Friday, July 13, 2012

Hugo voting: best artist categories

Due to a Leaky Toilet Of Doom, today I get to stay home and wait for the plumber, do some of the housecleaning that would otherwise languish for five years, and! Finally sit down, look over the last bits of the Hugo packet that I can get around to before the deadline, and cast my ballot.

Here is what I have to say about certain entries in the Artist categories:

You boys who've submitted portraits depicting men in active, powerful poses - facing front, standing strong, guns blazing - alongside portraits depicting women in nothing but bikinis or wet t-shirts, or in poses focusing on T&A?

I do not approve. You rank below NO AWARD on my ballot.

Please do better in the future.

Elsewhere on the web:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Even the condition of a book tells stories

Today N. K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon came around on the guitar, interlibrary-loaned. It's paperback, and remains so; the owning library didn't stiffen the cover. (I'm not sure how common or unusual this may be. My library tends to stiffen paperbacks, but it does cost money.)

The back half of the book has two large wrinkles in it, in the pattern of an index and middle finger - significantly larger than mine. A man's hand, I think. Someone who holds the book in two hands, the right side held so firmly that the pages bend permanently. Maybe he felt strongly about the book. Maybe he just holds books tightly.

Or possibly someone dropped it in the bathtub, and it's wrinkly from that. I don't think so, though. I don't see water damage, just a lot of bending. And it is remarkably like a handprint.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We now return you to your regularly scheduled life

Train Wreck Loco 201
Image from Cornell University Library's Flickr collection. I love this picture.
I was talking on the phone to my dad a few days ago, and he said: "So how's work going? I know you must be busy - you haven't updated your blog in eleven days!"

I don't even know if I've done laundry in eleven days. Have I? I must have, or the situation would be even more dire than it already is. (Here I pause in the writing, reminded that the laundry needs changed.)

Anyway, maternity leave is over, and last week was my first week back at work. (That is less than eleven days. I know. Shit happened.) It was a little bit of culture shock, but not in the way you might think. The work, that's nothing; going back to a library job is like - well, dude, like going to a library. Exactly like, but better.

The coffee is another story.

I spent six months getting my coffee for (approximately) free, out of my own coffeepot, my own kitchen. Sometimes, if I timed the breakfast attempt for just the right moment when the baby went into his morning milk coma, I got a big plate of scrambled eggs and toast alongside it. But this week, I pick up my coffee and a cookie from campus dining, and it's, like, half the price of a book. Two days of that, and O NOEZ, I COULD HAVE BOUGHT A BOOK WITH THAT MONEY!

I'm trying to console myself with the thought that I can't read a new book every two days anymore, anyway. I'm not sure that's actually helping. BUT - I work in a library, which is full of free books. And that does help.

So here's what's going on around here, bookwise. (Let me e'splain. ... no, there is too much. Let me sum up.)

  • I saw the movie for The Hunger Games, which is one of the books I'm filing under "science fiction for girls". The movie was a pretty faithful adaptation. I failed to be properly creeped out by President Snow, though. He looks too much like my dad to be scary. Plus, smell-o-vision has not yet been invented. I was creeped out by the Careers. Those kids sounded just like the cool kids at high school, just having a good time.
  • I'm picking away at writing a long post about Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate novels, a five-book series that starts with Soulless. The short version is: this series is mind-bogglingly full of win. I love it. Someday, I will tell you why. Honest.
  • I'm still reading through the Hugo nominations, and plan to post what I think about at least the fiction entries.
  • I got a migraine and, while lying down in a dark room with a pillow over my head, tried out the audio on my Kindle with some short story podcasts. I was a little disappointed. It seems like it doesn't keep track of where you left off, if you stop it in the middle of the file? That's kind of a deal-breaker for ever investing in audiobooks. (Although maybe they address this in files they sell you themselves, I don't know.) But I liked that I could turn on a feature to have the Kindle read the menus to me, so I could switch between stories blind.
  • I want John Scalzi's Redshirts. It's coming out soon. I'm pretty sure my library will get it automagically in a few weeks, without me having to interlibrary loan it or anything. If you somehow manage to check it out before me, I'm gonna recall it. Fair warning.
  • I also want N. K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun rather badly, but I am even less fond of the trade paperback format than I am of hardback prices. It's like the worst features of hardback and mass market, combined: more expensive than mass market, bigger and heavier and easier to fumble into the bathtub, without the benefit of a really solid cover to steady it. So, library again.
  • I don't know how I got so carried away buying books. I still have about a dozen lying around that I am excited to read, but haven't had time for yet, but OMG ANOTHER BOOK, MUST HAVE. I thought I was going to try to be more reasonable. I'm such a sucker.
  • OMG ANOTHER BOOK. I spied Julianna Baggott's Pure on the New & Noteworthy shelves at work, checked it out, and read it over the course of the week. It was pretty good. It's a funny thing, though - it used to be that when I read a book with a young boy as one of the main characters, I considered him representative of my brothers, maybe sometimes of me. But now, I see in him my sons. It makes the stories a lot more heartbreaking, at the same time as making me more proud of the young hero's accomplishments. It's a little weird.
  • Mira Grant's Blackout is part of the to-be-read pile. I mentioned in an earlier post that I thought that information in this book, clarifying the parts of Deadline that I had questions about, might affect my ranking of Deadline in the Hugo voting. When I wrote that, I thought it might move Deadline up. But now I read a review elsewhere that makes me worried it might move it down. I do not think I am going to like what this book has to say about "Good night, George."
  • I expect that I spent more money on books during this maternity leave than I ever have before, or ever will again, in a comparable amount of time. The baby and I spent a lot of time in the rocking chair and not so much even thinking about dragging our asses out of the house to any library. The internet was our friend, both for purchases and for library ebooks. I kept my digital receipts and library notifications; eventually I mean to have a look at how the reading habits broke down. But it won't be for, y'know, at least another eleven days.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012 Hugo voting: Best short story

None of my short story nominees made the Hugo shortlist. (I think that my very favorite was Corrine Duyvis's Eight, or possibly Seanan McGuire's The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells.)
I'm less certain about my ranking for the short stories than I was for novels; I feel less strongly about these ones. I wasn't really enamored with Mike Resnick's The Homecoming; E. Lily Yu's The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees was beautiful but I think I failed to Get the last line (and thus, probably, the point); Ken Liu's Paper Menagerie was a good story, but it revolves around a broken mother/son relationship. I'm still in the early years of motherhood, when you're terrified you're going to lose your kids to a peanut butter sandwich down the wrong pipe; I am not cool with having the concept put into my head that one could just walk away from me, all on his own. NOT COOL.

So that leaves:

#2: The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue, by John Scalzi

This was an April Fool's joke story: a fake excerpt from a book whose title is a mashup of the most common words in fantasy titles. I've read grumbles on the internet - or perhaps grumbles about grumbles, I can't remember anymore - that an April Fool's joke doesn't belong on an award ballot. Which seems silly for a genre that treasures The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and pretty much anything written by Terry Pratchett. I liked this story a lot; it cracked me up. I'm a little sad it isn't a real book.

#1: Movement, by Nancy Fulda

This story is about an autistic girl who has the chance to become "normal". It's told in first person, through her eyes, so the voice is very different. It was thoughtful and hopeful and sad, all at once. If you had the chance to get rid of your greatest weakness - or what the world sees as weakness, anyway - but it would simultaneously change everything that you are, would you do it?

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum

I had heard this one was amazing, but cursory research showed it to be second in a trilogy, so I didn't immediately pick it up. When I did, it was at the same time as its buddies, and I read them in order. But it turns out you really don't have to; the books are linked only in that they are big events that happen to Isyllt Iskaldur, the necromancer the trilogy follows. I hesitate to call her The Main Character, though, because each individual book gives equal weight to her and her Supporting Characters. I really felt that Savedra was the primary character of The Bone Palace, and Savedra rocks.

Savedra is the prince's mistress; her mother would like her to reach higher than that, and Savedra has to keep pointing out that it is physically impossible for her to become queen; she can't bear children. Savedra was born a man.

This is not part of the magic system. This happens all the time in real life.

I really, really liked that the book made me look at transsexual people from another angle. In real life, we tend to look at people from the outside-in; we see the body first, and the mind only through what the body reveals (through motion or speech). But in the book, you get to look at Savedra from the inside-out: you're in her head, and she's always she, in the exact same way any other female is. She has a penis like I have dislocating knees: this is just one of the ways our bodies screw us over. Her problem screws her over a lot more, though, because society cares quite a lot about what's between your legs, and tries to define your role in life based on it.

So I loved the book for showing me that perspective, and I loved that the love triangle - Savedra, her prince, and the prince's wife - could have a happily ever after for all three of them together. (Although I frown upon - (highlight to read this spoiler) - the method of Ashlin's seduction of Savedra. It felt rapey - it was in the old-skool-romance style, in which every word that comes out of the woman's mouth means no while her body is saying yes, and that's super cool with the aggressor; yes it is!)

But I was also interested in what a real trans woman thought of it, and apparently it is not so hot - it sounds like Savedra's set-up was fine, but then the follow-through is incredibly insulting. Here is Cheryl Morgan's review of The Bone Palace (includes spoilers); I recommend the book, but I also recommend reading Cheryl's review afterwards. It's very eye-opening.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tor books is going DRM-free

Charlie Stross has some interesting essays on DRM, what Amazon is trying to achieve, and the interests of publishers, here and here. The first was written before Tor - one of the really big sf/f publishers - announced that they're going DRM-free this summer, and the second was written after.

This will be a terrible temptation for me. I had discovered that I can pretty reliably expect Tor hardbacks to automagically show up on the university library shelves, where I work - but it takes several weeks. That's an easy wait when the other option is to pay hardback prices, but if there's a DRM-free e-book for, presumably, less...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

DRM-free vendors

I've finally set up an index of the DRM-free vendors that I've found so far. It's also a tab at the top of the blog; click there for links to stores where you can browse for books. To browse my blog posts about specific DRM-free books, click on the "DRM-free" tag in the tag cloud in the right sidebar (or the bottom of this post).

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Hugo voting: Best Novel

On a Hugo voting ballot, you rank your choices from 1-5. When the votes are tallied, if your #1 pick is eliminated, your vote goes to #2 in the next round, and so on.

This is what my vote will probably look like for Best Novel:

#5: Among Others, by Jo Walton

Among Others is the story of a science fiction fan growing up. There is a (side-)plot involving saving the world from her evil mother, but basically the book is a love letter to the genre. I would not be surprised to see it win, but I didn't like it much. The stories the main character reads and references are from about a generation before the ones that were formative for me, so it is - to continue the analogy - a little like reading your parents' love letters, ones where they're talking about how the big events of the time affect their relationship, and Do You Remember When...

That's cool and all, but it loses its intended effect when you are not the intended audience; I do not, in fact, Remember When.

And I was bothered by the perfection of the teenage main character, in how smoothly she handled awkward social situations. It's like she reacts right away in the manner that we, with the wisdom of age upon us now, wish we would have reacted. It feels like looking at the teenage years through weird rose-colored glasses in which you were right, and you were OK, all along, and it was just your environment that sucked. That feels very discordant, to me; it's not how I remember teenagerdom playing out.

#4: A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin

A Dance With Dragons is the fifth book, of at least seven, in Martin's series A Song of Ice And Fire. I am addicted to the series, and I liked this portion of it a lot, but I would be hard-pressed to tell you what this book in particular was About, and I'm not comfortable calling it Best Novel when so many major events remain at least somewhat unexplained. I have a hard time voting on missing data.

For example, the (spoilery) thing that happens with Jon at the end: what's up, yo? Whether I consider that a bold and masterful stroke, or a total betrayal of readers' expectations, is going to depend on information that won't be revealed until another book. I would be so irate if I voted this Best Novel and then later discovered my interpretation fell more on the "betrayal" side.

[The Hugo voting rules also allow you to vote for "No award". I think I do not dislike the choice of either of the above books enough to be a jerk about it and make No Award my #4 choice, instead. But it's possible.]

#3: Embassytown, by China Mieville

Embassytown is an entry into the "Aliens are really alien, and misunderstanding this has major consequences" subgenre; in this case, it's the nature of language itself that poses a problem between the aliens and the humans. I wasn't terribly captivated by the characters, but the worldbuilding was incredibly rich and inventive, and the way Mieville treats language consequences reminds me of all the things I like about learning foreign languages, both for the foreign language itself and for the way that the learning of it teaches me things I didn't know about my own.

#2: Deadline, by Mira Grant

Deadline is the sequel to last year's Hugo-nominated zombie romp Feed. I really enjoyed it; Grant has a viciously morbid sense of humor that meshes very well with zombie-making viruses. One of the things I like best is that the virus is not just a slapdash excuse for a zombie, applied once and then ignored - everything about the zombie outbreaks is fallout from how viruses work: not just horror, but heavily-researched science fiction too. The virus itself almost becomes a character, in much the same way as Tolkien's One Ring does.

It's hard to discuss Deadline without spoiling Feed, really. The books follow a group of bloggers/journalists (in the future, it's the same thing), who first follow a presidential campaign and later get involved with uncovering zombie conspiracies. There were two places where my jaw dropped, reading Deadline - first at "Good night, George," and then at the final chapter. The first has me debating back and forth with myself over exactly how much screwed up Shaun is (it is well-established that he is screwed up, but how much extra this particular item makes him, is debatable). The second... kind of falls under the same "missing data" issues as A Dance With Dragons has for me. I have a scientific Issue with what's been posited in the final chapter. It's entirely possible Grant has a satisfying explanation for it that will be exposed in the third book, Blackout. I hope that this is the case, but fear it may not be.

A Dance With Dragons' "missing data" issues are not resolvable for me before the Hugo voting deadline, but Deadline's are - Blackout comes out on June 1st, and the voting cutoff is July 31st. It's possible that if Blackout explains the final chapter of Deadline to my satisfaction, it might bump it up to be my #1 favorite of the nominees. But is it fair to include extra data when judging one nominee, when the analogous data is unavailable for another? Is it fair to deliberately wait for that follow-up book, before voting?

#1: Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes was one of the books I nominated (link goes to my review), and I still stand by it as better than all those other books I read and didn't nominate. I imagine this is not an uncommon occurrence among Hugo nominators.

And lastly, I give you:

#0: Otherwise Known As: The Book I Would Have Voted For As #1 If Only The Rest Of The Nominators Had Wised Up And Helped Me Put It On The Shortlist (And I Mean, Seriously, WTF Is Wrong With You People): Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless is the retelling of a Russian folktale, Koschei the Deathless, setting it in the World War II era. It is not a puppies and rainbows fairy tale; it touches on issues of regime change and war, domestic abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and dysfunctional governments. It is beautiful but also brutally heartbreaking, and, AND, it made the traditional Russian folktale last-line-of-the-story about the beer running down over the narrator's beard actually make sense. "It's just something we say at the end of stories," my Russian language teacher told us, when we tried to puzzle out what it meant, what the hell we were losing in translation. But in Valente's hands it kind of made me cry.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Hugo nominations announced

So this year's Hugo nominations have been announced. Super sad face that my most favoritest picks, Catherynne Valente's Deathless and Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique, were not on the Best Novel shortlist, but happy face that James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes was.

Not everyone agreed with me: OBLIGATORY TANTRUM! But I'm looking forward to seeing the nomination breakdown at the end - was my ballot a tipping point for any of my nominees? How much did my voice matter?

One category it might have made a difference in is Best Novella - there was a tie between two nominees, which means that just one vote made the difference on whether one of those stories showed up at all. All three of my noms made the list. But here is another interesting thing: 5 out of 6 of the Hugo and Nebula novella nominations are identical. Really spectacular stories, smaller numbers of novellas to choose from, or the cascade effect of the Nebula nominees being announced before Hugo nominations were due? (I, for example, discovered two of my noms through the Nebula announcement.)

The only one of the Best Novels I haven't read yet is Deadline, which I acquired during my belated-Christmas spree, so that's where I'm going to start with my voter-education.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On nominating for the Hugos

Here is a thing that surprised me: although nominating for the Hugo Awards is open to anybody who plunks down the money for it, only about a thousand people do.

A thousand people is a lot, but we hear about the Hugos as being the award from fandom at large - and I don't know how many people that is, but I know it's much larger than a thousand. So why is the voting population such a relatively low number?

I've been thinking about my own reasons for not voting till recently, and realized that - although the $50 for a supporting membership would have been out of my reach for a long time, even had I known then that this was all it took - the primary reason I didn't vote was that I wasn't reading books in the year they came out, so I didn't have enough data to form an opinion worth voting on.

It's actually a pain in the ass to read brand-new books, if you're a more rabid reader than your wallet can reasonably support. Hardcovers are expensive, and if you merely wait a year for the paperback, you can buy two or three books for the same price. New books don't always show up immediately in the library, and have shorter loan periods and longer wait lists than last year's works. New books are rarely to be found in used bookshops. It's just not efficient to be addicted to new releases; you get a much bigger bang for your buck by waiting.

So I think Hugo voters - well, nominators, anyway - aren't really fandom-at-large; they're fandom's-early-adopters, the folks who expend the energy/money to get the crack as soon as it's on the street. Not everybody is this kind of crazy, so it would explain the smaller numbers.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2011 Nebula nominees: what I could find DRM-free

This year's Nebula (and Norton) nominees are listed here - links to the online short fiction already exist there, so I'm not going to reproduce those. But all the novels link to B&N or Amazon, and those guys use DRM on their e-books. Here are the DRM-free editions I found.

I'm pleased to have discovered two new-to-me DRM-free ebook vendors, but it's kind of a bummer that, out of 14 titles, only 3 are available like this. It would be nice if I just missed something - let me know if you find one.


God's War, by Kameron Hurley: $6 at Baen Ebooks

Mechanique, by Genevieve Valentine: Lizbatty says she found this at Wizard's Tower. At the time of this writing, Wizard's Tower is changing hosts, so I'll update this to link more directly when it comes back up. Updated: £4.49 at Wizard's Tower.

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman: $9.95 at Weightless Books

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Discipline fail

Not even close to the entirety of the to-be-read pile.

While fishing through my wallet for something else entirely, I re-discovered a $100 bill my husband's grandmother gave me for Christmas.

I remembered that I meant to not buy books until just before reading them, but I ceased to care. I also seem to have managed to spend more than my Christmas gift.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Watching Game of Thrones

We've been watching the HBO Game of Thrones this past week or so, one episode a night. We just finished last night.

It's very condensed, isn't it? I guess it would have to be, to fit the timeframe. But it seems to skip all my favorite lines, and there's not nearly as much direwolf action as there ought to be. For most of it, you can almost forget that the Stark kids even have wolves. You wouldn't necessarily notice that Samwell is supposed to be brilliant and bookish, because he's mostly portrayed as fat and cowardly. Which he is, of course, but that's not all he is. I wish there were a director's cut that were, like, 100 episodes long and went over every scene in perfect detail. Alas!

But I think the Hollywood tradition of casting kids older than their characters loses some of the flavor of the story - the mistakes that the Stark kids make are supposed to be from naivete, but they look old enough that they ought to know better. Especially poor Sansa. But then - I remember having contempt for Sansa's position the first time I read her, too. It wasn't till three or four books in (and me getting ten years older) that I realized I had been just like her as a kid, not just like Arya as I'd have wished to be, and started really looking forward to Sansa's redemption. I don't know. Maybe Sansa always looks stupid the first time you read/see her, and I'm bringing my wished-for-Sansa to the table too early.

We like what they've done with Cersei, though. In the books, she's the one character who is actually more appalling when you read her point of view than she was when seen from another person's viewpoint. I like this Cersei much better.

They've changed very little from book to screen, which is impressive; the differences are primarily just omissions/condensations of lesser events. If you like the HBO series, read the books: they're just like it, but more so.*

But it's a very different thing, the watching. I've had to throw the blanket over my head kind of a lot; I don't know how we'll make it through the even more brutal events still to come. It would have to involve a lot of blanket.

* But by the same token, if you don't like the HBO series, you might not want to read the books - they're just like it, but more so.

Friday, March 9, 2012

DRM-free science fiction for girls: the Vorkosigan saga

Two birds, one stone: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series is awesome science fiction, with stuff for girls, and the ebooks are available DRM-free from Baen ebooks, the publisher.

Miles Vorkosigan wants nothing more than to be a great military leader for the Barrayan Empire, like his father and grandfather before him. He would be amazing at it: he's brilliant, persuasive, inspiring, energetic, persistent... but he can't pass the physical tests to enter the academy. He's too short, and his bones are so brittle he could break them if he just tripped and fell. He's trying to prove his worth in a place where killing deformed babies at birth still hasn't quite gone out of style. His father's world isn't ready to accept him.

But he's his mother's son, too. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan was captain of a survey ship for the much more liberal Beta Colony, an explorer and a war hero against the Barrayaran Empire in which she now lives. She doesn't think very highly of the way Barrayar treats its weaker members of society: the poor, the handicapped, the women. "Barrayar eats its children," she says. She's a major player in dragging Barrayar out of its dark ages, and a role model for Miles (and the reader, IMO) in how people ought to treat each other, and how far you should be willing to go to bring that about.

There are two really good entry points to the series, IMO: The Warrior's Apprentice, which is Miles's first book, and Cordelia's Honor, the omnibus of Cordelia's two books.

Cordelia's Honor, with Cordelia as the point of view character, addresses women's issues directly: how does a woman who has power and status in her own liberal society adapt to a more feudal, military one, in which she is expected to have none? Cordelia never buckles - she never forgets that she is strong and does have the power to effect change, despite most Barrayarans' constant insistence otherwise. And Cordelia's the one who's right, even as she operates within the constraints Barrayar puts on her. In Shards of Honor (the first book in the omnibus), she's interacting with Barrayar as a soldier in a wartime situation; in Barrayar (the second), she now lives on Barrayar, where she's expected to be nothing more than wife and mother. But civil war breaks out, and Cordelia's motherhood becomes a battleground in the process. Barrayar addresses a lot of issues with pregnancy and the uterine replicators that replace it; recovering missing children; defending the children you have whether or not they're yours; and the power inherent in a mother's influence on her child.

Miles's books are less direct; in them, the appeal-for-reasons-of-being-female is more an issue of positive representation. Every one of Miles's love interests has a life of her own. They are not his sidekicks; they are not his prizes; their happy endings are different from Miles's. Many of them take one look at Barrayar's patriarchy and say Hell no; I won't follow you there. And Miles is a respectful, intelligent dude - he never once downplays their problems, never once tries to claim that Barrayar isn't a backwards little hellhole for women. But he can't abandon Barrayar, because he's trying to make it better.

This is my favorite series of books ever. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

You can read most of the series in e-book DRM-free, for free. [Update, 7/17/2012: no longer available for free. ALAS! See comments.] (It's missing Memory, but is otherwise complete up to Cryoburn.) The whole series was published by Baen, who are eminently reasonable folks about this sort of thing; they treat the ebooks they offer for free as advertising. The hope is that you'll read it, love it, and buy it; there's a longer explanation of it under "More information about our ebook Benefactors" here, where apparently a whole bunch of CDs from other Baen series are also available. (! I did not know. I will have to poke around on those.)

Anyway, The Warrior's Apprentice is contained in the omnibus Young Miles. Cordelia's Honor is actually two books - Shards of Honor and Barrayar - but you can only get it in the omnibus these days.

You can buy them in e-book (any format) from Baen's store - full list of Vorkosigan titles here. It looks like you could log in again to re-download at any time, or in a different format. They've got something called "MicroPay" which looks like store credit - I didn't play with that.

Also: there's a new book in the series coming out in November! It's about Ivan-you-idiot! I'm excited. Do you think he'll finally get involved in a long-term relationship? I've been looking forward to that since A Civil Campaign. I kind of hope he marries a girl just like his mother. It would be hilarious.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New project on this blog: science fiction for girls

I am a terrible artist.
Ever since reading that really ridiculous list, I've been thinking about which science fiction books I would recommend for girls. Initially I was thinking of it as something similar to a "top 10" list, but that's a very static solution to a very dynamic question. Why limit it to 10, when there are more than that? Why either limit it to only the books that I've already read and can recommend, or delay talking about it until I've read every book in the world (ha ha)? Why limit it to only things that have already been published, when new ones are coming out all the time?

So instead, I'm going to blog about them one at a time, add an "SF for girls" label, and eventually index them on one of the tabs up there, as an open-ended project.

Rules of the game:

1. I'll be talking largely about books, but I'm also going to include movies or TV shows or video games or whatever format is taken by a story I feel fits the theme. They're all gateway drugs to each other.

2. By "for girls", I mean: these are books that have something to like about them because you are a girl; they say something relevant and useful about being female.

3. By "for girls", I also mean: these are books that are appropriate for young people. I don't mean there's no sex, violence, or strong language - coddling is unnecessary, IMO. What I mean is that there are two major ways women's issues get addressed in fiction: (a) empower the woman, and see what she does; (b) utterly crush the woman like a bug beneath your heel, and see what she does, or fails to be able to do. Which one would you rather give your daughter first, while you say, "See what you have to look forward to in life?" I don't care how many awards it's gotten or how "classic" it is; if it's soul-crushing, it will not be on my list.

4. By "for girls", I do not mean "not for boys". That would be ridiculous.

5. Appreciation of the story should not require a history lesson. I don't care if it was radically feminist "for its time". Let's take Star Trek, the original series, for example: in the 1960s it was daring and amazing to make a black woman an officer of significant rank on a spaceship. But in the 2010s it is insulting that she is the only one, she's the secretary, and her boss is a smarmy womanizer. Lieutenant Uhura was a role model for a 1960s woman - but we are not raising 1960s women anymore. Revolutionary feminist works are important, but when they do their job, they change the world: and by changing our society's expectations for women they shove themselves off this list.

6. What, exactly, constitutes "science fiction" is a matter of some debate. Science fiction and fantasy share a fanbase, and many of their subgenres blur the lines between them. For this project, where there's doubt, I'm going to define it as fiction whose worldbuilding more closely resembles physics than magic. Virus zombies: science fiction. Voodoo zombies: fantasy. Clockwork and airships steampunk: science fiction. Victorian-era werewolf steampunk: fantasy. I think that this is the most useful definition in this context, because I believe there's correlation between the issues of "girls in science fiction" and "girls in science". Again: gateway drugs for each other. This is why science fiction for girls matters.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

I haven't read much non-Eurocentric fantasy, and I've liked this guy's short stories, so I planned on savoring this one: no juggling books and babies! No constant interruptions! I would read this book after the kids went to bed, with a glass of wine! Or maybe while the kids were still awake, if I could escape to the bathtub!

In practice, what happened was that I took the book and the wine to the bathtub or the comfy chair, read three pages, and promptly fell asleep. Newborns, man.

So it took me forever to finish, and when it got to the action at the end, I did wind up juggling book and baby because I couldn't bear to read it only three pages at a time anymore.

It's about a crochety old ghul hunter, Adoulla, on his last and most terrible hunt. (The worldbuilding is based on Islam: magic flows from God, and ghuls are nasty monsters created by followers of the Traitorous Angel.) He's got a young apprentice, Raseed, a holy warrior who is very concerned about his righteousness in the eyes of God. They meet a young girl, Zamia, who's hunting the same ghuls, which massacred her tribe. They go to two of Adoulla's friends, a married couple who had retired from ghul hunting, for help. The five of them remind me of a D&D party (or at least, D&D parties from my very limited D&D experience under like two DMs). Rather than beating up ghuls from start to finish, the story's events involve a lot of the research they have to do to figure out who the ghul hunter is, what he wants, and how to track him down.

I think what I liked best about this book was how the characters' outlook on ghul hunting differed along the age gap more than the gender gap. The older characters were all, "I'm too old for this shit!" And both younger characters were like, "WE WILL KICK THEIR ASSES!" while secretly thinking, Oh God, am I doing it all wrong? The older characters are more comfortable in their skins, their roles in society, and their relationships with God, but Raseed and Zamia are both still trying to figure it out.

The primary antagonist was a kind of uncomplex, pure evil dude. He wasn't even really important except for, y'know, all those ghuls he sent running around wrecking the place. That wasn't as interesting as it could be, but I guess that's how the kind of guy who would serve the Traitorous Angel rolls? But the secondary antagonist/folk hero, the Falcon Prince, was much better - it wasn't till the end that you saw which way he'd fall, and I think the why of it was still unclear. Was he a good man doing bad things to achieve a noble purpose, or a bad man pretending to be good because the Robin Hood shtick gets you a lot of followers?


Around the web:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeiffer

Why You Shouldn't Make Your Apocalypse Preparations Based On What You Read In Fiction:

Well water requires a pump. A pump requires electricity. When the apocalypse comes and the power goes out forever, the pump will fail, and your house will not have water. "Our house has well water" does not automatically solve the problem of where you will get your water during the apocalypse (although in this book, it does).

If you want water in your house, you would have to rig up some kind of hand pump instead. Then we're talking about hauling buckets of water up from the basement, not opening the kitchen faucet and having the water pour out.

Bonus: often well water contains too much iron or sulfur or bacteria; people buy various machinery to clean it up. Any of those that require electricity will fail, too. Your water will taste funny, and if the well is contaminated you might get sick. These are also things you would have to either find a manual fix for or live(/die) with.

That's about all I have to say about this book. I didn't like it, but this is the only thing worth really bitching about.

Friday, March 2, 2012

DRM-free ebooks: Angry Robot (publisher)

I've never fully bought the "now you're locked into Amazon" argument against their DRM; I think that's a little bit of an exaggeration. Amazon would like me to be locked into them, certainly. But let us suppose for a moment that I am a thoroughly obedient-to-authority personage who wouldn't even consider breaking the DRM on my 40-some locked e-books to take them to another device: even then, I am not locked into buying from Amazon, forever and ever, amen. Those 40 e-books are locked to Amazon; I am not. I don't have to trade in my Kindle to buy a Nook and take my future business elsewhere. Until the day my Kindle breaks and I can't/won't replace it, I don't lose access to those 40 e-books. I could give Amazon the finger tomorrow.

Actually, I decided to start giving Amazon the finger yesterday.

Because that DRM is still a problem, and it will bite me in the ass someday. Amazon shouldn't get to say I can only use their hardware. They shouldn't get to say I can't loan the books I bought. They shouldn't get to impose restrictions on my purchases that make it difficult for me to use those purchases in the future, as technology changes, better devices come out, and obsolete devices disappear. Someday, my Kindle will break, and I will have to decide what to buy as a replacement, and "another Kindle" might not be my preferred option anymore. Someday, the world will stop using .azw format. Someday, devices will stop supporting the .azw format. Someday, I am going to have to figure out how to recover those 40 books, or replace them. Better that this be a problem for 40 books than 400 or 4000.

So I've decided to make a real effort to buy DRM-free e-books from now on*. Sometimes Amazon e-books will be DRM-free - the ones I bought that were published by Subterranean Press were - but there's no way to know that before you buy it.**

I turned off my Kindle's wireless, and plan to leave it off permanently, so that I have to go to my computer to buy and transfer e-books anyway - thus making Amazon's store no more convenient than anyone else's. (Side benefit: this also removes Amazon's ability to 1984 my device.)

I've found that author websites will often direct you to several places where their books can be purchased. The book I was looking for was Aliette de Bodard's Servant of the Underworld (and its buddies in the trilogy); the purchase options her page listed included her publisher, Angry Robot, who sells DRM-free e-books.

They sell them in .epub format. Between their suggestion in their FAQs to buy from Amazon for your Kindle (since .epub is not a Kindle-supported format), and the fact that all their prices were in pounds, I did go to Amazon first***, on the chance that Angry Robot Kindle books would be like Subterranean Press ones - DRM-free. But they weren't; Amazon had added DRM to the file anyway.

So I recommend against doing that. Because the Angry Robot .epubs are DRM-free, you can convert them to .mobi with Calibre, which is the format the Kindle will read - so it is, in fact, immediately useful that the files are DRM-free.

I was a little intimidated by the prospect of an international purchase, because I'm chickenshit on trying things I don't fully understand, but it turned out to be really easy. You make an account on the site based on your email address; you put the e-book in your cart just like anyplace else; the purchase goes through Paypal, who will take your credit card and take care of the pounds/dollars conversion for you. When the transaction's done, you go back to Angry Robot - either through the link at the end of the Paypal transaction, or the one in the confirmation email - to download your .epub. And it looks like you could get back to that page at any time, to re-download later. (I did not test that.)

Caveat: the e-books did cost more at Angry Robot than at Amazon - about $6 instead of $3. Still within the range I expected to pay; still less than the paperbacks; still less than the future cost of replacing the book, if lost to the whims of technological change; and, IMO, a small price to pay for principle.

So that's one! One DRM-free e-book source! Ah ha ha ha! I do know of a few others; I figure I'll blog about them one by one as I buy from them, and eventually assemble a page on the blog to collect the list all in one place.

* Honestly, I should have been doing it all along. I knew when I bought the Kindle that this was a problem: that Amazon would make it too easy to buy their shit instead of someone else's. I was weak, and preoccupied with Major Life Events. Mea culpa.

** Googling suggests that the Amazon page should say something about "simultaneous device" usage being "unlimited" on a DRM-free title. I remember seeing that detail once upon a time, but I didn't think it meant that. At any rate, I couldn't find that information on any of my test titles now, DRM-free or not. So that is not, in fact, a reliable way to determine the DRM status of a Kindle title.

*** Honestly, I shouldn't have. The finger to Amazon! But I wanted to see if the publisher not desiring DRM was enough to make it a DRM-free Kindle book. And the answer is no: Amazon apparently adds DRM by default unless the publisher actually jumps through some hoops to forbid it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Best (free) short fiction of 2011 (according to me)

I didn't read much short fiction over the course of last year, but failing to do so now would have left wide swaths of my Hugo ballot empty. This was fixable; the short fiction I would have been reading is the kind that's free online, and it's still there. So I've been head-down in last year's webzines lately.

I managed, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons, and part of Lightspeed - I meant to read more, but I ran out of steam, and it turns out there are zillions of webzines I hadn't known about. It was kind of an impossible task, reading it all before the nomination deadline.

These were my favorite stories:

The Bread We Eat In Dreams, by Catherynne Valente
The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells, by Seanan McGuire
Tying Knots, by Ken Liu (also in audio form)
The Architect of Heaven, by Jason K. Chapman (also in audio form)
The Leavings of the Wolf, by Elizabeth Bear
Sirius, by Ben Peek (also in audio form)
Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair, by Ken Scholes
The Desecrator, by Steven Brust
Eight, by Corinne Duyvis
Ragnarok, by Paul Park and Richard Anderson
The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor, by Delia Sherman
The Widow and the Xir, by Indrapramit Das
Silently and Very Fast (part 1)(part 2)(part 3), by Catherynne Valente (also in audio: 1 2 3)
Kiss Me Twice, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Ghostweight, by Yoon Ha Lee (also in audio form)
Trickster, by Mari Ness (also in audio form)
A Militant Peace, by David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell (also in audio form)
A Clean Sweep With All The Trimmings, by James Alan Gardner

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chime, by Franny Billingsley - SPOILERS

One of the things I really love about having bought an e-reader is that my public library does e-book loans: I don't have to pack the baby and all his infrastructure to schlep downtown to get new books to read. I can just get them online - ones from publishers who are willing to do library e-book loans, anyway. (Get with the program, recalcitrant publishers. Your problem is not getting me to buy books - it is getting me to buy your books. Libraries help me decide who gets my book budget.)

Chime is one of the books I read a good review of, but its Kindle sample didn't wow me enough to overcome my most recent resolution to hit the library more instead of impulse buying. (A resolution inspired by the purchase of a book I turned out to really not like: I could have spent that money on a good book. Rage!) Chime did look interesting enough to check out, though.

Overall, I liked it: it's the story of Briony, a girl who lives in a swamp full of enchanted creatures, with a mentally challenged sister who needs a great deal of care. Briony hates her life; she hates her sister; she hates herself.

Unfortunately, both the thing I liked best about this book, and the thing that I liked least, are medium-sized spoilers. So this is a spoiler post. Sorry.

What I liked best was that it's really a story of the aftermath: this is what happens to the beautiful daughters after the evil stepmother has been defeated. I read Among Others last year, which was blurbed as that kind of story, but it didn't live up to it, for me - the main character's life after defeating her villainous mother was mostly disconnected from that conflict; you never even find out what the villainous mother's evil plan was. (Unless I missed it. But come on, if you can miss that, something's wrong.)

Chime did aftermaths much better. Briony narrates, and tells you how good her stepmother was to her, how much she loved her, Stepmother this, Stepmother that, but Stepmother's dead, and it was not a suicide, she would never do that. You can tell Stepmother wasn't on the up and up, though Briony insists otherwise. Briony clearly has some Issues.

Over the course of the book, you watch Briony heal: she gradually obsesses less about taking care of Rose, letting other people help; she starts resuming old hobbies she'd abandoned; she starts making new friends and reconnecting with old ones; she stops hating herself for failing to constantly hate herself. What she's consciously concerned with is another problem entirely - the swamp is being drained, and its magical denizens are seriously not happy about that - but what's going on in the background, all this time, is Briony getting better.

What I liked least about the book is that, in the end, it turns out Briony has always known about Stepmother being evil, and about her defeat, but just... forgot? Blocked it out? Rewrote her own memories to protect herself? I didn't quite buy that part.

But I loved that the primary villain had already been defeated, all this time - but her evil works remained, poisoning the lives of her victims, and that this, too, needed resolved.

Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey (Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham)

Leviathan Wakes was really, really good.

It's billed as space opera instead of hard sf, but the sciencey parts simultaneously made me happy and bummed me out, in an I-will-never-be-able-to-write-anything-this-good sort of way. The authors didn't blaze new trails in Science Gimmicks; they mostly took known space science and addressed how human behavior would change if you had to live with that all the time.

Space dwellers don't have a habit of nodding, for example; because you can't see that through a space suit, they use hand gestures instead. They disagree with dirtsiders on whether air and water are considered renewable resources - and that's the spark of the war, when one of the Belt's ice haulers gets blown up by an unknown-but-probably-Martian ship.

There are two point-of-view characters in the story; Holden, an Earthborn survivor of that ice hauler, and Miller, a spaceborn noir-style detective. I wasn't especially interested in Miller until he offered up his opinion of Holden's public broadcasting of what happened to his ship: "He just declared war on Mars for us." In the Belt, Miller explains, people don't fuck around when it comes to the resources one needs to survive. You do a half-ass job on critical station maintenance, you're likely to get airlocked; shoot down a ship carrying water for the Belt, and the Belt shoots back.

I'm kind of down with that. Miller's practical cynicism appealed to me, even though I wasn't interested in the space detective shtick at first. The more Miller scoffed, the less I liked Holden's idealistic approach to any crisis at hand. Although the authors write, in the afterword, that they meant Miller and Holden to be at the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum on how they deal with bad guys - discreet airlocking versus information-wants-to-be-free negotiations - with both characters being right, and both being wrong, it seemed to me that Miller's approach was more right than Holden's. Or, at least, more effective in these particular circumstances.

This is also the kind of book that I think my husband would really enjoy (also because of Miller - I think my appreciation for that sort of brutally effective badassery came from my husband originally), but loaning it to him is difficult because I only have the one Kindle, and I selfishly want to keep it to read more books. I'm probably going to wind up buying a print copy to shove into his hands.


Kindle DRM pisses me off. DRM is not the reason loaning this book to my husband is difficult - the lack of a second e-reader is. BUT. My cousin has a Kindle, and so do my sisters. I can't loan the book to them, either; the publisher has disallowed loaning on this title. That's the case for almost all the e-books I've bought so far. And the few that I can loan, I can only loan once - if I lend it to my cousin, then I can't lend it to my sisters when she returns it.

I could also froth at the mouth about mandating that only one person can access the book at a time, which is unavoidable in print but an artificial restriction in e-, but I won't (much). I can almost see it being a reasonable precaution for transitioning into an e-book economy, even though crippling the greatest strength of the format - increased access - pisses me off. I suppose a one-person-at-a-time, limited-term loan is how they distinguish between a loan and an unpaid permanent gift.

But I find the once-or-not-at-all loan limit unforgivable. Why can't I loan it to as many people as I like, just as in print? Why is there a restriction on exposing more people to the material, to tempt them into buying their own forever-copies, or other books by the same author? That's just stupid. Do they think all my friends will just buy all my favorite books on my say-so, because I like them? Do they think I'm willing to buy a new copy for every friend I want to make read the book? Stupid. And I can't even count how many books I bought because somebody introduced them - or their author - to me through a loan. I'm sure it's most of my library. There is no way they're making more money by restricting loans than they would be by enabling them. It's idiocy, and it's offensive.

So until the loaning policies change, I'll be making an extra effort to buy in print - or DRM-free from non-Amazon sources, if available - for anything I suspect I'll want to share with my family.

Of course, I could resolve this whole issue if I were to just break the DRM and pass on the file anyway. Ironic, that these supposed anti-piracy measures are the only things that actually tempt me to piracy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Making my own Kindle-readable files

In the abstract: wouldn't it be nice to write a book, and pop it up on the web for people to download and read? (Ha ha! That would be work.)

In the more immediately practical: I'd like to make a recipe collection for myself.

I've got a little wooden box for recipes on 3x5 cards, but that doesn't really work well for me. And my laptop is nice for getting web recipes, but it takes up a good third of my counter space, and it goes into a dimmed-screen power-save mode almost instantly upon being left alone, which means I have to wash my hands every damn time I want to look at the recipe. I want to try my Kindle, which uses less power (none, actually, if you don't turn the page), hibernates less frequently, and takes up less counter space. If I could make a Kindle-readable file of my favorite recipes - the ones I've hammered out well enough that I'm not editing them anymore, anyway - I could have a nice compact personal cookbook that I could also share with my cousin whenever she asks for a recipe.

The easy part of this would be writing up the recipes; Kindle will read .txt files. But I want to be able to index them, too, so you can just click at the table of contents to get to a specific recipe. So the file needs to be a .mobi. My first attempts to create a file with links in Open Office and then convert it from .rtf to .mobi with calibre didn't work, so I went hunting on the web.

There's apparently free .mobi creation software, Mobipocket - but when I went to the download page, it says it requires Windows. That's a problem for me and my MacBook. Maybe I didn't look hard enough, but I couldn't find another .mobi maker.

But there's also free .epub creation software, Sigil. Kindle doesn't read .epub - jerks - but calibre converts between .epub and .mobi pretty handily. And I found a basic tutorial on how to make a table of contents in Sigil, which would then carry over through the conversion process. I downloaded the software, made a little test file ("Chapter one - blah blah blah; page break. Chapter two - blah blah blah."), converted it and stuck it on my Kindle - and voila! It works!

I made a quick cookbook file with the recipes I've been most bothered by lately (and I named it "How To Serve Man"), and used it yesterday. It was nice. It was a fairly quick recipe - cocoa brownies - and the Kindle didn't hibernate on me at all while I was making it. The biggest problem I had was that the ingredients were on one "page", and the instructions were on the next, so if the instructions said "add the flour" and I'd forgotten how much flour I needed, I would have had to wash my hands and turn back a page. I do not consider this a big problem: I could fix it easily by writing the amounts into the instructions. Also, the instructions for this one were simple enough that I actually hadn't left the ingredients page, anyway.

I'm pleased with the experiment. And editing the cookbook isn't hard - the basics of Sigil are really user-friendly - but the fact that I'll have to go through Calibre to make a new .mobi file out of it every time I make a change will make re-compiling it a little awkward. I mean, only two minutes worth of awkward, but nonetheless.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Science fiction for girls", which isn't

So I saw this article - 10 Great Science Fiction Books For Girls - and my immediate reaction was a cross between Are you fucking kidding me and You expect me to believe a female compiled this list?

The Windup Girl? Seriously? I'm gonna name names here: The Windup Girl was the third book in that insulting/hurtful line-up I mentioned in another post. This was the one that broke me, because it wasn't just a casual, thoughtless, dead-girlfriend-as-motivator: it was a well-written book which I admired structurally, but which featured really fucking hurtful graphic rape scenes, written from the victim's perspective well enough to put you in her head: that could be me. It's going to be years before I can even read this author's young adult books - he is too skillful, and I do not trust him not to hurt me. I would never recommend this book to a girl. I would have serious reservations recommending it to a woman.

Along the same lines: The Handmaid's Tale? Really? A book about the complete subjugation of women, against which they are as helpless to fight as they were to prevent it, is great reading for girls? This is not a book I'd give to my hypothetical daughter while she's still young enough to consider a "girl". This is not a book I'd give her to teach her about who she can be, what she can accomplish, or what she can hope for from life. This is a book I'd give her when she's ready to learn about what she needs to fucking fear.

And four of the books on this list - Dune, Stranger In A Strange Land, Ender's Game, and Frankenstein  - aren't on it because they're particularly interesting to girls. They're on the list because they're Classics Everyone Should Read. Here's what the article authors have to say about that:
  • "We don’t think girls should only read books about girls";
  • "Though the female characters in this novel aren’t particularly inspiring, we think the story is weird, brilliant, and universal enough to creep slowly into just about anyone’s head";
  • "Since it’s the world’s best-selling science fiction novel and all, we think there have to be at least a few girls behind this book. "
  • "...and hey, it was written by a woman."
Give me a break. Put it on your "Classics Everyone Should Read" list, not on a "For Girls" list. It's not the same thing.

Six of the books were written before I was born, and I'm well past girlhood. How old would you say a "girl" is right now? Let's say 18, tops (an arguable figure, as the line between girl/woman depends on experience more than age, I think): that means today's girls were born in 1994 or later, which puts eight of these books as written before they were born. Sure, some books age well, but there is a serious difference between the issues girls face today and the issues their mothers and their grandmothers faced. And you're not going to find help on dealing with any of those issues in something written by Heinlein or Card, who are not noted for their advanced views on women's role in society.

My personal list for "10 Great Science Fiction Books For Girls", off the top of my head, would have included Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia's Honor or Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall of Pern trilogy - but you know what? Born in 1994 or later. This is not my generation, their issues are not mine: the oldest of them could, just barely, be my daughters. While Menolly breaking the Harper Hall's glass ceiling still spoke to me when I read it in 1993 - I, whose mother had been living a glass ceiling story - I suspect today's generation would find more relevance in the stories in which the glass ceilings are already lying in pieces at their feet. It's certainly not a perfect reflection of reality, but it's a better reflection of the reality we're currently striving to achieve for them, the reality they'll be working towards as they grow (as the initial breaking of the ceiling was something my mother was working towards for me). So Harper Hall should probably be #11 on the list: bonus material. (Although, can you count the Harper Hall trilogy as science fiction, when they're heavier on Pern's fantasy elements than its sf ones?) Would Cordelia's Honor still make the list? Possibly; I'll have to think about it.

But I bet that a lot of the books that really ought to be on such a list are more recent publications. For example, John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale is a better candidate for the list than any of the titles I've just been bitching about - dude specifically wrote Zoe's Tale with his pre-teen daughter in mind. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, maybe? I'd be willing to bet that most of the best "for girls" science fiction books are currently being shelved in Young Adult and/or marketed as "dystopias" instead of "science fiction", and I haven't explored those as much as I could. I'm feeling a need to look now.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede

I really loved this book, and its sequel, Across the Great Barrier. Like Summers at Castle Auburn, they're ones that I keep thinking about fondly, and seriously consider re-reading Right Away rather than Eventually. (I've nibbled at Summers, and did re-read Thirteenth Child pretty soon after.)

Thirteenth Child is set in 1800s America, where the frontier is filled with magical monsters instead of Indians*. It's an alternate universe, but not the sort where one thing changes and everything else diverges from that; it's always been different, and always been similar. Washington and Jefferson were still presidents; Jefferson and Franklin were wizards; the Civil War still happened, but thirty years sooner; slavery still existed, but apparently Africa was by and large still powerful enough that they were the ones to colonize South America.

The main character is Eff; she's the thirteenth child in a family that was trying for a seventh son, because the father is himself a seventh son. The seventh son of a seventh son is a powerful magician. Unfortunately, the common wisdom is that the thirteenth child is, at the least, bad luck; some people (like Eff's uncle) even believe them malicious. It doesn't make for a happy childhood for Eff, until her family (minus the oldest, grown children) moves to the frontier, where nobody knows how many kids there were or what order they were born in.

But Eff still knows. She's constantly questioning her own motivations: is this the sort of thing I would do if I were starting to go bad? It's really interesting to watch Eff and her twin, Lan, grow up under the influence of What Everybody Knows about thirteenth children and double-seventh sons.

And I liked the American setting. It really felt like an American fantasy rather than a European/medievalish one, and that's a nice change.

* This is the only thing that disturbs me about these books: no Indians. Their massacre is one of the great American sins, and it bugs me that it's eliminated in this alternate history not because the colonists chose a better path, but because the victims don't exist. Did I miss them? Do they exist in the world, and merely weren't involved with these particular stories? Are they supposed to not be around because the monsteredness of middle America held them West? Whatever the reason, their absence bothers me.

Of Blood And Honey, by Stina Leicht

Of Blood And Honey was a good book; I enjoyed the mix of fairies vs. fallen angels in the middle of the 1970s Irish/English conflict.


About two years ago, I read three books in a row that dealt with women in a manner that was insulting or hurtful to me; it gave me a strong aversion to stories with predominantly male casts, where the female characters were just there as accessories to the males - trophies, victims, dead girlfriends to provide motivation for the hero's Psychotic Mission Of Vengeance. Books where a single strong female lead might exist, only to get raped and/or killed later; books where the text says a woman is strong, but in practice she just gets kidnapped and needs rescued.

This book hits those notes. Reading this was like poking an old wound to see if it still hurts. Yep. Still hurts. It's not as enraging as it was immediately after that one-two-three punch, but it's still annoying: a good story spoiled.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Does it come in threes?

Just this morning, feeding the baby and thinking about books and writing, I idly wondered how Daniel Abraham goes about constructing his stories; so far, everything of his that I've read has been really well done, and something I feel like I could study and learn from. But that's the kind of thing that might be a little creepy to ask (I am getting a little more aware of common Wannabe behaviors I should avoid), so it was just an idle thought.

Then I open up my RSS feed and see that the dude is starting a series of blog posts on just that topic. Cool!

Also this morning, I was going through my wish lists and checking to see if there were any 2011 titles I really wanted to read but hadn't yet, in case they made the open slots on my Hugo nomination ballot. I was also checking my public library to see which books (2011 or not) I could borrow, especially in Kindle format. One of the 2011 titles I'd been interested in, Of Blood And Honey, was in the library, but only in print. I debated getting in the car, but I procrastinated.

And then I open up my RSS feed tonight and see that the Kindle ebook for Of Blood And Honey is temporarily free! Cool!

I wonder what I should wish for next?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Voting for the Hugos

At almost the last minute, I decided to plunk down the $50 to vote on the Hugo Awards again this year. (There's still time to register, if you do it before midnight tonight, though I'm not sure which time zone. "Supporting" membership is enough to nominate and vote.)

There isn't a book I was quite so squeeful over this year as last*, but without trying too hard I can already think of a few I'd nominate. And I've decided: I'm done with just looking at awards/best-of/top-10 lists and being disgusted at the sheer glut of white guys, or on Popular Author X winning again on a book I felt was weaker than their usual, and grumbling to myself about Some People's Taste. I can vote on this particular award; I am going to.

Also, a little selfishly/cheapskatedly/greedily: the past few years, there's been an e-book package of the final nominees distributed to the Hugo voters, so they can cast informed votes. It generally costs me $50 or more to collect just the novel nominees, anyway, and sometimes the shorter fiction is harder to get my hands on**. So if they do that again this year, I come out ahead. Win!

* But my favorite, Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, didn't make the short list - didn't even show up on the full breakdown of the ballots, in fact. (Scroll down on that page - the detailed ballot is the PDF link at the bottom.) Either I was mistaken about its eligibility, or only a handful of people nominated it, and it became one of the zillions of books with only like 1 vote, so didn't get listed. Le sigh!

** Although this is at least partially because of my unfamiliarity with the market - I haven't really checked to see which magazines are free, and which my libraries subscribe to, and which anthologies I can get through interlibrary loan, etc.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Terrier, by Tamora Pierce

I have the trick of reading one-handed down; writing, not so much. It's been a rough couple of weeks*, during which I have read more books than I am currently capable of writing about.

The best of these was the Beka Cooper trilogy, by Tamora Pierce. My sister gifted me the first, Terrier, with a note that said she and her daughter were reading and loving the series. I totally agree with them: these books are amazing.

The spirits of the dead ride pigeonback to their final resting place with the Black God; Beka Cooper has the magical Gift of hearing their voices. She joins the city guards, the Dogs; her Gift is very useful in this career. Born into poverty, herself, she's determined to protect the downtrodden folk of the Lower City, who have no one to turn to but the Dogs - and Beka knows from experience that often even the Dogs don't answer.

The trilogy is a set of Beka's journals, written either as memory exercises to improve her writing skills for her official reports, or as a record of a Hunt as it happens, in case she winds up too dead to make that official report. I love Beka's voice: she uses Lower City slang, and Dog slang, that really makes her sound like a lower-class fantasy-world newbie cop. She's confident or enraged or depressed as appropriate for the moment in which she's writing the journal entry.

I love that she makes newbie mistakes, in accordance with her actual newbie status. She goes in thinking she's going to be the hottest hotshot ever, and almost right away screws up, and the journal entry for that day is so terribly, realistically disheartened and disillusioned. She's talented, but she's inexperienced, and her actions reflect that.

I like the romance arcs: in most stories, you meet the love interest right away, and their happily ever after is just waiting to happen. But that's not how it happens in real life; this is one of the ways in which fairy tales sabotage our expectations for reality, so I'm glad to see that model broken here. Beka does not meet her soul mate in the first book, nor in the second. Instead, she dates. She has to deal with lust, bad news boys to avoid, breakups, guilt, death, trust issues. It isn't a simple Girl Meets Boy, with everything working out for the lovebirds in the end; she goes through several boys where it just isn't going to work out. I like that it isn't happily ever after for Beka on the first try.

Additionally, Beka has no interest in having her Dog career cut short by pregnancy, nor in returning to the slums as just another victim instead of as a protector, so she's very careful about who she gets involved with, how close she gets to him, and using precautions when she does decide to hook up with the dude. There's no glossing over the potential consequences of having sex. Beka knows that It Could Happen To Her, so she takes action to make sure it doesn't. I like that this is happening in a young adult book.

The second book (Bloodhound) is about counterfeiting. I would not have expected that to be enthralling, but it was. Who knew?

The third (Mastiff) is about the major Hunt that makes Beka important enough that her descendants are calling her their famous ancestress. I liked that one a lot, too, although the heartbreaking twist at the end is pretty heartbreaking. I, like Beka, would have preferred that certain asses had not set themselves up for needing kicked. One of the characters has a big choice to make, and chooses poorly. It's a much more interesting story for having happened like that, but it's still the sort of thing where you want to yell at the pages, far too late, Don't do it!

* Childbirth sucks. Where's my goddamn uterine replicator, already?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Heads up: temporarily discounted e-book

In case you're interested - there's a limited-time $2.99 sale on the ebook for Leviathan Wakes, which includes an ARC of The Dragon's Path. (Found through the authors' blog - Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.)

Some other titles are on sale too, but these two are the ones I was interested in. I hadn't been able to decide what format to buy them in, so I was procrastinating on buying them at all. At $3 for the both of them, I won't feel so bad if I change my mind after reading them and decide I need a print copy too (someday), for archives or for loaning.

The loan restrictions on e-books are the biggest downside to the format, IMO. I'm cool with not putting shit on the internet for the whole world to download, but forbidding me to loan a good book to my best friend is really demanding too much.