Sep. 12th, 2017

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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
Review:

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.

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