Recent Reads

Work is getting exciting. My migration is less than a month away so I’ve been working more than usual. I’m not explicitly spending dedicated hours working more1, I am stuck at a strict 32 hrs/week, it’s more a matter of me distractedly answering important data migration questions in the midst of making supper.

All that being said, I’ve actually gotten a fair amount of reading in since I started feeling better in August. All things considered, I’m not a harsh critic when it comes to most books I pick up2. Provide an interesting female heroine and you’re almost guaranteed an automatic 4-star from me. However, it’s much rarer that I love a book. So, I’m been feeling particularly lucky recently.

The Martian, by Andy Weir – This is hands down the best hard science fiction I’ve read for many years. Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer, is on the third mission to Mars. The trip goes well until an accident and emergency evacuation leave Watney stranded on Mars, and presumed dead, by his crew mates. Watney has no communication equipment to report his survival back to Earth and must find a way to survive and relay his survival to NASA.

This was a very well-written book. I heard a lot about it but was pretty dubious going in. I mean, how interesting can it be to follow one guy stuck on Mars? However, Weir pulls it off brilliantly. The book reads like an epic love story to engineering. I read it in one sitting and then told Jaeger he had to read it. He did and also really enjoyed it.

As an aside, there may be a movie based on the book coming out in 2015.

Lock In, by John Scalzi – In the near(?) future a virus sweeps the world causing 1% of those infected to experience “lock in” where their minds are still functional but their bodies no longer respond. Governments throw money at the problem and an industry springs up to allow those that are locked in to live fairly normal lives. Chris Shane, from a prominent family, is one of the most famous locked in people. However, Chris doesn’t want to be a trust fund baby and chooses instead to become an FBI agent. Chris’ first week on the job turns out to be a doozy and requires learning to deal with a jaded partner while solving several rather sensational murders.

This was a very satisfying read. A good science fiction angle mixed in with a very nice mystery. Up to this point I’ve only read a couple Scalzi books. They were fine and amusing but didn’t really make me inspired to pick up more. The main reason I read Lock In is because Jaeger reads a lot more Scalzi than I do and we picked it up when we went to Scalzi’s book signing in Denver. It was just sitting around the house so one day I picked it up and started reading. I can’t remember if I actually read it in one day but I did breeze through it pretty quickly.

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie – Against all odds Breq survived her experiences in Ancillary Justice3 She grudgingly agrees to go on a mission for the Lord of the Radch, mainly because the mission sends her to a station where the sister of Breq’s former captain lives. Once on the station, Breq unerringly sniffs out trouble and decides to deal with it.

Second books always scare me. I’ve had many, many experiences where the first book was great and the second book was only ok. However, this book was also fantastic. It’s a slightly different feel from the first book but still adventure-packed. I was particularly impressed by how well Leckie did multiple viewpoints. I would have expected the way she did it to be confusing but it just worked. The end also seemed appropriate. I’m hopeful there may eventually be a third book.

One note: This book is published by Orbit, a division of Hachette. Being published by a division of Hachette, it’s receiving the same treatment from Amazon as most Hachette books that aren’t authored by a politician who could possibly do something if they were convinced Amazon is a monopoly. Anyway, given how much I enjoyed Ancillary Justice, I would have bought this book anyway but who knows, I might end up buying another copy or two and then figuring out what to do with it4.

Other books I’ve read recently:

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry – The girls of Prickwillow Place, a Victorian boarding school, have various reasons for preferring school to their homes. Thus, when their unloved headmistress and her brother die, they face a problem. They solve the problem by attempting to bury their headmistress and her brother in the backyard and see how long they can convince the community the headmistress is still alive and supervising their education and virtue.

This was quirky and fun. It’s a YA book but doesn’t have a lot of the love angst that can make some annoying. Style-wise, it reminded me a bit of Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, though without the whiff of magic.

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley – I don’t know how to summarize this book so I’ll just copy the overview on Hurley’s website:

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked uniting a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

I expected to adore this book and didn’t. I heard a lot of positive things about this book and was sure I would like it. After all, how could I not love a book overflowing with strong women? It turns out that I don’t like reading about sociopaths, which this book appears to have an abundance of. Truthfully, that’s not fair. I think there’s really only one woman who I’d consider a straight-up sociopath though the rest are fairly dubious. There was one scene where I almost put the book down and walked away. Truthfully, if it had been a man treating his wife that way, I would have put the book down. I feel fairly conflicted that I kept reading it anyway.

The book is a very good book, it’s just one that I find distasteful. Which isn’t to say I regret reading the book, at least not exactly. I’ve heard various people at different times in my life opine that the world would be a better place if run by women. I strongly disagree with this. I believe that with power comes the potential for abuse of power and women are just as likely to do that as men. I think it’s fair to say that in fantasy women either get romanticized (too good to be true) or marginalized most of the time. Hurley does not fall into this trap.

On a related note, Kameron Hurley won the 2014 Hugo for Best Related Work for her essay ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative (also available in audio format from Podcastle).

Scale-Bright – Julienne’s newly discovered aunts,Hau Ngai and Seung Nog, are famous immortals. Julienne herself is delighted to find family. However, other immortals try to take advantage of Julienne’s fragility in order to wring concessions from Hau Ngai and Seung Nog.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew was nominated for the “not a Hugo” award this last year. However, she only had short stories, which are really hard for me to read, and I ran out of time and never read any of them. That being said, I kept hearing rave reviews about her short stories. So, when I heard she had a novella coming out I requested my library buy it, and they did. As promised, the story was lyrical and entertaining. It’s set in Hong Kong and made me a bit nostalgic for our short holiday there a couple of years back.

Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty – In the second book in The Shambling Guides series, Zoe Norris is working to put together a tour book of New Orleans aimed at supernaturals. Since starting her new job she’s became more and more enmeshed with vampires, zombies, and other non-humans and has fewer human friends. It doesn’t help Zoe’s nerves that she smells like food to most of her colleagues. Zoe spends most of the book trying to focus on her job, avoid being eaten, and save her boyfriend.

I read the first book in the series and enjoyed it. However, I liked this one more than the first one. I think it’s because the climax didn’t feel as jumbled to me. Anyway, it’s a fast fun read.

  1. Well, except for that night I stayed up till midnight tweaking our new OPAC. III is known for having a “one right way” to do things and our library also has firm opinions about how to do things. These two visions are not always the same thing. I was feeling very, very constrained by my customization options until another sys admin told me I could link to the JQuery library in the “custom header” and then could magically do many things I couldn’t before. I don’t think this is the right way to do this stuff but since it’s the only way I have, I’ll take it.
  2. Though, of course, I only pick up books I think might interest me.
  3. If you haven’t read this book, go read it. It’s a fantastic Space Opera. It won the Hugo Award,Nebula Award, BSFA Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award and Locus Award.
  4. If there was a DRM-free version, I’d definitely buy the eBook version of this in addition to the hard-copy. However, I’m not going to buy it from Amazon and I don’t feel like going to the trouble of figuring out how to strip the DRM off any of the other vendors at the moment.

2 thoughts on “Recent Reads

  1. CiaraCat

    Thank you for these! I was just going through my list of books that people have recommended to me today (I just asked today, and just received the recommendations today, and it already contains way more than I can read in the next month… who knows how long the list will be tomorrow!). Several people recommended The Martian, which I was a little worried about from reading the description. You’ve just bumped it to the top of my list of things to try to get through before the nominations close!


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