Mar. 24th, 2017

juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Dark Orbit (Twenty Planets)
Author: Carolyn Ives Gilman
Narrator: Melanie Ewbank
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 208,230
Text Number: 634
Read Because: reviewed by Rosamund, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Sara Callicot travels to a newly discovered habitable planet located in a pocket of bizarre phenomena in order to spy on another member of the exploratory crew, cLassiter. The planet Iris is beautiful and strange, but this initial premise in no way conveys the variety of speculative concepts which come into play: multiple alien cultures, disability and culture-building, alternate forms of perception and dimensions and travel. Cultural and methodological diversity functions as a tool to explore these concepts, and as such individual character development—primarily for Thora—is strong. Interpersonal relationships go undeveloped; this keeps the focus on the speculative concepts, but it might have been nice to see more perception-clash, especially between the protagonists. But I'm a sucker for high speculative concepts which are made accessible by studying the experiences of those enmeshed within them; in that way, this reminds me of Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series—Kirstein does a better job developing and capitalizing on interpersonal aspects, but both emphasize the individual's engagement with research, phenomena, and worldview adjustments, and Gilman also offers strong, multi-sensory descriptions. I'm not entirely content with Dark Orbit's conclusions*, but the journey to them is compelling and stimulating. This takes place in a shared universe, and, while it stands alone, I would love to read more Gilman someday.

* Initially, the depictions of mental illness and blindness are unromanticized—but by the conclusion, both become forms of or tools for seeing outside normal human perception; this resolution makes sense in context, and disabled characters retain agency and humanity, but the elision still makes me uncomfortable.

(What a strange audio experience! The voice used for the Sara's third person narration was obnoxious; for Thora's diary, rich and thoughtful. I admire the narrator's ability to assume such different tones, but Sara's opening sections almost made me DNF.)

Title: Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood Book 1)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Angry Robot, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 430
Total Page Count: 208,660
Text Number: 635
Read Because: enjoyed the author's short story "Immersion," ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the Aztec Empire, Acatl is pulled from his duties as a funeral priest to investigate the violent disappearance of a priestess, a crime which implicates his brother. This reminds me of Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace: murder mystery as impetus to explore a fantasy setting and magic system. It's not a format I enjoy (I prefer my murder mysteries in short form); regardless, this isn't a particularly successful example of it—it's more of a plot McGuffin than a mystery that the reader can solve. The setting and magic system are marginally more successful—they're a welcome change from genre tradition, and the magic is complex, diverse, and occasionally interacts with characters in dynamic ways. But Bodard's descriptions are unevocative and primarily visual, so the magic fails to feel as powerful as it needs to be. In theory, this is a compelling first effort; but in practice, it's just not that compelling. I'd love to see more books in this setting, and so may attempt the sequels; this first book stands alone, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Title: The Gracekeepers
Author: Kirsty Logan
Narrator: Katy Townsend
Published: Random House Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 208,960
Text Number: 636
Read Because: multiple booktube mentions, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A circus performer and funerary hermit cross paths in a flooded world which is socially divided between seafarers and landlockers. The setting and language and atmosphere are all phenomenal—similar to Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, but significantly more evocative: a dreamy ocean landscape, almost magical realist in style. The relationship between the protagonists, and their relationships with their respective social roles, are compelling; it's a long and distant romance, perhaps frustrating only because it's subtextual. But the intermediary aspects are less successful. Too much time better spent with the protagonists is given to hopping between stock supporting characters; the worldbuilding falls for some YA genre clich├ęs, too delineated, chock full of proper nouns. When this is good, it's very very good—one of my more pleasant recent reading experiences in recent memory. I just wishes its occasional lapses of subtly didn't hold it back.


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