays with the premise of the fake documentary and, of course, all the science. The story is a slow build but a swift read, and it's worth it for the bloody mayhem and payoff at the end....more
After several magical adventures in Europe, accomplished glamourists Jane and Vincent are ready for some downtime, but then Vincent receives some unexAfter several magical adventures in Europe, accomplished glamourists Jane and Vincent are ready for some downtime, but then Vincent receives some unexpected news: his father has passed away, and his brother needs him to take care of the estate.
Come out to Antigua, they said. You'll sign a few papers and go home, they said.
Things turns out to be much more complicated than that. Vincent's relationship with his abusive father has always been fraught, and soon after arriving in Antigua, he finds himself struggling with his own character, the proximity to his father—even in death—distressing him greatly. Jane is sick on the voyage over and needs some time to recover. And both of these abolition-loving Europeans find themselves quite taken aback by the deplorable treatment of the slaves on the Hamilton plantation.
I've heard Mary Robinette Kowal speak about the research she did on this book many times, and the great care she took in her portrayal of people of color, and it shows. The black characters are named, developed characters, and they're diverse in origin (coming from different parts of Africa) and skin color. There is, of course, a danger that the story could fall into a White Saviour narrative, with Jane and Vincent, kindly white people, coming in and freeing all the slaves, but while there is a superficial element of it in the fact that they do confront the monstrous overseer, Mr. Pridmore, a few times, the slaves themselves have some agency and make their own choices when they can. They explain when they do and don't need Jane and Vincent's help.
But this book isn't actually about Jane and Vincent coming down to a plantation and freeing slaves anyway! I can't really describe what it is about, though. They want nothing more than to leave that damn place, and it's almost comical how many different ways Kowal contrives to keep them from leaving; most of the reasons are valid (and for all I know she researched actual ship schedules and Jane and Vincent just got screwed) but I still found it amusing. So they're forced to stay there and be uncomfortable. Luckily, Jane befriends an Igbo glamourist named Nkiruka who opens her mind to a whole new way of glamour: Nkiruka conceives of it differently and can do things that baffle Jane. She's a wonderful character and I'd love to see more of her. Meanwhile, Vincent discovers things are kind of fishy and begins an investigation.
Here's the thing: I could read hundreds of pages of Jane and Vincent just being Jane and Vincent. Over the course of the series, they've become one of my favorite fictional couples. Jane has become so much stronger and more scientifically oriented. Vincent has become a much deeper, more conflicted, interesting person. I love how much they love each other, how honest and open they are with each other, how much they respect and admire each other. So the fact that anything actually happens around them is ancillary to my enjoyment; the fact that occasionally what happens surprises the hell out of me is a bonus. There is danger, there is excitement, there are severed limbs. Jane is incredible, Vincent is angsty, they are both amazing. So much happens in this book, but it's not a straightforward "Characters all work toward a goal" narrative, and that's fine: Jane and Vincent are Jane and Vincent and they do stuff with heaps of new characters I enjoyed.
Of Noble Family closes this chapter in their lives. They have earned a respite....more
Ted Chiang is frequently named as one of the greatest living science fiction authors, a man who hasn't even written that many stories, such that eachTed Chiang is frequently named as one of the greatest living science fiction authors, a man who hasn't even written that many stories, such that each new one is an event because each one is so good. I had only read "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling," which was great. So I was very interested to read more. And now I have. And so I can join the rest of the world.
Ted Chiang is one of the most brilliant writers I have ever read.
Ted Chiang is a jerk who wants you to question your fundamental understanding of everything. Like a modern-day Asimov with more narrative sensibility, his short stories are thought experiments, what-ifs taken to extremes, examining the nature of humanity and reality in ways most writers don't dare. I find his work to be more intellectual than emotional, without a great deal of characterization—not that the characters are flat, but that they are defined by how they move through the thought experiment as opposed to being a memorable person outside of the story—but he's so successful as a storyteller that the experience is ultimately satisfying. Interestingly, my two least favorite stories are the shortest ones; Chiang seems most at home telling longer stories that allow his themes to develop. I found that I usually reached a point where I wanted the story to end (because it was long) and I didn't want the story to end (because I was so immersed in the world). It's a marvel that he's so consistent.
"Tower of Babylon" chronicles a man's ascent up the Tower of Babylon, said to reach all the way to Heaven. As he climbs higher and higher, he passes societies that have made a home in the sky. The most fantastical story in the collection, it's distinguished by the imaginative architecture and a nice payoff. That's the thing with Chiang's stories: they actually have a nice payoff.
"Understand" takes a well-worn premise—man suddenly becomes more intelligent—and rather than go the "Flowers with Algernon" route (or even the Limitless route), it pushes, pushes, pushes it further, asking how a person like that would view the world. It becomes almost thriller-like by the end. One of the highlights of the collection.
"Division by Zero" is the story I didn't really get. Though I loved the basic concept of it and the way it explored mathematics and numbers (it's mindblowing to think about how they actually had to prove that arithmetic as a system was provably correct, that 1 + 1 =2), I couldn't follow the human story, I couldn't grasp the connections between the math facts and the narrative. It's in no way a dud, but it's the one that didn't work for me.
"Story of Your Life" takes a linguistic approach to first contact, as a woman attempts to decipher a visiting alien race's language, and how their language reflects the way they view reality. It's a fucking fascinating look at that very concept; meanwhile, the woman tells the titular story about the daughter she hasn't even conceived yet. How? That's the story, and it's as mindbending as anything else in the collection.
"Seventy-Two Letters" transports the reader to an alternate history that mashes golem mythology with hard reproductive science. Chiang weaves the idea of a name that brings life into a Victorian secret science society, and it's interesting and delightful, though it takes a dark turn. Science, religion, politics, ugh, this story is so cool and thought-provoking. That's Chiang, he's cool and thought-provoking.
"The Evolution of Human Science" is flash fiction without a narrative, more of a musing on a world of metahumans and regular humans' feelings of inferiority thereof.
"Hell Is the Absence of God" has the "This is a story" narrative voice that I enjoy, and it frames angel visitations as natural disasters, exploring issues of faith and devotion. This was an interesting world to imagine, even if it was very strictly Christian theology-based.
"Liking What You See: A Documentary," as the title suggests, is a series of interview statements and speech excerpts. I love that no two stories in this collection have the same voice. The focus of this one is our concept of beauty and "lookism," the fact that we are positively biased toward people we consider attractive. So what if you could neurologically inhibit that prejudice? Would that be a good thing? Would you support mandating that at a particular college? Let the debate begin!
One thing that struck me is that with a few exceptions, the stories are about cis straight white men (publication dates range from 1990 to 2002). A few stories with female protagonists, but still very white and heterosexual. While the lack of diversity is unfortunate (especially given how few stories Chiang writes), the stories are still amazing.
Believe the Ted Chiang hype, everyone. This man deserves to be a household name in science fiction....more
After the Golden Age was a great superhero book, a satisfying read that didn't require a sequel, but, thankfully, Dreams of the Golden Age is a welcAfter the Golden Age was a great superhero book, a satisfying read that didn't require a sequel, but, thankfully, Dreams of the Golden Age is a welcome return to Commerce City, another well told story of superheroics, this time with even more superpowered action!
It's twenty years later, and a new generation of superheroes is itching to take up the mantle, inspired by the now-retired Olympiad. One of them is Anna, Celia's daughter, and Vaughn alternates between mother and daughter so that we see both sides of the story...especially the secrets they're keeping from each other. It's not a superhero story without secrets!
As Steven Gould does with Impulse, Carrie Vaughn introduces a new teenage POV into the series, which gives the book a bit of a YA feel, although she balances it well with the maturity of the adult POV: Celia is now running West Corp, and she has many responsibilities to her company and the city itself on top of keeping track of her daughters and wondering whether they have superpowers. Both Celia and Anna are dealing with their problems on their own, and it's both frustrating and amusing to know what they're missing.
Following Anna and her superpowered friends is fun, especially since they're dumb, ambitious teenagers trying to figure out how to be crimefighters. It's sort of adorable, but they also disagree on how best to be crimefighters, which leads to conflict! Meanwhile Celia faces off with, um, a slimy out-of-town investor? Like I said, she has adult problems.
Dreams of the Golden Age is a more straightforward book than After the Golden Age, which felt much more epic in scope, thanks to the large focus on the backstory of Celia and the other heroes. Vaughn does again show her skill in juggling multiple plot elements, but the book is not quite as stuffed, though it has just as much emotional depth. Dreams of the Golden Age makes superhero fiction look easy....more
Paul Tsabo is the bureaucrat's bureaucrat, like Hermes from Futurama. He loves the order of forms, the power of a signature.
He loves bureaucracy so muPaul Tsabo is the bureaucrat's bureaucrat, like Hermes from Futurama. He loves the order of forms, the power of a signature.
He loves bureaucracy so much, it turns out, that he's a fucking bureaucromancer.
That's right, folks: Flex is about a man who does MAGIC BUREAUCRACY. And it's way more awesome than it sounds, thanks to Ferrett Steinmetz's incredibly clever take on magic.
In the world of Flex, magic takes on all forms, and it's very personal and individual. But it always comes with a price: the Flux, a dangerous blowback that balances out any use of magic with a comparable negative consequence. And again, Steinmetz's clever and creative take on this concept make this book stand out.
What drew my attention to the book was the description of it as "Breaking Bad but with magic," and that description is surprisingly apt, though it is, of course, mostly on the superficial level, as marketing hooks tend to be. Paul hooks up with a lowlife to make drugs—Flex, distilled magic for the mundanes—for the sake of his family (in this case, his daughter, badly burned in an accident [note the cover]), but he's also excited by just doing magic. 'Mancy is illegal, and he faces brainwashing and reconditioning if he's caught, and his favorite co-worker goes after 'mancers like it's his job. Whether intentional or not, I did enjoy mapping various characters to their Breaking Bad counterparts (Hank! Tuco! Gus!), but I didn't feel like the story was derivative, especially because it really breaks out of that mold in the second half.
There is so much to like about this book. The chapter titles, which frequently have cute and appropriate pop culture references. The pop culture references in general, thanks to the aforementioned lowlife's powers of videogamemancy, which allows her to manipulate reality into videogames, leading to things I never thought I would see in a book. (For a gamer, this book is as fun as Ready Player One in the whizzbang cool sense; I do wonder how all those scenes play to someone who hasn't played any of those games.) Paul's relationship with his daughter, Aliyah: Aliyah feels like a real six-year-old girl, and Steinmetz complicates their relationship beautifully by making Aliyah extremely hateful toward 'mancers without knowing her dad is one. The villain. The plotting. The use of the word "motherfuckress."
I found myself handwaving most of the magic, though, as the rules kept evolving throughout the book. I couldn't quite visualize a lot of what was going on, but I got the general gist, and Steinmetz justified what any character was doing enough for me to go along with it. Lots of little neat bits of worldbuilding, like the fact that 'mancy offends physics so much that it can open rifts in reality, don't get explored fully in this book, but I hope they will be in the future.
Flex is a fun read, but as I got more and more into the book, I was impressed with how well crafted it was. The sequel is called The Flux, as if it's the price we have to pay for a book this good. I'll take it!...more
It's Mexico City in 1989, and fifteen-year-old Meche loves music. She loves it even more when she discovers she can do magic by playing vinyl records.It's Mexico City in 1989, and fifteen-year-old Meche loves music. She loves it even more when she discovers she can do magic by playing vinyl records. It works better when she recruits her best friends, Daniela and Sebastian, to do magic with her. Now they have power. What will they do with it?
It's Mexico City in 2009, and Meche is back in town for her father's funeral. She hasn't spoken to Daniela or Sebastian in twenty years. What happened to tear them apart?
The publisher describes Signal to Noise as a literary fantasy, and it's an apt description. The fantasy element is fairly light, not that it's not an important part of the plot—it absolutely is—but that it's hardly the focus. Silvia Moreno-Garcia doesn't spend a great deal of time on worldbuilding or explaining why the magic works like it does; in fact, I was confused as to how Meche figured out how to do magic in the first place. She plays a record and makes a wish and it comes true, and suddenly she jumps to the conclusion that she can do magic, and it's a good thing she turns out to be right. Once you accept the magic and wave your hand a lot (and appreciate the occasional pretty visualizations of the magic at work), what you find is a story about friendship and romance, as well as family.
Moreno-Garcia jumps between several POVs, not only showing us the trio but also Meche's grandmother, who knows a thing or two about magic, and Meche's father, a cheater and aspiring novelist who's not very likable at all but is responsible for Meche's love of music. Put all these together with the 2009 POVs and you get a novel that feels like a young adult novel-plus, a story of teenagers, full of all the complicated emotions and hormones and crushes and love polygons that arise in high school, filtered through the lens of adult nostalgia. It's a strange hybrid of a book, merging young adult and adult, literary fiction and fantasy. It's got lots of crossover appeal.
Not being familiar with Mexican music, most of the music references went completely over my head, and this book is soaked in music references. Yet Moreno-Garcia describes the music and songs played well enough that you still get the gist of the sounds. Any lover of music can substitute the feelings they had as a teenager, hearing those songs that spoke to your soul, the ones that had power, the ones that felt like, well, magic.
Signal to Noise is achingly lovely, with moments of warmth and heartbreak. My hand went to my heart several times while reading. This is a special little novel, I think, and it deserves to be read by as many people as possible....more
Get in Trouble is my introduction to Kelly Link, whom I had been hearing great things about. A master of short stories, they said! So I was very excitGet in Trouble is my introduction to Kelly Link, whom I had been hearing great things about. A master of short stories, they said! So I was very excited.
Here's what I definitely love about Kelly Link: she has an incredible, enviable knack for making the magical seem mundane. Superheroes at conventions, vampire actors, ghost boyfriends, pocket universes? All just part of the regular ho-hum reality of the world. It's a risky gambit, honestly, because it led to a lot of cognitive dissonance on my part because the speculative elements didn't feel speculative enough. The opening story, "The Summer People," is probably the one that most treats it as something out of the ordinary, and for about half the story, it doesn't even seem like it's a genre story. Link has a distinctive, offbeat voice that falls more on the literary side.
Unfortunately, I found most of the stories utterly bewildering and all of them overlong. While many of them had cool ideas I enjoyed, I began to lose interest after a while because I couldn't see where the actual story was going. If there was one?
The first story, "The Summer People," may be the most fully satisfying of the lot, in the end, despite my initial frustration. It's a nice story about two girls becoming unlikely friends, and also there are faeries. Unlike most other stories, it had a (fairly??) clear resolution I could understand. "Secret Identity" is probably my real favorite of the lot, structured as a letter from a teenage girl to the adult man she met on an MMORPG, whom she intended to meet at a superhero convention but he never showed up and BOY DID HIJINKS ENSUE. It's silly and freewheeling and I don't totally get all of it but that's true of all the stories. (I wanted to like "Origin Story," the other superhero tale, but although I loved the geeky conversations between the two characters [they actually talk about Angel and his leather pants], I couldn't, again, follow what the actual story was.) "The New Boyfriend" is incredibly cute, full of slumber parties and ghost boyfriends and vampire boyfriends and robot boyfriends, but I thought it could have been more focused.
I felt the most positive about those three stories, and I couldn't really get into the others, even though they had neat ideas. Is it possible I would have enjoyed them more in print, not as an audiobook listened to over the course of a month? Maybe! I liked that every story was read by a different narrator, and I recognized two of them from previous audiobooks. They're all mostly good.
Maybe Kelly Link isn't really my thing. Maybe these stories aren't really my thing. Maybe listening to Kelly Link isn't really my thing. In any case, now at least I understand the Linkyness of Link....more
The Buried Life contains many elements I enjoy in stories. A dystopian setting. Female protagonists. A murder mystery. A conspiracy. But for reasons IThe Buried Life contains many elements I enjoy in stories. A dystopian setting. Female protagonists. A murder mystery. A conspiracy. But for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, these elements did not cohere in a way to draw me into this story.
After an intriguing, if slightly befuddling, prologue, the book wastes little time in starting the murder mystery plot: a historian is dead, notable because in the underground city of Recoletta, knowledge of history is regulated by the Directorate of Preservation. It’s not the last murder, and as the violence continues to rock the safety of the upper class “whitenails,” it becomes clear something deeper is going on.
On the case (or “contract,” because dystopias need new words for things) are Inspector Liesl Malone, who’s your typical hard-nose detective, and rookie Rafe Sundar, a former actor whose quirky charm makes him much more entertaining. About to get caught up in this mess are laundress Jane Lin and her reporter friend Fredrick Anders. Then there’s the mysterious Roman Arnault. With the exception of Malone, whom I never really connected with, these characters are likable and interesting enough, but they don’t leap off the page.
I found the first half of the book slow going, as it was full of intricate descriptions of the setting that I had trouble visualizing. While I could tell Carrie Patel had done a fair amount of worldbuilding, I couldn’t get a sense of that world while reading, despite the many infodumps. There was an unnamed catastrophe, the city is underground, history is a crime, and society is weirdly Victorian now for some reason? Halfway through, the plot began to thicken, but by that point, I felt the book simply wasn’t for me. In the last quarter, however, all the pieces came together for some exciting revelations and plot twists that should provide a lot of story fodder for the next book. After seeing what it was all leading up to, I could better appreciate the setup, but, unfortunately, the setup itself didn’t engage me as much as I wanted it to.
The Buried Life is definitely playing with different genres in a new way, and I respect that. While it wasn’t for me, I have no doubt others will appreciate what it’s doing....more
Meg Elison is a friend of a friend, and when I saw that she'd published a book, I thought, good for her. When I saw that it had been nominated for a PMeg Elison is a friend of a friend, and when I saw that she'd published a book, I thought, good for her. When I saw that it had been nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award, I thought, REALLY good for her, now I've definitely got to read this thing.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife chronicles the perilous adventures of the titular unnamed midwife, who, in fact, goes by many different names throughout the course of the book for, lo, the world has ended and no one is safe. A plague hits, and it disproportionally targets women, especially mothers. Babies don't survive, either: the human race is toast. The setup is like a reverse Y: The Last Man: the midwife is not the last woman, but whereas she was only treated like a minority before, now she really is one.
A strange man tries to rape her on page 5.
Understandably, she disguises herself as a man in order to survive, and I loved the little bits where she has to remind herself to act "manly," whatever that means, right. She becomes a crusader for women, trying to secretly deliver them birth control so that they don't have rape babies that kill them. The only person she can really trust, however, is herself; she meets up with strangers and forms attachments that quickly sour. While the premise lends itself to a lot of victimization of women, there's room for empowerment as well, and the way this male-dominated world brings women together reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale. The midwife wanders the landscape, looking for shelter, and maybe even companionship. The touch of a man or woman will do. The general thrust of the plot is like The Walking Dead without zombies. Make no mistake, this book is bleak and depressing as fuck: I can recall exactly two moments where the book gave me positive emotions. Okay, maybe three. I could definitely count them on one hand.
Elison tells the story through a combination of people's journals, a third-person limited narrative for the midwife, and the occasional third-person omniscient POV to provide context for the rest of the world or to close off stories of characters the midwife encounters. It's a bit messy, not having a consistent voice, and I found it vexing that the midwife's first-person thoughts were not italicized, making it sometimes hard to distinguish them from the third-person POV. Especially because I like her and her thoughts. Her own journals are a bit manic and difficult to decipher as well; she uses = signs in an almost haphazard manner. But I wanted her to be successful, whatever that meant to her. It's not clear what her ultimate goal is besides "Find somewhere safe to live out the rest of her days," which, after all, is the only goal you can have after the apocalypse, I guess. That can make the plot seem meandering, but it finds more focus in the latter half. I was always more engaged in the story when she interacted with other people for an extended period of time. When she was alone, I was antsy and uncomfortable, which, to be fair, so was she.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is a rare bird, a feminist post-apocalyptic tale with a queer heroine who, as we can tell from the title and prologue, passes into legend. Early on, the midwife tosses off a beautiful, sad metaphor that explains why she would be the hero of this story. She is a midwife, and with no more babies to deliver, it is this new world, this new life after plague, that she must help bring into being....more
Daniel José Older introduced his Bone Street Rumba universe and inbetweener Carlos Delacruz in his short story collection Salsa Nocturna (which I haDaniel José Older introduced his Bone Street Rumba universe and inbetweener Carlos Delacruz in his short story collection Salsa Nocturna (which I have not read...yet), and he wastes no time plunging the reader into the world with his debut urban fantasy novel, Half-Resurrection Blues. I felt at a slight disadvantage not being familiar with the world already, but the general concept becomes clear quickly: Carlos Delacruz is neither alive nor dead, and Brooklyn is full of ghosts and shit.
I knew I would like the book from the third page, which includes the line "See, the dead are good for coming up with some last-minute oh-and-by-the-way type shit." That line immediately sold me on Carlos as a guy frustrated with his employers, who happen to be dead, as do most of the people he hangs out with, like a couple spectral agents named Riley and Dro, whom he meets in bars where they invisibly sip drinks. While it's not a comic novel by any means, Older injects just enough lightness to keep things fun, occasionally making me laugh out loud. It's a casual, accessible voice ("Can't even roll my eyes far enough back into my flesh-and-blood head to express how out of line that shit is") that nevertheless has its more ~*literary*~ moments ("The twisted universe has conspired to give me this moment and this night and those eyes looking back at mine, all amid the hurricane of infestations and betrayals and possibly imminent doom, and I will take what's mine").
By restricting his setting to a specific borough, Older can concentrate its power, and the Brooklyn in this book feels like one you could navigate by reading, with street names and landmarks I'm sure are fairly accurate to its real-life counterpart. Unlike some urban fantasies that are set in bigger cities where the characters traverse all over the place, Half-Resurrection Blues takes place in a slice of Brooklyn that fits in a two-page map. The "urban" in urban fantasy is an important component, and I like when all the details and vivid descriptions make me feel like I'm actually there, rather than some amorphous concept of "New York." Adding to this verisimilitude is the diverse population; in fact, very few of the characters in the book are white. Most of the white people are hipster extras.
While I can probably attribute some of my confusion to sleepiness and my own emotional state, I started to lose the plot about halfway through, as Carlos kept going from character to character to get information, and the focus of the story kept shifting. I appreciated how it all tied together but it ended up feeling overly complex. It's fairly dense, and things are always happening, which I generally like, when I can keep track of what's happening and how it connects to what else is happening. Also I was disappointed that the one major female character is basically just a love interest—which I've seen in first novels before, and then the subsequent books are better about it—though there are a couple good female supporting characters, most notably Mama Esther, a powerful ghost. There are a lot of ghosts in this book. Seriously, I think there are more dead characters than alive characters in this book, even if I count Carlos as "alive" to give humans an advantage.
Half-Resurrection Blues has delightfully profane, electric prose, a likable protagonist, and a vivid urban setting. Also lots of ghosts and spirits and shit, I really cannot overstate how many dead things are in this book....more