juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are locked.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New subscribers/commenters/friends are welcome. Feel free to leave a note of introduction (on this post or elsewhere).
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
List of book reviews for 2005 )

Year Long Total: 25 books

List of book reviews for 2006 )

Year Long Total: 64 books

List of book reviews for 2007 )

Year Long Total: 37 books

List of book reviews for 2008 )

Year Long Total: 67 books

List of book reviews for 2009 )

Year Long Total: 50 books

List of book reviews for 2010 )

Year Long Total: 37 books

List of book reviews for 2011 )

Year Long Total: 52 books

List of book reviews for 2012 )

Year Long Total: 32 books

List of book reviews for 2013 )

Year Long Total: 65 books

List of book reviews for 2014 )

Year Long Total: 16 books

List of book reviews for 2015 )

Year Long Total: 61 books

List of book reviews for 2016 )

Year Long Total: 123 books

List of book reviews for 2017 )

Year Long Total: 124 books

Also See:
Tags: book reviews, book reviews: recommended, book reviews: not recommended
Reviews on Amazon.com, Profile on Amazon.com
Profile on GoodReads
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.

You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Amatka
Author: Karin Tidbeck
Translator: Karin Tidbeck
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Published: Random House Audio, 2017 (2012)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 236,140
Text Number: 752
Read Because: reviewed by Kalanadi, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A researcher travels to a sister colony, whose exceptionally fragile permanence calls into question a number of things about their society's nature and origin. Tidbeck has a restrained, almost cold voice, focusing on daily life and minutia; meanwhile, the worldbuilding is high concept, with a slowly unfolding mystery. If the plot reveals and inevitability of the ending are too convenient, it's counterbalanced by the haunting, wondrous tone (especially lovely in audio). It's a bit like Emma Newman's Planetfall, a bit like Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation, but is uniquely itself, haunting, bizarre, with engaging linguistic and dystopic elements. I enjoyed and recommend this, and plan to read more by Tidbeck.

Title: Centaur Rising
Author: Jane Yolen
Published: Henry Holt and Co., 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 270
Total Page Count: 236,110
Text Number: 753
Read Because: reading more from the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After one of Ari's family's horses mysteriously becomes pregnant, she gives birth to a centaur. There are good elements that play here—Ari's search for magic, her realistically complicated family, a compassionate presentation of disability; combining centaurs with equine therapy is an effective source of inspiration. Even the corny songs may have worked for me when I was in this age group—the predictable and trite and exaggerated elements are all well within genre standards. Yet I find myself disappointed. Compare to Peter S. Beagle's In Calabria, which has a near-identical concept: it's not the intended audience that separates these books, but that in In Calabria magic is pervasive and profound, and informs character arcs and the climax; here, it's confined to the edges (and literal prologue and afterward), it's restrained, insufficient, immemorable—Ari herself would have been disappointed.

Title: The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth's Past Book 1)
Author: Liu Cixin
Translator: Ken Liu
Narrator: Luke Daniels
Published: Tor Books and Macmillan Audio, 2014 (2007)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 236,510
Text Number: 754
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook and audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the past, one woman changes the course of Earth's history via her work at a military base; in the present, strange events are destroying the Earth's scientific community. I suppose I expected this to be more technical, challenging, dense, but instead it reminds me of Andy Weir's The Martian: an abundance of diverse, kitchen-sink speculative concepts, lots of infodumping, clunky writing with especially stiff dialog, and more momentum than culmination. The tone is aggressively dry with a hint of the absurd, an unenjoyable combo which is somewhat aggravated by audio narration (and perhaps was compounded by translation). This is a big-concept book, almost playful in its excess, certainly indulgent in an aliens-conspiracy-nerds way, but not particularly well-rendered. I won't read the sequels.

I read the first two-thirds as an ebook and then switched to audio for the last bit; I'd decided against audio earlier on because it was so long and I assumed the technical details would be easier to track in print, but it was the technical details that made me want to skim, or, in the tradition of a just-okay audiobook: mostly listen but also multitask.

We both had a ?? reaction to this. It's very big-concept, but Liu as often seems to be talking to himself about some cool speculative concept he's thought up (the section with the protons is especially awful, the stiffest dialog, the most tedious infodumps); the reader's participation isn't necessary. It's welcome, maybe, in figuring out the mystery, and Teja found the pacing more effective than I did (I thought it were pretty predictable). Ye Wenjie is really very good (think of the book this would have been with a narrower focus!), but the tone smothers any human connection; the social commentary (esp. re: who plays the Three Body game, also the themes in the resolution) range from uninspired to vaguely stupid (and may be cultural markers? don't care; still didn't like). He called it a "strange book" especially as regards plot structure, concepts; it is that. But I was more distracted by the fact that it's not an especially good book.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Infidel (Bel Dame Apocrypha Book 2)
Author: Kameron Hurley
Published: Night Shade Books, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 235,055
Text Number: 749
Read Because: continuing the series as per this recommendation, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Six years after the first book, Nyx becomes embroiled in rogue Bel Dame conspiracies against the monarchy. This is better paced and plotted than the more rambling God's War, which makes it possible to sit back and enjoy the strengths of this series--enjoy isn't the right word in such an inhospitable world with such a thorny cast, but these brutal women, Nyx and especially the returning Inaya, are a liberation: unapologetically flawed, difficult women with significant character arcs. There are too many reoccurring characters, and it's only that so many people died in the first book that it doesn't feel implausible; that, combined with the emphasis on reuniting/dispersing the band, especially the delineated denouement/resolution, makes for the weakest part of the book: hokey, predictable pacing. The craft here remains rough around the edges, but there's intrinsic value in this world and it's easier to appreciate here than in the first book; it's worth reading for those that have started the series.

Title: The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter Book 1)
Author: Megan Shepherd
Narrator: Lucy Rayner
Published: Balzer + Bray, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 405
Total Page Count: 235,460
Text Number: 750
Read Because: reading more from the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Juliet Moreau, destitute after the scandal that led to her father's disappearance, discovers that he's alive and practicing science on a remote island. The Island of Dr. Moreau is an interesting pick for adaptation; it's part of the public consciousness, but details like PoV and supporting characters are not, which make them unremarkable fodder for commentary. But the themes benefit from room to expand, and they're not more complex but are forefronted and humanized. This also delights in the source material's gothic/action-adventure elements, and feels a bit like a younger sibling to Penny Dreadful, a similar aesthetic excess, perhaps more indulgent than successful (with some exceptions, like the dream of the iron dress). But this is a YA novel, with a love triangle that is not just obligatory but oppressive, interrupting plot and overshadowing the suspense. It made me find swathes of this book unbearably tedious, and as it's a predominant aspect of the sequels I have no desire to read them. An interesting effort, a fun combination of influences, but so hamstrung by genre conventions that I can't recommend it.

Title: The Magicians (The Magicians Book 1)
Author: Lev Grossman
Published: Plume Books, 2009
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 465
Total Page Count: 235,925
Text Number: 751
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An over-performing college applicant discovers that magic is real and he's invited to attend a school for magicians. A school with pedagogy that's somehow even worse than Harry Potter, but which does invoke a sense of longing. It has tendencies towards The Secret History, which would justify its pretentiousness, but misses the mark: characters and their relationships are insufficiently engaging. The book's final third is its most challenging and least successful, with uneven pacing and a truly awful end.

Whether this book works may hinge on its commentary of portal fantasies. It engages some tropes and images which are close to my heart, and there's room to age up the trope; but I don't know that this succeeds. For one, it overlooks the ways in which Narnia in particular is already a complex narrative, possessing sincere character growth and magic. For another: Quentin. He's is an intentional, contentious choice for protagonist, and the conflict between his search for something greater and his self-imposed misery makes for a confrontational reader stand-in as well as a foil to portal fantasies. The idea has merit, but the truth is that he's insufferable and I would rather any other PoV; he controverts the imagery, the tone, the magic, with insufficient character growth to justify it. I found myself in constant dialog--often argument--with The Magicians; I care about what it cares about, and it certainly kept me engaged. But I wouldn't call it successful, and I'm ambivalent about reading the sequels.

(As of writing, Teja hasn't finished this. He's sensitive to this variety of over-achieving miserable failure of a manchild character type, and so many never finish it, we will see. I did yell at him about it, as memorialized on Tumblr; I think we have pretty consistent feelings, except I'm less invested in Quentin's worth/narrative function and more invested in what exactly Grossman is trying? failing? to say about magical schools and portal fantasies and the link between fantasy and character growth. A weird buddy read—most of my reactions to his picks are "dudes, god, why," and this is extra bonus doubled-down on the "god, why dudes," but with a level of intent, however misguided, that means I was actually more engaged than normal, albeit not always with any particular joy.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Octavia E. Butler
Author: Gerry Canavan
Published: University of Illinois Press, 2016
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 234,000
Text Number: 746
Read Because: fan of Butler, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A biography, seen through the Huntington Library collection as well as Butler's body of work, including readings of Butler's fiction which explore her reoccurring themes and tie them to her lived experiences as a black woman and an author. Canavan makes compelling arguments for a number of dichotomies: Butler's desire to write likable bestsellers, and the troubled, challenging pessimism that inspired her speculative fiction; the way her punishing perfectionism refined the themes of her work while unfairly limiting what reached the public eye; the things she was unable to achieve even as she revolutionized speculative fiction. His approach is, in a word, compassionate. I knew the broad strokes of Butler's story before picking this up, but Canavan reflects and elaborates and coalesces, integrating personal notebooks with published stories, and if the balance tips too far towards readings of Butler's fiction then I still found it engaging—and profoundly sympathetic. I love Butler; I didn't know how much, or that I could love a biography, too.

May! I read this in May! The books I love are the hardest to review.

Title: The Bards of Bone Plain
Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Published: Ace Books, 2010
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 234,330
Text Number: 747
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In Beldan's history is the story of a bard cursed to an endless life without music—but events in the modern day intimate a truth behind the legend. This takes its central premise of bardic tradition, myth, and music and language as magic, and runs with it as far as it can. The surprising industrialization of the modern setting is a fun counterpoint to the historical underpinnings; the tone is playful and charming, set against an arcane heart—McKillip has a particular knack for transporting, resonant descriptions of magic. But this didn't quite grab me in the way that some of her other work has, perhaps because of the predictable plot revelation, moreso because the tone of the interpersonal dynamics doesn't mesh smoothly with the gravitas of the magic, nor did it make me invested in the characters. This is satisfying but not especially fulfilling.

Title: Jovah's Angel (Samaria Book 2)
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: Ace, 1998 (1997)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 234,695
Text Number: 748
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: 150 years after the first book, rain and flood endangers Samaria; Jovah is growing slower and less likely to respond to the angels's prayers. The first book in this series is about advanced technology which is indistinguishable from magic only insofar as it's visible to the reader; it's background in the worldbuilding, not part of the plot. This foregrounds it significantly. Not always with grace—too many things are obvious to the reader but not the characters, so the reader isn't engaged with their discoveries and may instead find them obvious. But the characters's responses to them, and the dialog between science, magic, and faith, are compelling and accessible. Characters are likable, but have predictable arcs and Shinn doesn't handle disability well (I don't have much patience for suicidal disabled characters or cure narratives). The plot is smaller, and appears to have a larger place within the series, intimating ongoing and unresolved events; this work is tainted by such numerous references to the first book that those events feel like the only significant part of Samaria's long history. I wanted this sequel to develop the science fictional aspect; it does so generously, and so on that note I'm satisfied. But this isn't especially good by any other metric.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
This morning I couldn't sleep because of arm pain (body: arms ache. me: you know what would help with that? rest and recuperation. body: can't sleep. arms hurt.) so after three hours reading, I decided to go for a walk. We had a few days of unwelcome sunny weather, but it rained on and off all day, and that sounded much nicer than lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself.

On my walk, I found:

One newt, just inside the gate (I almost stepped on it!), small and brown and frozen still. I politely pretended that I was convinced, and couldn't see it; I walked out the gate and close it behind me, and it immediately crept into the bushes. Newts have a really funny walk (those back legs, bless). I never knew.

About five deer, in two family groups, half hidden behind bushes. The babies look like something out of a storybook illustration, too adorable and fae to be real.

One gray squirrel.

One wild rabbit, eating grass just yards from me, very small and gray (and pixelated and camouflaged).

And, when I reached the end of paved/public roads and was about to turn around, a Little Free Library. Devon didn't even know there was one! It's about three block-equivalents from the house, right at the end of the road, and next to a bench made from a split log. It has a surprisingly good selection, although I didn't pick up anything this time (so many library holds just came in), and most of the books were marked with Little Free Library stickers, which I imagine helps remind people to return or donate. I wonder how much the neighbors use it?

A satisfying way to use an otherwise shitty day. I don't use neighborhood libraries a whole lot, because they tend not to stock books I want to read & because I prefer to read on ebook; but leaving them behind (there were three I used to walk to) was one of the things I most regretted about moving. I love the principle of the thing, of democratizing reading and encouraging reading and cozy neighborhood spaces. And now I know there is one, and nearby. It fills a void—a little void, but still.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: What is Not Yours is Not Yours
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: Riverhead Books, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 233,235
Text Number: 743
Read Because: reading more from the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nine short stories. Oyeyemi's voice and style is well-suited to short fiction; these stories are playful, whimsical, absurdist, magical—an amorphous, strange magic but the characters take for granted but still find profound. Many stories are big concept (a memory device à la The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; an autocratic dystopia), but perhaps because of the distinctive voice they still feel samey. The overlapping cast contributes to this without providing much value—characters are too numerous and indistinct to be memorable when they make cameos. It's the nested narratives which succeed: stories within stories which play well with the tone and the magical realism. "Books and Roses," a queer, engaging fantasy of manners, is the only story I love; "Is Your Blood As Red As This" makes a valiant effort, but is overlong and overambitious, and "Dornička and the St. Martin's Day Goose" has visceral fairytale imagery but an abrupt end. Yet neither are there any failures; this is a solidly enjoyable collection. It feels accomplished, and exhibits Oyeyemi's themes and skills: successful in all its pieces if not greater than the sum of its parts.

Title: The Uninvited
Author: Cat Winters
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Published: HarperAudio, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 355
Total Page Count: 233,590
Text Number: 744
Read Because: reading more from the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: 1918, at the height of World War I and influenza, Ivy's brother and father murder a German, compelling her to flee her family home and seek his brother's forgiveness. On paper, this is fantastic. There's a number of compelling, overlapping influences: the war, the flu, Dickinson's poems, jazz music, anti-German sentiment, ghosts—the sources of and expressions of and escapes from the grief of the era. But at its best this is just easy reading (despite the apparent grimness), a self-actualization slash romance narrative with active pacing and big twists; I wish it had a more haunting atmosphere—that would have been a nice touch. All of the above influences are present, but they're workmanlike, transparent, even amateurish, all the way down to the too-neat ending. Winters has obvious love for the era, but I don't seem to have especially good experiences with her novels; I want something more expertly crafted, with more subtle characterization and less obvious themes.

Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Author: H.G. Wells
Published: Gutenberg, 2012 (1896)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 160
Total Page Count: 233,750
Text Number: 745
Read Because: refresher prior to reading The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd, ebook from Gutenberg
Review: A gentleman stranded at sea ends up on an island peopled by scientists and uncannily inhuman men. This reminds me of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the premise has become such an established part of the public consciousness that the reader can't but be impatient with red herrings, even when they're integral to the pacing. This is a horror/action adventure, with a surprising number of chase sequences (and as many quiet moments viewing on the secluded landscape; it's probably evocative, if tropical islands appeal). The philosophical/existential horror is more scattered, and realistically inconsistent—the protagonist has changing, personal responses (the final chapter is a flawless end note); Dr. Moreau is abhorrent, but his arguments compelling. Given the subject matter, I appreciate this complex response: it's aged surprisingly well, and isn't simply a screed against miscegenation; the mad scientist doesn't have the retroactively-cliché feel that occurs in many early examples of a trope. I never fell in love with this (too much island and action), but it's swift and engaging, with fulfilling themes.

Number metrics are useless! This is like a 3.5, 2.5, and 3 respectively; but what constitutes success has so much to do with expectation/genre—I expect the Winters novel to be a different experience than Oyeyemi's fiction, perhaps of a different intrinsic value; but within their categories each is a sort of "achieves but does not excel" which is exactly what a middle of the road 3 is. This is why I loved the switch Netflix made to thumbs up/thumbs down; it doesn't ask me to weigh fun trashy movie against award-winning classic, it just asks if the film was worth it or not, and that's an easier question to answer.

That said, I would like a break from 3-star tedium.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Ecliptic
Author: Benjamin Wood
Narrator: Jane MacFarlane
Published: Penguin Audio, 2016 (2015)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 470
Total Page Count: 232,315
Text Number: 740
Read Because: this review, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the first third: an artist's colony, stylized and idyllic, contemplating themes of inspiration and artistic craft. In the middle third: a life history which initially and often feels like an excessively long parenthetical, wherein is revealed that the protagonist suffers severe mental health issues. In the final third: the aspects are united, revealing the colony as a hallucination which is part of the aforementioned illness. The voice is decent, overlong and overdetailed in a way that offers a hypnotic immersion if the reader is willing to be lost to its rhythm. The navel-gazing about art is indulgent, but counterbalanced by some extent by revelations in the ending which contextualize and deescalate all the artistic angst. But I hate, hate, hate the use of (mental) illness as a plot twist—in part because it made for unexpected, triggering content which dampened my reading experience; in larger part because it's insincere and exploitative—yes, even the twist is justified by the nature of the condition, even when the portrayal is sympathetic. It consigns it to a gimmick, to a mystery, rather than a lived experience, and the style and themes can't hold up with the twist removed. I admit my bias; bias or not, I don't recommend this.

Title: The Changeling
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Illustrator: Alton Raible
Published: New York: Scholastic, 1974 (1970)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 230
Total Page Count: 232,545
Text Number: 741
Read Because: beautiful, old copy found at a Little Free Library
Review: Chubby, mousy Martha's childhood best friend is Ivy, daughter from a no-good family who claims to be a changeling. This has an episodic structure that threatens to be overbearing: the adventures of two imaginative outsiders are charming, evocative, sympathetic, but also frivolous. It's the cumulative effect which matters more, and while Martha's arc is dated (fat reader surrogates are fantastic; fat reader surrogates who lose weight while gaining confidence is problematic) her emotional growth still resonates and the relationship between the girls has sincere chemistry. Ivy is by far the more interesting, dynamic character; Martha is a conservative PoV choice, but Snyder's compassion prevents Ivy's story from becoming a morality lesson and off-centering the most thoughtful parts of the narrative is something I suspect would age well with the reader. I would have liked this more as a younger reader; the restrained, episodic style means there's nothing especially engaging for an incoming adult reader. But I think I would have liked it very much indeed, and still appreciate Snyder's humor and humanity.

Title: Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle Book 1)
Author: Malka Ann Older
Narrator: Christine Marshall
Published: Macmillan Audio, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 390
Total Page Count: 232,935
Text Number: 742
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the near future, micro-democracy has divided the world into miniaturize nationstates headed by a single supermajority. But irregularities in the upcoming election threaten to destabilize the entire process. The setting is worldwide and convincingly detailed (especially the food and internet use), even if the technology/centralization is untenable. There's an attempt to make the characters accessible (and this almost succeeds in Mishima, arguably the protagonist), but with so many characters and such an excess of headhopping it's difficult to grow invested. The plot has a quick, clever pace—but I confess that I had a hard time keeping track of all the players and names, and was insufficiently invested to care. In other words, a decent book with the wrong reader—there's an audience for that Older is doing here, for smart and diverse techno/political thrillers; but it's not for me, and nothing jumped out to convince me otherwise.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
I woke to rain outside, and kept hearing it, on and off, through the day; hearing it because I've been able to keep a window open and the fan off for a few days now. The window here is behind a substantial bush, so the light is gentle in the mornings (the birdsong, on the other hand, not so much). Yesterday morning, I sat under that open window and peeled and cut apples while watching Supernatural. (Every year about this time I catch up on Supernatural; every year it's still awful, but the kernel of the show it could be, the 11.4 "Baby" show, the AU werewolf!Claire show, the show of ambiguous landscapes of denuded, earthen British Columbia forests pretending to be the Midwest, the show of flannel and bunkers and overnight drives, always leave me wistful.)

The apples came from the back yard, half-feral apple trees that produce tart, hard, dry green apples with just a few bugs. When I taught Teja how to make applesauce, I told him "peel, chop, boil over medium heat"—it's impossible to screw up. This year made me wonder if I was wrong; the first batch was prone to scalding and awfully tart, and required a cup of water (I'm used to ladling off excess fluid instead) and half a cup of brown sugar (there are greater sins). And it wasn't ruined, it turned out fantastic. Homemade applesauce always is.

Anyway, I moved last month. Moving is objectively always awful, but this went fine, even if it left me wishing I owned zero physical objects—despite that it was making a place for objects (specifically, an overhead shelf with nothing but blankets and plush and treasured figurine) which made me feel settled in.

August and Gillian are settling in too, decently well. The stress of the move, and the smaller space and relative isolation, has made them much more companionable. They've lived together for five years, with tolerance but no intimacy. Now, they're touching all the time! They share a blanket! This morning, August licked Gillian's face three small, sweet times. I'm not getting invested in the future of this intimacy, but feel blessed to witness the little signs of it.

I've been taking a few shitty snapshots of the cats, and you can find them over on my Tumblr; here are some cat-touching highlights:

Their peace and comfort, and also mine, has been interrupted by a fairly severe flea infestation—with which we are dealing, but which may be an ongoing/reoccuring battle for reasons outside my control, and I'm mad about that. They're just so uncomfortable, and only have the energy to groom and eat and then nap; not eager to play, too sore for most cuddles. Hopefully things will improve as the medication does its thing.

Autumn is the season of my heart, and the weather report says the rain is not just today, it is the next five days, and by then it's late September; 70 degree days after that will just be sunny days in autumn—the season is here. Most people don't get such a clear cut-off date! But ours was September 17, and rain, and rain, and rain.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Moana, film, 2016, Disney
Came for Accessible Disney Emotions; largely received them. It's interesting the way that gender/racial choices reinvigorate traditional heroic quest arcs—because this is extremely by-the-book, but feels empowering rather than redundant; Moana's personal growth and the way it ripples out to supporting characters and the resolution is extremely satisfying. Interesting musical choices: when they started a song about coconuts I was underwhelmed, but there's—

(Now imagine a pause while I check Google to see if anyone else has made a link between the lyrical evolution/reiteration of Moana's "I want" song and the unique lyrical style of Hamilton, and then I discover that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote that song, and that the link isn't influential but direct. I sincerely didn't know he was involved with this movie.)

—there's a beautiful lyrical evolution/reiteration in that main theme which is reminiscent of the self-referential wordplay of Hamilton; it's clever, and substantial enough to carry the film's emotional thrust. But while the denouement is fantastic, the resolution is flat, and that's all due to the design of Te Fiti—there's a dozen ways to conceptualize nature-as-humanoid/-goddess which is more evocative and less "vaguely fuzzy giant green lady" (even the willow tree in Pocahontas was better!), and what's rendered here undermines that final emotional resolution. I also hate the water tentacle—the hair is amazing! the natural water is beautiful! there are some great renders in this, but the nondescript water tentacle that shakes its head isn't one of them. Also: I sincerely don't get why anyone cared about the chicken, and the grandmother is one of the best characters I've ever seen and I both want to know her and want to be her, someday. I found this more successful than not, but the ending missteps.

Closet Monster, film, 2015, dir. Stephen Dunn
This is really good. It perfectly bridges its surreal/imaginative/symbolic aspects to its concrete events. It's sincere, convincing, compelling; accessible but also private; heartbreaking but cathartic, without being exploitative or simplistic. (The way it depicts violence is particularly successful, cutting away/using discretion shots in a way that simultaneously preserves tension, confers respect, and still conveys trauma). There are flaws (the hamster is heavy-handed; the final scenes too idyllic), but I'm sincerely impressed by what it achieves.

The Levelling, film, 2016, dir. Hope Dickson Leach
If I had thought about it, perhaps "vet student from a farming family" and "family trauma post-suicide" was not an ideal combination for me, in particular; but I didn't think about it, and did watch this through, and it was vaguely unlikable, if only for slipping "forgive and reunite with you abusive family members" in there at the end. I do this a disservice: the interstitial shots of an English countryside caught between the idyllic and the eerie and the muddy mundane, and the localized loss in the wake of a suicide, are effectively staged; the whole weight of the film rests on Kendrick's shoulders, and she can bear it. But it is absolutely about how awful suicide is for the survivors, and about forgiving/healing past familial abuse, and using violence against animals/the farming industry as psychological manipulation and metaphor: all tropes I deeply despise and shouldn't've put myself through.

American Fable, film, 2016, dir. Anne Hamilton
Honestly, pretty awful. There's an interesting story here, about poor rural white America's interaction with—well, Jewish bankers, the boogeyman of Jewish wealth, economic antisemitism and both sides of economic anxiety; you can't cast an identifiably Jewish person in the role of "wealthy man buying up farmland who is kidnapped and tortured by farmers" and then not address the Jewish issue—it creates a Jewish narrative in absentia and I have no idea: is that intended? is it just really poorly executed? is it just because of Schiff's casting? It doesn't particularly matter as the rest of the movie is forgettable, hamfisted plot development and campy horror pacing, with a beautiful setting, promising but undeveloped imagery, and some decent acting from Kennedy and Schiff that has no particular payoff.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, film, 2016, dir. Oz Perkins
I thought I would like this; I really did like this. April Wolfe of The Village Voice described it as "the most atmospherically faithful adaptation ever of a Shirley Jackson book that never existed" (thanks, Wikipedia)—and it's no Shirley Jackson, but it does have that feel to it: a strong sense of place and costume and set design, an investigation into women within gothic archetypes (and women's life as gothic) which isn't hugely robust but is largely successful, some gentle queer subtext, a plot which isn't hugely complicated but which does clever things with narration, and a really satisfying tone. It wasn't objectively perfect, but I wanted it to never end; I wanted those empty rooms and facile but appealing metaphors and mustard accents to last forever.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: The House of Binding Thorns (Dominion of the Fallen Book 2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Ace, 2017
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 230,925
Text Number: 737
Read Because: recommended by Rachel, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Not long after the events of the first book, House Hawthorne becomes embroiled in conflicts and alliances with the dragon kingdom. This has a slow start—there's a big cast and numerous subplots, all tied together by something like a murder-mystery (of which Bodard is fond, and I am not); it stands largely independent of The House of Shattered Wings, and maintains most of that book's weaknesses (like repetitive descriptions) and indulgences (like the moldering elegance of the setting). It's the second half where things come together. The plot coalescing is adequate, and Bodard has a knack for large finales (here, perhaps, overlong), but the real joy is in the characters—there's a number of great character types (a pregnant woman and her angel wife is an especial delight), and Asmodeus's development, as an unrepentant and unforgivable person who still has depth, even value, is ambiguous and subtly-wrought. I didn't particularly enjoy this, but appreciate its payoff; it's more successful than Shattered Wings, and may be worth reading if you've already begun the series.

Title: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Author: James Tiptree Jr.
Published: Tachyon Publications, 2004 (1990)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 505
Total Page Count: 231,430
Text Number: 738
Read Because: personal enjoyment
Review: Eighteen stories, most published under the Tiptree pseudonym, combining themes of gender, sex, death, and speculative science. This is a long and thorough collection, in part because many of the stories are novella-length, in part because Tiptree's voice and theme are confrontational and fatalistic. Tiptree has some repetitive stylistic choices: many of the stories end with a twist or thematic summation, often individually successful (as in "The Screwfly Solution"), but transparent and repetitive when viewed in sequence; in the forgivable search for an idealistic solution to the anger and fear that motivate these stories, some are over-long, some defy suspension of disbelief ("With Delicate Mad Hands"). But, while the angry, didactic tone can be punishing, the content and perspective more than compensate. Tiptree embodies a masculine point of view while writing feminist fiction ("The Girl Who Was Plugged In," "The Women Men Don't See"—a central, prevalent doubling of identity, including but not limited to gender identity), intertwines speculative concepts with intensely critical social themes, and possesses intensity, vigor, and valuable rage. The cumulative effect of this collection far exceeds its component parts. .

Title: Way Station
Author: Clifford D. Simak
Published: Open Road Media, 2015 (1963)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 231,645
Text Number: 739
Read Because: recommended by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library

That was how it started, Enoch thought, almost a hundred years ago. The campfire fantasy had turned into fact and the Earth now was on galactic charts, a way station for many different peoples traveling star to star. Strangers once, but now there were no strangers. There were no such things as strangers. In whatever form, with whatever purpose, all of them were people.

From a Midwestern homestead, one lonely man runs a way station for alien travelers. This takes a quiet, almost distant approach to its premise; the protagonist is more witness than actor and the tone is wistful, contemplating the vastness of the universe and what role humankind deserves within it. It's eminently quotable.

"There may come a day," Ulysses said, "when it won't be like that. I can look ahead and see, in some thousands of years, the knitting of the galaxy together into one great culture, one huge area of understanding. The local and the racial variations will still exist, of course, and that is as it should be, but overriding all of these will be a tolerance that will make for what one might be tempted to call a brotherhood."

"You sound," said Enoch, "almost like a human. That is the sort of hope that many of our thinkers have held out."

Half of the narrative is akin to a science fiction fairy market, a cavalcade of wonders which rambles almost like a travelogue, slowing the pace but suiting the tone. The plot eventually coalescences, pulling neatly from perhaps too many of the established elements, and is a little too large, leaning on coincidence and hinging on problematic tropes regarding disability. But the ending preserves the overall tone, and if the small pieces are better than the larger plot, then they are fantastic pieces: beautiful, mournful, hopeful, idyllic but not idealized, profound without slipping into the facile. I sincerely loved this; a pleasure to read.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and Way Station both made it on my favorite and formative list—there are absolutely objective flaws here, and ones I can recognize (unlike the rare favorite which I know must not be objectively flawless & yet which makes me convinced it is), but they're solid 4.5 "it feels like a 5-star book," where feeling is the operative response—they are both a little more than themselves. Satisfying to have a few of those after a slew of sheer mediocrity.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Call Me by Your Name
Author: André Aciman
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 229,885
Text Number: 734
Read Because: recommended by Holly Dunn, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: One summer in Italy, a teenage boy grows infatuated with his family's boarder. That narrow perspective—focused almost entirely on one time, one place, one formative relationship—set within hot, idyllic Italy is certainly an experience: intimate, claustrophobic. The fluid sexuality, sincere intimacy, and the sense that a relationship can be simultaneously transitory and indelible are all well-realized. The voice, a stream of consciousness memory, dense with mixed metaphors and the inconsistent but sincere revelations of adolescence, is perhaps less so: it contributes to the atmosphere but is samey (the dialog sounds just like the interior monologue) and sometimes rambling and inaccessible. There's something seductive in the experience of this book, and I can see why some readers fell in love; it failed to quite grab me.

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale (The Bear and the Nightingale Book 1)
Author: Katherine Arden
Narrator: Kathleen Gati
Published: Random House Audio, 2017
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 230,225
Text Number: 735
Read Because: recommended by A Case for Books & others, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A daughter with the second sight tries to save her family home from the deadly Russian winter, the old spirits from the rise of Christianity, and herself from a woman's fate. This succeeds when it creates investment in the protagonist, Vasya, which it does: as a rare exception to female social roles and thus the consequences of a misogynistic society, she's sympathetic wish-fulfillment; the final act, with its large magics and an opportunity for Vasya to win the day, is a strong finish. But this is unremarkable on the whole, from the uninspired characterization (especially of antagonists) to the predictable pacing; Arden renders a strong sense place, but her voice isn't especially evocative. Mostly, this fails to feel larger than the sum of its parts, to be numinous or profound—an arbitrary judgement, but one that determines whether or not I find a fairytale narrative successful, which this one is not; it feels instead like the promising but unrefined debut which it is.

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Book 1)
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2012
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 230,585
Text Number: 736
Read Because: multiple recommendations, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Two boys met, become best friends, and survive adolescence together. Once again: it's (mostly) not you, young adult contemporary; it's me. The characters are realistically rendered, the themes are well-intended—but the voice is flat and repetitive (especially the dialog; especially how often people break out laughing), and, while I see the appeal of the arc from drama to tragedy to happy endings, while I think happy endings are valuable especially for teens in minority groups, the end of the book bothers me. The final deus ex parents is ridiculous and removes the protagonist's agency; moreover, he transitions from a troubled young man to someone completely cured. It's untenable and erasing; it feels more like everything wrong with the "it gets better" campaign than anything truly productive. These criticisms are unfair: the journey is frequently more realistic than the destination, and the happy ending obviously works for most readers; I imagine the narrative and voice are more successful for fans of the genre. But this fell flat for me.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Bad Boy
Author: Elliot Wake
Published: Atria, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 229,165
Text Number: 731
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A trans guy begins to doubt his place in Black Iris, a feminist vigilante group, when a figure from his past returns. This has much of Wake's style—the heady atmosphere and toxic, powerful relationships—but simplified and condensed. The plot is straightforward, aside from contrivances in premise and communication; one of the central events is a false rape accusation, which is in poor taste, especially within an overtly queer and feminist and social justice-y narrative. I want to champion this book, and the protagonist deserves it; the complicated way that internalized misogyny acts within his transmasculine experience, how his doubt and self-actualization coexist, is nuanced and deeply personal. But the plethora of buzzwords and commentary on social justice subculture, combined with the underwhelming plot and use of transcript-style flashbacks, saps some of the authenticity, the immediacy; makes it feel more like studied rant than lived experience. I love and admire Wake's Black Iris and Cam Girl, which feel messier and less contrived; this has so much potential, but disappoints me, especially in comparison.

Title: Of Sorrow and Such
Author: Angela Slatter
Published: Tor, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 150
Total Page Count: 229,315
Text Number: 732
Read Because: discussed here by [profile] calico_reaction, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A witch hides her magical abilities under the guise of herbalism in order to protect her fellows and family. This has an engaging premise and fulfills it entirely: herbalism, magic, familiars, grimoires; strong-willed crones, willful girls, complex and varied relationships between women; women's magic as a feminist lens to women's social roles, historical and otherwise. It's that concept which is more effective than the voice (adequate, but some sentence structure/punctuation feels off) and plot (it's backloaded with predictable action), but I still adored this. It's such a good premise and atmosphere, and Slatter fulfills it without tending towards hokey or idealistic, or too grim.

Title: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
Author: Colin Dickey
Published: Viking, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 229,635
Text Number: 733
Read Because: recommended by Caitlin Doughty, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A tour of America's hauntings, nonexhaustive but diverse, from private homes to entire cities, focusing less on whether ghosts are real and more on their cultural and social function. This isn't as titillating as the premise may imply; Dickey establishes evocative atmospheres (although few nonfiction books so badly want an appendix of images), but the histories and ghosts have short narratives—as it turns out, there's not much to substantiate most hauntings. Dickey instead makes various arguments for the social function of ghosts: as a means of exploring society's secrets while upholding the dominant paradigms; giving voice to anxieties about death and social change. The number of subsections and frequency of closing arguments tends towards the repetitive and facile—I almost wish this were less structured, more organic, and that some sections had more depth. But Dickey strikes a good balance in his skepticism: he's sympathetic to the experience of haunting, to the idea of it, and so is invested in conclusions regarding its origin and purpose.

The formatting for footnotes in the ebook version (primarily using highlighted passages instead of tiny, hard-to-click asterisks) is lovely and I wish it were more common.

ETA: Things referenced in Ghostland which caught my attention, probably because of subject matter, maybe because of the way the content was described (or because of section quoted), & which I may seek out someday:

? The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne (fiction)
Winchester trilogy, Jeremy Blake (short films based on the Winchester House)
Barton Fink, dir. Coen Brothers (film)
Captive of the Labyrinth, Mary Jo Ignoffo (definitive biograph of Sarah Winchester)
Modern Spiritualism: A History and Criticism (especially volume 2), Frank Podmore (Fox sisters)
The History and Haunting of Lemp Mansion, Rebecca F. Pittman (Lemp family)
The Man Who Wanted Seven Wives: The Greenbrier Ghost and The Famous Murder Mystery of 1879, Katie Letcher Lyle (Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue)
? For a Critique of a Political Economy of the Sign, Jean Baudrillard (philosophy)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Published: Wendy Lamb Books, 2009
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 200
Total Page Count: 228,390
Text Number: 729
Read Because: mentioned by [personal profile] ambyr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
The mundane events in a girl's life are knit together by her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. Stead has a fantastic eye for mundanity, the daily details, for building immersion and character growth. The larger plot is surprisingly simplistic, especially in retrospect: it's just one twist, which isn't foreshadowed so much as it is the book's core structure. An interesting combination of elements, but one that didn't gel for me. The function of—and therefore allusions and comparisons to—A Wrinkle in Time highlights my disappointment: this has little of that sense of wonder and whimsy, and where the details of A Wrinkle in Time provide necessary grounding, the speculative concept here is relatively decentralized and thus the details aren't providing balance. It's an unfair comparison, since I have a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in A Wrinkle in Time—but it's one that this book invites, so.... I loved some of the moments in this (particularly the protagonist's female friendships and feelings towards her mother), but never loved the book entire.

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: Anchor Books, 1998 (1985)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 228,710
Text Number: 729
Read Because: co-read with Teja, from my personal library
Review: Reread August 2017: My earlier impression holds up. I enjoy Atwood's voice, although the wordplay and literary styling, while fluid and beautiful and personal, also become repetitive; more, it distracts from the dystopic/speculative worldbuilding: it's iconic, with the costumes and proper names and near-future dystopic styling, and I can see why it's stuck in the public imagination, but it's not awfully convincing (especially in origin). The commentary re: women's social roles and the complicity of "good" men is much more successful. The climax is rushed, but I like the use of the frame narrative/final chapter for contextualizing the story.

This reminds me of Elgin's Native Tongue, which I also think isn't entirely successful but which I think does more with similar themes, in large part because the women's underground society/cooperation in defiance of male dismissal and socially-enforced competition comes often, and early, and has huge impact on the plot; here, not so much.

Co-reading notes. )

Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Narrator: Sarah Drew
Published: HarperCollins, 2010
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 200 of 415
Total Page Count: 228,910
Text Number: 730
Read Because: this review, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a teenage girl dies after a party, she returns to relive the last day of her life. DNF at 50%. This has a speculative plot structure but is entirely contemporary in execution—the story of a high school mean girl coming to terms with the origins and consequences of her actions. It has an atmosphere entirely alien to my high school experience, petty and drunken, and exacerbated by the tone used for character voices in the audio narration—but perfect balanced between the social dramas and facile but resonant moments of profundity which do feel uniquely teenage. The groundhog day format makes for an exhaustively detailed, grindingly mundane exploration of this amped up high school life; I hated it, but suspect fans of contemporary YA would have better luck. This is the wrong book for me, and I'm glad to drop it; spoilers for the ending haven't changed my mind.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside Book 2)
Author: Ellen Kushner
Published: Spectra, 2006
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 227,645
Text Number: 726
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The mad Duke Tremontaine promises to relieve his family's debt if he may train his niece in swordplay. Perhaps recycling an antagonist from Swordspoint is lazy; certainly there's some trailing subplots here, and it takes time for the headhopping and politicking to coalesce into a narrative. But this won me by the halfway point, and won me entirely. It's a delight to come back to this world, with its affected tone and character cameos (featuring significant growth!), and it benefits from the introduction of gender diversity. It deglamorizes the Regency-esque setting, and creates room for issues of gender presentation and social roles, for an organic sexual awakening and coming of age. The narrative-within-the-narrative is an especially nice touch; it frames Privilege in a self-aware but loving light, and the way that characters interact with it functions better than the subplots to explore the diversity of women's experiences within a misogynistic society. Being able to see a work's flaws and yet not care about them is evidence of a sincere, engaged joy—and I certainly had that with this book, and love and recommend it.

Title: Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp
Author: Molly Tanzer
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 375
Total Page Count: 228,020
Text Number: 727
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Lou Merriwether, a psychopomp from San Francisco, travels east to investigate the disappearance of Chinese workers. This has a fantasy/steampunk Western setting, talking bears and psychopompery, a mixed-race, genderqueer protagonist, and an oversized tone with just enough grit. Lou has a great voice and makes bad life choices, and while she eventually gets called on the latter it slows the pace of the book's middle third. The tone absolutely overextends—the protagonist at one point calls the antagonist "hammy," and he is, and it gets old, and so the final third also drags. But the joy of this is in the details: the distinctive, lively characters (bless Coriander); the diversity and Lou's gender presentation; Lou's work and its interactions with worldbuilding and plot. This is an uneven effort, but likable and engaging, and worth reading of that and genre appeal.

Title: Software (Ware Book 1)
Author: Rudy Rucker
Published: Prime Books, 2010 (1982)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 170
Total Page Count: 228,190
Text Number: 728
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library (but also free from the author)
Review: Robots invite the creator of robot sentience to become immortal. There's some hardcore, classic cyberpunk themes at play here: transhumanism, robot consciousness, iterated identity; they're not developed in any great depth, but they're satisfying. They're also couched within an aggressive, exhausting, drug-added parody of tone that infects the language, plot developments, and characterization. (It almost resembles A Scanner Darkly, but is crasser, less dark, and the tone doesn't especially benefit the narrative.) Software manages to be readable because it's so short; I enjoyed it more than I frankly thought I could, and it works as a quick hit of classic Big Cyberpunk Ideas—but as experience or aesthetic, it's not my thing. I think the sequels would be too much for me, and I'll probably skip them.

(Teja also went on to read the next immediate sequel, and may return to the series some day. He says that Wetware went to some plot places he didn't expect, but otherwise was that same combination of unsubtle forefront cyberpunk themes and distasteful exhausting tone.

We had a similar response to Software. It's pretty thinky, but mostly by extrapolation: punchy, brief statements of concept, but jumping quickly between them, bridged sometimes by a moment of transhumanist-themed self-reflection but as often by drunken escapades or vaguely distasteful character moments. Some of the concepts tie together, but as many are abandoned one-offs. It works for me because they're themes I really love: RNGesus as literal entity/religion is a delight; likewise, the fluid arguments of what defines a sentience, what role body plays, what role iteration plays, what role continuity/memory plays. But the voice and tone.... We also read Scanner together, and that's one of my favorite books; and the difference is that Scanner goes about things darkly (pun intended)— the drunken escapades are humanizing, are darkly comedic relief, but they also represent a self-aware part of a tragic lived experience. Here, it feels like something Rucker can't excise—it wouldn't be his voice without it—but it gets in the way of what I care about, often literally, taking some of the limited space from more interesting speculative concepts. The narrative nihilism fits the themes, I guess; I still didn't like it. Anyway, co-reads with Teja continue to not be super satisfying books—but they've gotten me visit a lot of cyberpunk and this sure is cyberpunk; it's honestly one of the more satisfying as pure food for thought.)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Doctor Strange film, 2016, dir. Scott Derrickson
A strange mish-mash, and there's little distinction between the bits I loved and the bits I didn't care about. I like the resolution (it was spoiled by a friend, and the reason I watched)—I've never seen time travel/narrative looping played quite that way, and it was clever. The mirror universe and unfolding, kaleidoscopic visual effects are phenomal—Inception didn't look this cool; it's such a finely rendered, dense, evocative aesthetic, and I could watch it all day. But the magic (as ... sparks, I guess?) effects are uninspired, and: the acting! the character arcs! the sense that no one in the film want so be there or is taking it seriously, including Swinton, whose presence was already unjustified but who I at least expected to live it up (as she has elsewhere, see: Constantine). I find Marvel boring, and this Marvel is no exception (and the humor's awful), but the bits I like, I sincerely love. Bless that we have the technology for effects like this now, for worlds folding and unfolding, for dense particle physics and shattered glass.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, film, 2014, dir. Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
I watched this for Bucky and I remain true to type: I loved him—the only Marvel character I've ever much loved, and for no especial reason but that dark, tortured, mask-wearing, augmented and/or disabled, brainwashed but the face of the one he loves can save him are tried and true trash tropes for me. But, honestly, this is one of the more successful Marvel movies I've encountered, thanks to its smaller, interpersonal focus. I guess there was a larger plot, and I hate the use of Hydra as a Nazi metaphor that manages to wildly miss the point, and the pacing and resolutions were predictable, and there's still not two women to run together (in other words: a Marvel movie); but the characters sold me and it has emotional payoff, which is what I've retained.

Captain America: Civil War, film, 2016, dir. Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
This, meanwhile, was vaguely embarrassing. Civil wars in comics are gratuitous by nature, and this is no exception. It makes effort to avoid "bad communication = plot," only to settle for "bad self-control = plot," which isn't much better. The cameos are corny and reference characters/films that I don't care about (Spiderman was the adorable exception, and felt comfortable within the campy tone; I also liked the introduction of Black Panther). That said, the larger cast does means there's room for more than one entire lady! how novel. It also creates short, sweet, relatively successful character scenes within the supporting cast. So: a hot mess, but occasionally cute.

Ajin: Demi-Human, s1-2, 2015-2016
I love love love Polygon Pictures, and 3DCG is such a good fit here: it allows for dynamic human animation and microexpressions, which are particularly productive in developing the protagonist's character, and the ajin are fluid and intricate and disconcerting. This series is a slow-paced action-thriller; lots of big fights, surprisingly gradual plot progression—layered against psychological themes that almost-no-quite insist on being understated because they get overshadowed by the momentum of the action. That makes it weird to reflect on (not much happened, I guess? lots of interesting characters got almost no screentime?) but engaging to watch. Mostly, I wish Polygon would animate everything; I know some people have a hard time adjusting to 3D animation but the payoff is intense.

Blame!, film, 2017, dir. Hiroyuki Seshita
This was ridiculously good. I'm absolutely biased: I love generation ships, love this aesthetic—like futuristic Dark Souls, everything vast and inhuman and inhospitable—and love the themes, the devolution of society and society's stubborn, changing persistence. I haven't seen a generation ship narrative quite like this, where the ship's breakdown isn't human-triggered, via forgotten history or social divide, but ship-triggered, and it makes the ship feel larger and refreshes the trope. (I also love to think of this as canonical entertainment within Knights of Sidonia, another generation ship setting—it localizes/contextualizes both narratives.) The art design is great, the monsters are great, the action is great; as above, I want Polygon Pictures to animate everything, but they're an especially good fit for something that would need a lot of CG effects regardless, and it further allows intricate character and design details. The pacing is superb, the length just right, the frame narrative effective. I was just hugely impressed by this, in every moment, and already want to rewatch it.

(You don't need to be familiar with Knights of Sidonia to watch Blame!, so you should watch it, and talk to me about it.)
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: In Calabria
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Published: Tachyon Publications, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 226,640
Text Number: 723
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A farmer's prosaic, solitary life is disrupted by the appearance of a unicorn. Beagle has a phenomenal eye for "it is not the same thing, of course, but still it is"—for moments where the specific meets the metaphorical, imprecisely but profoundly. The plot doesn't always live up to that—the intrusion of the modern world is intentional but still unwelcome and makes for a literal, overlarge conflict; the romance fares somewhat better—but there's an abundance of beautiful scenes and the end is strong. It's impossible to avoid comparing this to The Last Unicorn, however unfair; they're different stories and genres, but I've never seen anyone handle unicorn imagery so well as Beagle and In Calabria possesses that transcendence. It's charming and swift and I sincerely enjoyed it, despite niggling caveats.

Title: Roses and Rot
Author: Kat Howard
Published: Saga Press, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 226,960
Text Number: 724
Read Because: this review, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Two sisters, estranged by their abusive mother, reunite to attend a prestigious artists's retreat which seems too good—and too magical—to be real. This is half mythic/urban fantasy (of the de Lint variety) and half a Tam Lin retelling—a ridiculously indulgent combination which cribs a bit from The Night Circus in its styling. But writing about a writing (the protagonist is an author) draws attention to the craft, and this a debut which feels like one, especially in scene structure and character voices; worst of all, the inset fairytale sections are facile and repetitive. There's still some magic here: fairyland has a dangerous allure, and the protagonist's desire for it is compelling. But the contrivances of an ever-changing rulebook and sibling squabbles weaken the plot in the second half. I admire that this prioritizes a sibling relationship, but it lacks the emphasis on communication, faith, and female agency which makes Tam Lin so resonant. This is a fun, quick read, but not a particularly good one—more's the pity, as the premise is hugely relevant to my interests and I wanted to enjoy it.

Title: League of Dragons (Temeriare Book 9)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Tantor Audio, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 227,260
Text Number: 725
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The final Temeraire novel, seeing the war to its conclusion. It has a lot to wrap up, geographically and politically, and does so in a way that's comprehensive but not excessively neat. This means a lot of combat, military theory, and social politicking, all of it engaging if somewhat rushed, functioning as a final exam for the protagonists that returns to their military origins while encompassing their intervening character growth. There's otherwise not much room for significant character development, although there's some lovely personal moments (and one new character, Ning, who has a fantastic voice and whom I adore). This is in itself not a particularly memorable installation, but as a conclusion to the series it's satisfying—and what a series it's been! Insofar as a review of a finale is a review of the series entire: I loved it, loved it immensely; I'm only sorry to reach the end.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
I've been thinking a lot about missing stairs and culpability and productive responses in light of Nick Robinson's suspension from Polygon.

I don't think I have the capacity for surprise anymore when a likable man is accused of sexual harassment/assault; yet this particular one has hit me hard, because Polygon-as-brand works proactively to be a safe space—which doesn't make them free from error, but does lead me to give the benefit of the doubt and expect better than average. Like, what do I do when I'm stressed, I watch Polygon videos, because they're funny and I trust them; and now the thing causing stress is ... Polygon.... It feels more like a betrayal than this sort of thing usually does, even when *cough Johnny Depp* it's someone I like or had emotional investment in.

(Car Boys is deeply, hugely important to me, on an existential/is-this-what-religion-is/emergent narrative scale; as trope, as concept, as art, also as funny.)

It especially does not surprise me in the now to discover a man's problematic behavior, nothing surprises me in the now, in this era of political and cultural crisis. I think it does surprise me to see it reacted to immediately and compassionately; to see a company take action and keep proceedings private, and for that company and independent outsiders to insist, rightly, that "it is not on anyone who has been hurt to provide detailed receipts of their trauma for your entertainment."

Missing stairs operate as a cultural phenomenon—the whole coming to light of this has felt like a thing that "everyone" knew and "no one" talked about, and also something that caught people by complete surprise; it makes me have conflicted feelings about what knowledge is within this phenomenon; about what some people experience and some people know and some people, because of their privilege, never see or never recognize. What culpability is there in that position of not noticing? when clearly it is noticeable, to those that need to or know how; even I feel like some of my "ehhhh" reactions to some things he's said have been given context. But that there are people apologizing if their involvement or position of power compelled others to be silent—and that Polygon/Vox Media is literally doing anything at all, but especially via clear, thoughtful communication....

Cumulatively: a personal betrayal in a way that's not awfully valid, because I wasn't directly effected, but I liked and wanted to like this especial person & didn't want these issues to invade that space—and a knowledge that this issues invade every space, that that's literally what the issue is: pervasive—and gratitude that this is the best possible initial reaction and response. Insofar as any of this is cogent, it's only because I turned it into a rambling narrative for Devon last night; these feelings of mine, while Very Much and A Lot, have effectively been resolved now. (Except that an actual investigation will take time, and while I don't want this to occur in internet time or internet space as a trial-by-popular-vote overnight phenomenon, I do want it to be resolved overnight and forgotten by the next so that it isn't on my mind anymore—not feasible, not desirable, but I still feel cheated for not having it.) But it was Very Much; also: A Lot, in a particular time when I've approximately 2.5 spoons and would in any other circumstances! be watching Polygon videos! for escapism and distraction!
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl From Everywhere Book 1)
Author: Heidi Heilig
Narrator: Kim Mai Guest
Published: HarperCollins, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 395
Total Page Count: 225,990
Text Number: 720
Read Because: on this list of Own Voices YA, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nix and her father can travel to any time and place recorded on a map, but her father has only one goal: to return and save Nix's mother, who died in childbirth. What a fantastic premise! and fairly well realized: Heilig's language is beautiful; the seafaring/pirate aesthetic is present but not hokey, and the few visits to mythical locations are delightful, if brief. The more mundane settings are decent, largely because the pre-annexation Hawaii is so well rendered. But the plot isn't as successful; a compulsory love triangle makes an appearance (and is better than most, but still tiresome) and the heist storyline is uninteresting and has a clumsy, overlarge climax. I wish this were more evocative, more magical: more mythical maps, fewer genre conventions. As it is, it's above average but not entirely satisfying.

Title: City of Illusions (Hainish Cycle Book 3)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrator: Stephan Rudnicki
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (1967)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 185
Total Page Count: 226,175
Text Number: 721
Read Because: fan of the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A man awakens without memory in an enclave on far-future earth, and sets out to discover his origins. That section—the slow journey through various dystopic human settlements—is this book's weakness: none of the settlements are especially convincing, and as satisfying as Le Guin's travelogues are (and they are; her descriptions of natural landscapes and the solitude of travel are precise and immersive) the plot here stagnates. But the end comes together beautifully. It's an introspective book—the most significant developments occur within the protagonist's mind, as he considers his situation, life experience, identity—but the results are profound, clever, and tie nicely into the series's shared universe. It rewards active engagement and it's a satisfying testimony to Le Guin's strengths; a lesser author couldn't make that interior narrative so compelling, but Le Guin excels at the personal ramifications of speculative concepts. A pleasure to read; I recommend it.

Title: The Gilda Stories
Author: Jewelle L. Gómez
Published: City Lights Publishers, 2016 (1991)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 226,465
Text Number: 722
Read Because: introduced to the author via Octavia's Brood, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A runaway slave becomes a vampire, beginning a multi-century narrative which ranges across the United States. Her tale is told through connected short stories, most of which focus on periods of transition, a choice which feels less like a "best of" reel but instead provides views from the margins: a glimpse of an ending, the anticipation of a beginning, but no particular investment in the now. It makes the scope of the simultaneously historical and futuristic narrative more accessible, but at the cost of an unfulfilling narrative.

Gilda is a Black lesbian vampire, and there's a lot packed into that premise: an inversion of vampire tropes, a Black (and queer, and feminist) power fantasy, a refusal of social and publishing norms; the introduction and afterward (to the 25th anniversary edition) do a great job of highlighting and celebrating those themes. She practices a benevolent vampirism; much of made of vampiric powers of mesmerism and mind-reading, and the ways Gilda uses them to manipulate mortals for their own good—without engaging issues of consent, an oversight that hardly erases the other things the book achieves, but which is still glaring. I find myself conflicted: the premise here is fantastic, the execution frequently unrewarding and technically unaccomplished (the interpersonal dynamics are particularly abstruse and rambling; a poor fit for a short fiction format), the themes imperfect but profoundly thoughtful. Would I recommend it? probably no, but it was still worthwhile to read.


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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