August 17th, 2014

iron throne

Brother Cadis Fly. (30; 9:21)

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters.

The crown & crosier:
neither really care about
framers & poachers.

Between battling insomnia & being sick, I haven't been drunk in a minute, but last night's book club sure fixed that, yeah buddy. Roll call, before I forget: Liz, then carmyarmyofme, then Rasheem, & of course fordmadoxfraud on the teleconference since it was his pick, then a little late we got Beatrice & fatbutts. So I'm a little hung over this morning! I haven't felt like this in a while, it is almost novel, while familiar at the same time. Anyhow, moving on to the book. This was David's pick, his third after Novel with Cocaine & Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry (Edit: Jenny has informed me that David also picked The Dispossessed, not Kerry; good job, that book is one of my all-time favorite books ever). I powered threw it on Saturday, mostly, after having put it off because it was thin & then being surprised by its density. It isn't a slog but it certainly isn't a page turner, either; I don't quite know how to describe the book's character. Welsh? That's cheating. Still, it has a surprising complexity to the prose that is hard to put my finger on. Anyhow, let's keep this moving; I'm behind on book blurbs & I need to step it up. So, I found this to be a natural follow-up to Hild; whereas Hild is all about the promotion of the Roman church in order to provide a bridge between the Angles & the British, this is about...the church as a bridge between the Normans & the Welsh centuries later. Carmen thinks that's just because I'm not exposed to a lot of British history, & that's fair, but that's how I viewed it anyhow! So, the biggest complaint from the group was that it was too "pat," that everyone ends up paired off & the mystery is solved with all the loose ends tied up...which I found a weird complaint because....right. Yes, that's what happened, isn't that why we all read this book? Isn't the sales pitch "a mystery where all the loose ends get tied up & everyone get paired off?" I mean, I agree, Cadfael is a bit of a Marty Sue with his whole "well I was an adventurer & a hero & I totally slept with a ton of women before I was a monk, & I'm good at everything," sure. It read, to me (& Rasheem agreed) very "pulp," & reminded me of the Appendix N series I did. A parting note; I didn't realize this was a female author writing under an ambiguous pseudonym until halfway through the book, when I looked at the author bio. Liz had mentioned that the author described the men in the way women are usually described in books, & that's what put the thought in my head.

"don't go to sleep i want to talk about math." (31; 9:22)

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg.

"I drew you something!"
"Wow, is it horrifying?"
"Uh, I'm William Blake."

Every so often I find out that we're publishing someone who I really, really want us to publish, like when I found out we were putting out-- or, err, distributing, or whatever, I don't want to get "industry" here-- Tavi Gevinson's Rookie compilations. This is another big win, if you ask me. Ortberg is, frankly, hilarious. You probably know that already. I found out about her with her "Text Messages from a Ghost" series, so this book is a natural fit for her style. There is only so much you can say about something like this-- what, you want me to go through & explain the jokes?-- but I do have a few notes. One, the René Descartes chapter was my favorite. Two, I laughed out loud on the train, which is always a good sign; I think the last time that happened was Surface Detail. Three, Ortberg has a knack for hitting the reference "just so." That is, if you actually know what she's talking about, it is very, very funny...but even if you haven't read the book (or whatever) that she's spoofing, she's a light enough touch that your general pop culture knowledge will give you enough context to chuckle along, & I suspect that even if you were completely in the dark bits would be funny because it is, well, funny.
black fist

Spock, with a Beard. (32; 10:22)

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley.

She's sworn to the skull.
No wait; she's Sworn to the Skull.
Emphasis matters.

Oh, see, I didn't even get around to doing a review or blurb of the first one, last year. That sort of thing is at the root of my re-embrace of the short, informal blog post about books; if I let myself get in my own head these will just start backlogging & the whole thing will backfire. So, okay, this series! I don't read a lot of epic fantasy. I figure most people assume that I do, because the sort of SF/F nerd I am usually gets painted with that brush, & I certainly have read plenty of epic fantasy...but it isn't my jam, not really. As a rule of thumb, if it is a big doorstop filled with made-up words with extra apostrophes & double consonants, I probably steer clear. That caveat given, I really like this series. It overcomes a lot of the stumbling blocks that epic fantasy can fall prey to, while giving you the big concept stuff like evil immortal Vulcans & creepy pain wizards that you have come to expect. The series follows the three children of a recently assassinated emperor as they each separately try to untangle the web of murder & politics they are suddenly mired in. One is a monk, another is special ops, & the third is minister of finance. Yeah, it's like that, & actually, you can sort of see some of the major successes in the epic fantasy market in each of their story lines. The monk, Kaden, is enmeshed in a cosmological plot, feeling very Steven Erikson; the SEAL is stuck making hard, violent choices in a way familiar to readers of George R. R. Martin; & the politician ends up negotiating witch-lords & religious zealots in a very Wheel of Time-y way. (An Oxford semi-colon? Is that a thing?) Not to mention there is a lot of interesting worldbuilding going on; do I detect someone's campaign research in the background? My one "complaint" is that this second volume is driven by dramatic tension, & after The Lumatere Chronicles, I'm feeling a little weary of that, personally, but that's just me at this moment, not a structural criticism. Anyhow, the "big bad" are basically evil Vulcans, like I mentioned, so that's pretty great.

What if Rust Cohle Wrote Hard Science-Fiction? (33; 11:22)

Echopraxia by Peter Watts.

Fly to Icarus,
Angel of the Asteroids.
The Spider sent you.

Listen, first off, you should stop what you're doing & go read Blindsight, if you haven't already. This is the follow-up volume to that-- I wouldn't say sequel, since reading Blindsight isn't required for this book to make sense-- & the hits just keep on coming. I don't have a lot of complicated thoughts to say about it, this time. This is really solid hard SF, with Watt's unique brand of grit. I like to call myself an "optimistic nihilist" & you could probably call him a "pessimistic nihilist" & not be too far off. It isn't that black & white, it isn't that stark, so I don't mean that in a reductive sense, just a descriptive one. Heck, if you read what I said at about the Rifter series (which starts with Starfish), then you know what I mean. Actually, I think this book could best be described as a synthesis between the two series; the threat of βehemoth very much informs the dangers of Portia (using proper nouns means it isn't a spoiler, since by the time that comment will make sense to you, you'll know as much as I do). Ultimately, like The Rifter books, it is a story of the big dangers of small things, & Blindsight, this is the story of, to use Watt's own words slightly out of context, "a Darwinian fossil in a Lamarckian age."

So to give you the short version, Echopraxia is a story of a human man on the cusp of a post-human world. A trope of a lot of cyberpunk fiction is contrived "otherness"-- you know, think of Shadowrun & losing "Essence" as you get cybernetic implants. I think it is just technophobia, manifesting in weird ways-- see also, "magic versus technology" as the default in a lot of fantasy-- but Watts is a different matter. The post-human "people" of the book range from human, to near-human, to post-human, to in-human & ab-human. That's a lot of prefixes, but that's the range we get; the real post-humans? Aren't "people," not really. & the vampire? Calling her a "person," that's pretty silly. That doesn't mean they aren't characters. Valerie the Vampire we mostly see in reflection, ironically, as characters react to her, theorize as to her motives. She is a lacunae, left to the reader to fill by piecing together the plot...& she's probably my favorite bit of the whole book. You know me, I can't get enough of that sort of stuff. This is Watt's "big idea" book. You could say it is about "God" the same way that 2001: a Space Odyssey & Galactus are about "God."