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.)