Vicious by V.E. Schwab

An interesting prose book about ExtraOrdinaries… a kind of super, in a world where they’re hidden, mostly unrealized. It’s a darker, almost dismaying version of super heroes… which makes it feel real, authentic. Victor and Eli both feel like ambitious, driven… entitled, jerky guys. They feel right for college age guys.

The book is two tracked for the first half; a current and 10 years ago. It then shifts to current and moves forward only (though there are a few flashbacks still). It features multiple, engaging POVs… I liked it. It’s a complete book–a complete thought–but it sounds like there are sequels planned. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

Across the Great Barrier and The Far West

These two books are the sequels to Patrica Wrede’s The Thirteenth Child. Each is well written and largely self-contained. There’s continuity, but most of the threads wrap up at the end of each book.

These two books cover much shorter spans–not a whole childhood, only a year or two per book. In each, Eff grows, changes, and understands something new. She’s a great character, and it’s a pleasure watching her come to maturity. The west proves fascinating to explore alongside Eff and her friends.

Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

It’s a world of wonders, but also of early industrial grime, some magic and early science, airships, assassins, infernals, and intrigue. The book was a quick, easy read–and never quite simple. Neither Caskandia nor the Dallows are noble–they’re trapped in a bitter war (or its immediate aftermath–there a pause in the fighting as the book opens), and reach for underhanded methods to advantage themselves. Methods like kidnapping our heroine Octavia, a medicant–a healer.

There are lots of interesting things to the book. Centering the book on a healer, someone who is compelled to heal, even at great inconvenience to herself, is an interesting choice. She’s powerful (and revealed to be uniquely so as the book goes on), but she’s not winning wars or decimating her foes with powerful spells.

The religion of the tree is interesting; Octavia’s a true believer–for good reason–but society around her mostly dismisses worship of the tree as superstition. There’s action and risk, and Octavia does rely on others for most of the fisticuffs… but it’s never not an adventure because she’s not leading the charge.

The book is complete enough to stand alone–the dangling threads can be picked back up, but the book doesn’t feel incomplete, or like the heart of the story is still untold. Instead, she’ll be off on another adventure… in The Clockwork Crown.

Despite the praise above… I may be entering the end of my cyclical fiction reading phase. I don’t feel a strong draw to pick up the next book, despite suspecting that it’ll be a fine book, with even more authorial skill behind it.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C Wrede

Set in an alternate mid-1800s, magic makes settling the frontier easier for the settlers… and much trickier, as there’s magical wildlife too.

The book is a fun combination of frontier era struggles, mores, and chores, with a magical twist. Magic proves a great way of making the unknown of the frontier powerful and dangerous feeling again. The introduction of “alternate” or subversive schools of magic was well handled–as was the was neglect that many of the characters who were skilled in (Eureopean style) magic felt towards the “lesser” schools of magic.

Our protagonist, Eff, is very well drawn. She has a realistic and nuanced set of relationships with a wide variety of people in each of the settlements and towns of the book. As soon as I finished it, I looked up the sequels and recommended it to Jennifer.

The book also ends on a solid, quite complete note–while it’s part of a trilogy, the book stands alone.

Ambassador by William Alexander

A well written fast read. Gabe Fuentes is a well written, likable, identifiable kid and the problems he encounters are immense. Honestly, the week after he meets his “aide”, he loses his family, his house, is targeted for death (and barely missed a few times), is almost stranded on the moon… it’s a pretty horrible week.

On the other hand, he takes it all in stride. He is very true to himself in his collaborative approach to the problems; he doesn’t waste time with revenge fantasies, which is awesome.

The book ends at an awkward place; the immediate threat is over, but there’s a lot of untangling to be done. For a young YA book, it might be an adequate stopping place [and good for keeping the overall length correct for a young reader], but for more mature readers it’s not a complete story.

Overall, the book features a fun, fast moving plot, a young hero in the spotlight, a sense of wonder… it just doesn’t stick the ending.

The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin is a very interesting novel that is translated so well that, other than the subject matter, I’d never have noticed.

Set in China, the first chapters are during the Cultural Revolution–when science is thrown out for its western taint. Then the action leaps to the present and engages with a familiar feeling scientist in modern Beijing. At first, the book neglects his emotional attachments–it feels like classic sci-fi, in that it’s very focused on scientific challenges and the big picture.

It’s an intriguing book, with a lot of “hmm, how would we respond if we learned we weren’t alone?” and very cool upper dimensional considerations.

Recent Books: May 19th

The Martian, by Andy Weir. An enjoyable book, very good physics feel and plausible problems. It’s a mostly solo adventure, a bit of a shipwrecked feel updated to really hostile environs. There some good internal development and a number of interesting peripheral characters. It’s well done, though it lacked the total Wow! that many reported feeling from it.

Basically, it’s a great disaster repair struggle; lots of competent, creative problem solving. It only goes wrong in the Earth chapters; the sustained attention on his plight struck me as… very surprising. Particularly sustained over so many months. (A 20 day countdown, I could envision getting a chyron, but sustained year plus interest seems… difficult in this distractable world.) The politics of mission control seem reasonable, though the characters feel much thinner.

Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. A fascinating near future; the world has gently shifted its focus to India and Africa. The cultures are interesting, as are the parallels between the two stories. It’s weird and surreal (particularly the modern Meena story), while Mariama’s story is more steadily straightforward, though from a younger viewpoint.

Actually, this review lends a great pull quote: My experience reading The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne can be boiled down to: this was an amazing novel until it wasn’t anymore. I loved the world and setup; the characters, particularly the unreliable narrators, were interesting. Meena’s story was the one I most identified with, which makes her breakdown revelation at the end incredibly bitter. Mariama’s story was less engaging, probably because she was so young and (after making the decision to flee) so acted upon.

While this one only mostly worked, I’ll be interested to see what else the author puts out in the future.

Several issues of the Fate Codex. (Mostly a quick reread and skim for my upcoming Fate Deyrni scenario.)

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. A compelling, interesting read, with a bigger than expected twist near the end that makes you reconsider the whole first 2/3rds of the book. It was well done.

Mancreu is a fascinating place; I’m curious about how much is grounded in reality, and how much is the world specific response to the disasters. It’s a fascinating setting; an idyllic near paradise crossed with a lawless megacorporate protectorate. Lester is a very interesting guy, way over his head, in what feels like a sleepy PR role that spins out of control. His relationship with the boy is the book’s heart. He’s a good man, troubled by difficult past.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien De Castell a (reread). The book flowed smoothly, and was difficult to put down at times. It’s a subtle magic setting, with a great swashbuckling feel. The downfall of the Greatcoats is complete before the book begins, but you wince as it takes place in flashbacks concurrent with the advancing plot of ducal schemes.

The next book, Knight’s Shadow is due out next week. I’m looking forward to it!

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

A brief trip into out of the land of fantasy and science fiction. This book is scary in an “everything hangs together so plausibly” way.

It’s the story of a girl from ages 12 – 16. It’s a tale of alienation and peer pressure, of the stories you tell and the stories you live. Anna path is disheartening (drop out to become a waitress at 16), but it flows realistically from her relationships with her mom and everyone around her.

Anna, her mom, and most of her friends are in untenable places that are big enough to swallow lives. We all know the dissatisfaction that can creep in, the hollow that wants filling. Anna’s journey is quiet and painful in many places, but it rings hauntingly authentic.

I was going to mention that the book does this without invoking abusive parents or siblings, which is true… but there is a scene of disturbing rape in the quiet hours after a party that could be triggering. If you can handle that, it’s a book I recommend to everyone.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars was an interesting book, full of anecdotes. Unfortunately, the book is almost entirely “Life in the Void”–history and interviews with former astronauts, but not a lot of the science specific to a Mars expedition. (There is a lot of overlap–in many ways, Mars is just an even longer weightless journey–but if there are special unique to leaving the Earth’s neighborhood concerns, they kind of fell away.)

It’s a great book for people interested in space flight today with a side of missteps along the way. If you’re interested in people and the trials of food and waste receptacles in space, it’s really your book. Unfortunately, the title had me anticipating something different.

Three Recent Books

I recently read three books; here are quick notes that I may later expand.

From the library, Federations an anthology by John Joseph Adams. Skilled, consistent, mostly sci-fi, but the actual Federations/political angle wasn’t as dominant as I expected.

A recent purchase: Fantasy Issue 58, the Women Destroy Fantasy! special issue. This was more mixed, with 4 new short stories, 4 reprints, a novel excerpt, and several discussions, essays, and other non-fiction.

An old book that I stumbled across was Angry Black White Boy or, The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay by Adam Mansbach. While Macon is pretty far out, I understand the stereotype the author is calling on much better now. In some ways, I’ve felt the same strain to belong in a more significant way that being acknowledged as separate but harmless. (Though my experience is usually as a man on the fringes of feminist discussion.)