[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
There haven't been many acquisitions lately due to a shortage of funds. Blame the car, the laptop, the car, and the car again. Meh.

I can't believe how many years we managed without a car and now the damn thing is essential and it has to work every damn day.

Anyway, I digress, and if I continue this will turn into a blog about car woes, which are much less interesting than books.

The good news is that I finally exerted myself to potter down to the local library and now I have a shiny library card that lets me borrow books. Not just physical books from the library, but also ebooks, and audiobooks that I can play on my phone. The library interface allows me to browse the entire collection held by the county and put holds on books I want to read. Those books then magically appear at the local library at the massive expense of 25p each. That's almost affordable in these post-car-fixing days.

The first book I borrowed was Air Confidential: A Flight Attendant's Tales of Sex, Rage and Outrageousness at 30, 000 Feet by Elliott Hester.

Air Confidential cover

What is it about air travel that brings out the craziest, rudest and most ridiculous side of human nature? After fourteen years as an air steward Elliot Hester still doesn't know. However, he does know all about crazy passengers, stressed-out crew and the infamous Mile High club.

It looked like it might be fun. Sadly, it wasn't. Some of the stories could have been fairly interesting but Hester didn't seem to have the knack of rendering them funny. Shame. Turns out ordinary people are almost as mundane in the air as on the ground.

Mostly to work out how it was done, I later downloaded an audiobook of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel to my phone. It can be surprisingly restful lying and listening to someone read a book to you. Unfortunately, it's so restful that I haven't yet heard it all the way through.

Wolf Hall cover

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition.

Yes, the Tudors. You can't get away from them these days. Blearch.

Once my laptop came back from being mended (NB dropping your laptop on a concrete floor is Not Recommended), I explored the possibilities of obtaining books from the wider library collection. This involved working my way through the Mistressworks wishlist. Seems the library is almost as unpredictable in whether or not it has these books as online vendors can be, but I did find two.

Synners by Pat Cadigan.

Synners cover

In Synners, the line between technology and humanity is hopelessly slim. A constant stream of new technology spawns crime before it hits the streets; the human mind and the external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with "reality" is incidental.

Shikasta by Doris Lessing.

Shikasta cover

This study guide consists of approx. 43 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more – everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Shikasta.

Intriguing, no? And with shades of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish series.

The third book that arrived is by a Mistressworks author, but not actually a Mistressworks book.

Where by Kit Reed.

Where cover

In a coastal town on the Outer Carolina Banks, David Ribault and Merrill Poulnot are trying to revive their stale relationship and commit to marriage, and a slick developer claiming to be related to a historic town hero, Rawson Steele, has come to town and is buying up property.

Doesn't sound very SFnal. But I checked on Goodreads and it is the same Kit Reed, so we shall see what we shall see.

Finally, a free book arrived through the door. Technically, it was addressed to [livejournal.com profile] monissaw but a free book is a free book. An ARC, hence the unconventional cover.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent.

Lying in Wait cover

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don't plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.

Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.


Nice people, huh?

Thus ends this desultory round-up of books I have not been able to buy this month.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein.

Steerswoman cover

The Steerswoman plays with the reader's expectations, teasing them as to whether this story is "really" SF or if it's Fantasy. There's magic--or is there? Perhaps it's fakery. Or electricity. The reader must make up their own mind.

Steerswomen like Rowan (and a few men) are the keepers and disseminators of knowledge. They must answer any question they are asked or cease to follow their calling. In return, anyone who fails to answer their questions is blacklisted, unable ever to question a steerswoman again.

Rowan is intrigued by some gems or jewels that have turned up in various places, as if thrown across the land by a giant's hand. There's no obvious way they could have been made, or inserted themselves into trees. At the same time, they don't seem to have any particular value. Yet someone is determined to put an end to her investigation. For protection, Rowan links up with Outskirter Bel, and, despite the differences between them, they gradually become friends.

But as Rowan persists in investigating, the two friends are drawn further into danger.

I enjoyed this book. It sets up a believable and well-drawn society, and Rowan and Bel have strength, intelligence and endurance without being set up as superheroes. Their determination reminds me of Snake in Dreamsnake. My only difficulty was that Rowan's intellectual leap regarding the nature of the jewels struck me as coming out of the blue. I didn't feel enough groundwork had been laid for it to convince. A small blemish on an otherwise well-constructed book.

Where the narrative is strongest is in the interactions between Rowan and Bel. Both stick to their own principles while slowly coming to appreciate the other's point of view. As their friendship strengthens, so their characters gain depth. The young man whose help they obtain later in the story, William, is perhaps not quite so well characterised; in fact he's a bit annoying. Or maybe he's annoying because the author wants us to know, hey, this guy's annoying. But he means well.

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr.

Polar City Blues cover

Set on the planet Hagar, where life is mostly conducted after dark, due to the sun's intensity, Polar City Blues is a curious mixture of a detective story with a First Contact tale. It has an impressively diverse cast, including a furry and naturally mute telepath, and white people who are considered inferior to the dominant blacks.

Hagar, a Republic planet, is caught between the rival powers of the Confederation and the Alliance. When an alien carli from the Confederation Embassy is found murdered, Chief Bates must investigate while walking a tightrope of diplomacy. And when telepath Mulligan is swatted by an unknown power, and an unknown assassin targets any witnesses to the carli's assassination, ex-Naval officer Lacey must put her life on the line to identify the assassin.

Add to this a crashed pod, another murdered alien, his distraught soulmate and a spreading alien bacterium that makes people smell of vinegar (and itch. And ITCH.).

Despite the SFnal trappings, there's much here that's tediously familiar. Drugs and drug dealing. Prostitution. Crime bosses. Spies. Hate mobs. Some part of me wants something different from human life on a different world. A way of living that, if not better, is at least other. Yet even the presence of effective telepaths doesn't seem to affect the way people behave.

Then we have Buddy, the AI who's in love with Lacey, and also incredibly cutesy and annoying. At some point in his narrative arc, I wanted to put the book down and walk away. It is possible to go too far in AI/human love rivalry, I fear.

The book is readable, if a bit slow-paced, and there's plenty of intrigue for those who can wrap their heads around such machinations.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

Dreamsnake cover

Dreamsnake is unusual among post-apocalyptic science fiction in that new ways of living have been built, some of them technological, others closer to the land, and there's very little harking back to the past. The 'ancients' are mentioned and some of their buildings and their mistakes survive, but for the most part Dreamsnake's characters live in the present. As do we.

Snake is a healer who uses three snakes to diagnose and cure illness and disease. One is Grass, a dreamsnake, a species that originates with offworlders who are mentioned but never appear. Dreamsnakes are incredibly rare and the healers have had very little luck in trying to breed them. Yet at the same time they are essential to the healer's work--they bring comfort and ease to the dying.

When she is treating a boy called Stavin for a tumour, Snake misjudges the fear and hatred of his clan for snakes, resulting in Grass's death. Desolate and blaming herself, Snake resolves to return to the healers' hall where she was trained. But on the way she finds more people to help, and learns of a possible source of dreamsnakes. If she can bring dreamsnakes to her fellow healers, then maybe the loss of Grass will be forgiven.

The writing is spare and overall doesn't try to evoke emotion in the reader, which perhaps makes for a little distancing. But Snake is an interesting and compassionate character, who is also brave when trying to do the right thing. On her journey she introduces us to the different ways of living that have developed in the aftermath of what seems to have been a nuclear war. Tribespeople, desert people, horse breeders, recyclers, the closed and enigmatic city, all are glimpsed through Snake's eyes and so imperfectly understood.

The snake medicine is fascinating, being a mixture of breeding, training, and genetic manipulation. Snake can let the snakes free to hunt, drink or explore, knowing they will return to her when she taps the ground. But although she's immune to their venom, she's not impervious to being bitten. It's these small details that make the snakes realistic.

Overall, an intriguing and enjoyable read.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Book pile

There has been much reading since the last post, and these aren't even all of them--just the ones that happened to be sitting in a 'read' pile on the floor. They're not in reading order as that would require organisation and proper entry of data into libib. They're just books I've recently read.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Memory cover

Book 10 in the Miles Vorkosigan series, and perhaps an odd choice when I haven't read 1-9, yet it was selected for the Mistressworks list, so here we are. The copy available on Awesome Books was a hardback, which isn't my favourite, but when you're buying cheap books online you take what's there. A nice, clean copy, anyway.

Memory was an easy read, but not a very satisfying one. It starts with Miles waking up, then goes into detailed flashback, and nothing much happens for about the first half of the book. When it finally gets going, it's interesting enough, and succeeded in fooling me as to the identity of the villain. But it reads more like a book for fans--perhaps not unreasonable when it's the tenth in a series. During the denouement I just kept wishing it would end.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

H is for Hawk cover

This was a much-recommended book when it first came out, and certainly piqued my interest. When I saw the hardback on sale at 99p in a charity shop, I grabbed it.

Books that receive this much praise are often a disappointment, but I adored H is for Hawk. It's passionate, devastating, and, ultimately, hopeful. After her father's death, Helen Mcdonald is locked into a grieving process without apparent end. An experienced falconer, she branches out into goshawks, which have a bad reputation, and acquires a young bird she calls Mabel. The book follows Mabel's training, known as 'manning' as well as Mcdonald's slow emergence from her state of grief. At no point does Mcdonald hold back on the emotions of her grief, and of her repeated sense at failure in manning Mabel, even though she has a friend who assures her she's doing fine.

Interspersed with this narrative is a commentary on T.H. White (of The Sword in the Stone fame) and his trials and tribulations in failing to man a goshawk he called Gos. Mcdonald takes us through White's own book, The Goshawk, and alternatively weeps and rages over his failings and the bird's suffering.

Not for the faint-hearted, and to be treated carefully by those experiencing their own grief.

Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter.

Heroes and Villains cover

Heroes and Villains is a post-apocalyptic novel, of which women seem to have written far more examples than I realised before I began reading through the Mistressworks list. And yes, this is another Mistressworks book. It's also short, but makes up for that by being very dense with description and the evocation of the post-disaster landscape.

The book follows the story of Marianne, born and raised in a heavily-protected university environment, who longs for the freedom and wildness offered by the bike gangs who frequently raid the settlement. When she sees a young raider injured and gone into hiding, she sets out to rescue him. Her naive wish for adventure lands her in the middle of the gang's temporary base, and married to the young man she tried to save, and who has raped her.

Carter never shies away from stories other writers might hesitate to consider, and here we are obliged to see Marianne coping with her new husband, and enjoying sex with him despite an unpromising beginning. She's living in a dream where he is the only bulwark against the other raiders and their rough lifestyle and unhealthy environment. At the same time, she has to deal with another exile from the universities that dot the landscape--her husband's gay mentor, who keeps trying to kill him.

It's an uncomfortable and uncomforting book that refuses to conform to a mainstream view of women and their relationships with men. Suppose you did marry your rapist--and suppose you were attracted to him because of his potential for violence, because of his wild beauty, and because he's everything you're not supposed to want? These are the places we dare not look.

Such a book should probably be loaded with trigger warnings.

Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan.

Queen City Jazz cover

One of the best SF writers you've never heard of, Goonan, here creates an astonishingly dense hard SF novel that explores a future of nanotech and the use of DNA for information storage. It's difficult to believe this book was first published in 1994, as the science is bang up to date.

It's not exactly a post-apocalyptic novel, for the world--well, Ohio--hasn't been destroyed so much as radically changed. People live in isolated communities, fearful of the nano-plagues that drive the infected to build rafts and sail down to New Orleans, where the conditions are unknown and unknowable.

Verity lives in a tiny community that worships a cult figure and by which she was adopted after being certified plague-free. Yet she has two curious bumps on her head, purpose unknown, which worry both her family and her. Verity longs to explore beyond her small world and to remember what she learns from the library's immersive couches, but her opportunity comes at a price. When a member of her community kills both her best friend and her dog, she must travel to Cincinnati in search of a way to bring them back to life.

(There are definite similarities up to this point with Heroes and Villains, see above)

Verity's trip to Cincinnati is fraught with danger and strange encounters, but it's when she penetrates the heart of the city that the story really begins. For Cincinnati's residents are caught in a cycle of impersonating artists and acting out stories that begins when the giant Bees awake from hibernation and continues remorselessly until winter returns.

Further, Verity discovers that she (and many other Verities both past and future) has been created for the purpose of finding a way to end this cycle, and return control of their own lives to Cincinnati's people. But is she up to the task? And what will she become?

A long and intense read that requires effort on the part of the reader, Queen City Jazz is also chock-full of references, most of which I probably didn't get. It would definitely reward insiders more.

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler.

Sister Noon cover

My niece gifted me this book when she went home, stating clearly that she didn't recommend it. We'd both loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but this book wasn't nearly as loveable, for reasons that remain obscure.

On the face of it, it's a Fantasy version of a tale familiar to those who've read books about the travails of poor, middle-class women attempting to present a genteel face to the world. Lizzie Hayes raises funds for a home for abandoned and illegitimate children, and even though she's only the treasurer, she keeps being called upon to make important decisions concerning the admission of children and their welfare. This inevitably brings her into conflict with the matron, who seems to be the only other person active in the running of the home.

But Lizzie's problems multiply when she meets Mrs Pleasant (who appears in the novel in several different guises) and learns, through Mrs Pleasant's nominal employer, that her own father may have murdered a young woman.

It's hard to know what in this novel is true, and what is an identity woven out of mystery and dreams. That's fine, but it's also hard to know if it's Lizzie's story, or Mrs Pleasant's in any of her multiple identities, or that of Jenny, the small orphan girl Lizzie is drawn to without much liking her.

Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a book; it just doesn't work for me. That may be the case here.

The Universe Against Her by James H. Schmitz.

The Universe Against Her cover

Many, many years ago, I read this book--or part of it--and it's stuck with me ever since. Stuck with me in the sense that I could remember Tick-Tock (but not her name) and some of the story, but neither author nor title. Finally I decided to cast my query onto the waters of the internet, and see what the tide brought me, and SF guru David Langford identified the book immediately.

The parts I remember are as good as I remember, but, to be honest, the book isn't all that good. It especially went downhill for me after the departure from the story of Tick-Tock, the giant, alien, telepathic cat, from the story. But it was lovely to know what book it was, and to read it again.

Telzey Amerbdon travels to the planet Jontarou to visit her aunt with her pet, Tick-Tock, who she found as a kitten and who appears to have a telepathic link with her. Unfortunately, the visit is a plot by the spiteful aunt to separate Telzey from her pet, who is apparently the last in a species of cats that once inhabited Jontarou. As those cats are now extinct, Tick-Tock must be impounded in the hope she can be used to repopulate the species.

But, as Telzey discovers, the cats are far from extinct--and they're very angry.

(end of part one)
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The acquisition of books is a never-ending process. It seems.

Many years ago, when I was a member of a writers' board called Backspace, one of the members was Sara Gruen, and there was a lot of chatter about her book Water for Elephants. It never struck me as a book I wanted to read, but when I saw a copy on sale on the Co-op's charity table the other day, I picked it up. Only 50p, so what the heck.

Water for Elephants cover

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

As I say, doesn't really sound like my kind of thing. But we'll see.

50p, remember.

I also bought a book by Philip Reeve that I thought was on my wishlist, but it was one I'd already read. I gave it to other half for their school library, so it wasn't a total waste. Only 50p, again.

In pursuance of my goal of reading, or at least attempting to read, all the books on Ian Sales' SF Mistressworks list, I bought another four books from Awesome Books, of which three have arrived.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Memory cover

This turned out to be a hardback, which is nice in some ways, but a tad annoying in others, as I find them more difficult to read. Their corners dig into my hands. Yes, I have supersoft hands, thanks not to Fairy Liquid, but to a regimen of moisturising to keep my eczema at bay.

Mind you, no book has caused me as much pain as the paperback of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which was so large and heavy it made my hands and wrists ache.

Anyway, back to Memory. Remember that? (Yuk Yuk)

Forced to abandon his undercover role as leader of the Dendarii Mercenaries, Miles Vorkosigan persuades Emperor Gregor to appoint him Imperial Auditor so he can penetrate Barrayar’s intelligence and security operations (ImpSec).

This is the tenth book in the Vorkosigan saga, and to be honest I'm not quite sure why Ian picked it for the list. I think I've read a book in this series before, and didn't become an instant fan. Still, I'm willing to give it a try.

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr.

(The title of this book always makes me want to start singing, "Union, Union, Union City Blues." But I digress.)

Polar City Blues cover

A handsome paperback this one, with a good cover.

Polar City: capital of Hagar, one of a handful of worlds on which the tiny, human-dominated Republic sits, uneasily squeezed between the powerful Interstellar Confederation and the enormous Coreward Alliance.

I have to say, I hoped it would be a city in Antarctica, so there's a slight measure of disappointment here.

The quote from Locus on the back doesn't inspire me, either: "There's cops, there's drugrunners, there's whores and pimps...." Uh. Good? How...original.

I probably need to go into this book with a more optimistic mindset than it's given me reason for so far.

Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan.

I observed recently on Twitter that there are a lot of SFFnal books with "City" in the title. Someone should look into that someday.

Queen City Jazz cover

In Verity's world, nanotech plagues decimated the population after an initial renaissance of utopian nanotech cities. Growing up on an isolated farm, she finds her happy life changing course when Blaze, the only young man in the community, and Verity's best friend, is shot.


I felt obliged to insert a comma into that description. You may guess where, if you like.

That's it for the Mistressworks books for now. There's plenty to come, however--it's a long list.

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler.

My niece from America came to visit us recently (I think her parents were there as well) and gave me this book once she'd finished reading it. "I don't recommend it," she said, which isn't a great recommendation, but hey, a book is a book.

Sister Noon cover

I see I had no idea where to shelve this book, so it went in "General Fiction". Maybe I'll have a better idea once I've read it.

I have read other KJF books and enjoyed them, particularly Sarah Canary and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but then there was The Jane Austen Book Club, so.... We'll see.

Lizzie Hayes, a member of the San Francisco elite, is a seemingly docile, middle-aged spinster praised for her volunteer work with the Ladies Relief and Protection Society Home, or "The Brown Ark". All she needs is the spark that will liberate her from the ruling conventions.

Pointing From the Grave by Samantha Weinberg.

Pointing From the Grave cover

A charity shop find, this one, picked up for "future reference". Maybe one day I will write the crime novel I've got all these research materials for.

Pointing from the Grave is not only a riveting true-crime story but also a fascinating history of the development of DNA research and its role in forensics, taking the reader on a virtual history of DNA with hard science presented in a very accessible and exciting way. It is also an unforgettable story about an unforgettable woman.

That's all the ones I can find for now. Books appear from every crevice, so there's undoubtedly more.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I went to the podiatrist's with my Dad on Tuesday, and the hospital housing said podiatry has a small tea shop that sells secondhand books. Books of course have a magnetic attraction for both me and Dad. Nothing immediately suggested itself for buying, but when I looked under the most obvious shelf, among the jigsaws I found a copy of The Queen Of The Tearling by Erika Johansen, marked at 60p. Although someone had attached a sticky label to write the price on, the first stroke of 6 was actually on the book's cover.

The Tearling books have had some traction on Twitter, so I decided to buy this one and give it a try. What's one more book?

Queen of the Tearling cover image

Handsome cover, is it not?

Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret after her mother – a monarch as vain as she was foolish – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent however he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother’s guard - each pledged to defend the queen to the death - arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding...

So onto the pile it goes.

Before it became apparent that my mad money was hostage to the diesel needed to get OH to and from work, I ordered four more books from Ian Sales' Mistressworks list. Most of these books are out of print, and difficult to find on the high street, so it's easiest to get them from a mass secondhand retailer like Awesome Books. Four books cost me just under £11 with free postage.

As I've mostly been buying books from the start of the wishlist, I decided to buy some from the end for a change. So instead of G's and H's I've ended up with S W and V.

Alphabetically, they are:

Star Rider by Doris Piserchia, published by The Women's Press in 1987 (first published 1974).

Star Rider cover image

The Women's Press published a small but distinctive imprint of SF by women and Ian Sales has compiled a non-definitive list here.

Jaks claim humans as their ancestors, but have developed, along with their mounts, the power to jump through dimensions and skip across the spaces between the stars. There are other inhabitants of the galaxy and they have their eyes on one young jak: the dreens want to imprison her in motherhood; the varks grin and stay inscrutable. But Jade of the Galaxy has a razor sharp mind and a faithful mount called Hinx. Where will she skip to? Who will she take with her?

Sounds a bit like what all the cool kids are now calling YA. Let's hope Hinx doesn't turn out to be a jinx.

This book had a small faded sticker on the back from Ryman, now removed.

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein, published by Pan in their Fantasy imprint.

This book is described on the back as Science Fiction/Fantasy, so I'm wondering if it really belongs in a Science Fiction list. Maybe reading it will provide clarification.

The Steerswoman cover image

The jewel was opalescent, its blue and purple tones shifting with the play of light on its silver-veined surface. The face was perfectly smooth, far smoother than a jeweller could have cut it. In all her travels, Rowan had seen only a few like it--and she was sure they were no natural creations.

The blurb goes on to mention wizards. Sounds a bit Fantasyish to me.

Vast by Linda Nagata, published by Gollancz.

Vast cover image

Aboard Null Boundary, a giant starship thousands of years old, four survivors of an ancient alien war are making a desperate journey.

On the back of this book was a small sticker from Oxfam reading, obscurely, 13.

Now that sounds a lot more like Science Fiction to me.

The Wave and the Flame by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, also published by Gollancz.

The Wave and the Flame cover image

They came to the planet in search of wealth--and found a mystery as old as time....

No stickers on this one, and, going by the spine, it's never been read.

There's another book on its way, but we'll talk about that another time.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Some books I found lying around my chair and which therefore I must have bought recently and neglected to take upstairs.

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells.

It's not often one of the charity shops throws up Book 1 in a series. So, yay. If I like it I may actually buy another one new. This has been known to happen.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

This book got a lot of traction when it first came out, but it was out of my price range. At £14 off, it's a steal.

The Phantom Army of Alamein by Rick Stroud.

I actually bought this for Dad, but he doesn't seem to want it, so it can go upstairs and be added to the massive piles blocking the floor.

The Time Team Dig Book by Tim Taylor.

For the pictures. And, no, not the pictures of Tony Robinson. Really, people!

(I am digging these books out from under piles of magazines. I read a lot of magazines, apparently!)

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

For the Mistressworks list. For which I also recently picked up a few others:

The Archivist by Gill Alderman and

Missing Man by Katherine MacLean (ebook).

Also a book by a Mistressworks author:

1610: A Sundial in a Grave by Mary Gentle.

Sometimes I do this when I can't get the actual book; in this case the actual book is (probably) 220 miles away.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett.

Part of the "round-up" of Pratchett books we inexplicably don't already have. Conversely, once we conflated our collection with Dad's, we now have two copies of some books--and, in at least one case, three.

A Million Suns and Shades of Earth by Beth Revis.

These books were sitting on the shelves of the little tea shop at the hospital where Dad sees his podiatrist. They're books two and three of a series. No sign of book one. I was reluctant to buy them without the first book but they were half-price and the covers were soooo good. So. Here we are.

And finally, to prove I don't buy all my books secondhand, these are recent prizes from Waterstones:

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab;

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan and

The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

All of which I am looking forward to so much I almost don't dare read them.

The bookshelves groan, or they would if there were even a smidgeon of space left on them.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Published in 1979, Octavia Butler's Kindred is one of her few stand-alone novels. Narrated in the first person, it tells the story of Dana Franklin, a black woman from 1976 who is repeatedly transported to the South of the USA in the nineteenth century, usually without, but once with, her white husband Kevin.

Dana's knowledge of the history of slavery in the USA, which includes her own family's history, enables her to adapt to being dragged through time to rescue her ancestors, Rufus Weylin and Alice Jackson, from injury, illness and death. Rufus is the son of a slaveowner, and Alice a free black woman who is later enslaved. One of Dana's rescues of Rufus is saving him from the wrath of Isaac, Alice's husband, who has caught the young white man attempting to rape Alice. Once Isaac is caught, mutilated, and sold away, Rufus is able to take Alice to his bed with impunity.

Kindred doesn't shy away from the ugliness of slavery, yet throughout it didn't feel as if Dana was nearly as frightened as she ought to be. It's as if something is lacking at the heart of the story. Butler does a much better job in Dawn of communicating the character's fears, helplessness and distress. Perhaps Dana's confidence is the result of detachment, an inability to believe that this world could kill her without a thought, yet that doesn't come across, either. So although this is a well-told and thoughtful story, it lacks the visceral responses of a modern, free woman with rights who suddenly becomes a possession, a piece of property, something to be punished, mutilated, even killed, at will.

What is handled well is the relationship between Dana and Rufus, particularly. She tries to counterbalance the influences of his society and family, to make him see that raping Alice is wrong, tht selling slaves away from their families is wrong. Yet she's never able to overcome his own sense of rightness, of his place in a society in which nothing he does to slaves can be wrong--unless it's teaching them to read and write, or tolerating their own choices of sexual partners. He doesn't see himself as cruel or unreasonable; this is just how things are. And eventually he comes to believe that his rights over black people extend even to Dana, despite her having frequently warned him that alienating her will lead to his death.

The ambivalence of many of the relationships in this book are reminiscent of those in Marlon James' The Book of Night Women, and reflect how adaptive human behaviour is, especially when that human is a woman trying to protect herself, and perhaps her children. Dana herself adopts the behaviours and mannerisms of a slave, and it takes Alice to call her on it, to remind her of who she used to be.

By the end of the book, both Alice and Dana have freed themselves in the only ways open to them, their methods perhaps reflecting the gap of over a hundred years between their attitudes and beliefs.

A strong book, well worth reading, and one that carries utter conviction in its characters and its events.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
A mixed bag :). My dad said the only thing missing was a new bookcase.

How to Drive a Tank: and Other Everyday Tips for the Modern Gentleman by Frank Coles;
Crime on the Line by Adrian Gray;
Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met his Match by Wendy Moore;
Bad History: How We Got the Past Wrong by Emma Marriott;
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff;
The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It by Owen Jones;
Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton;
Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved by Elgen M. Long & Marie K. Long;
Scrooge's Guide to Christmas by Richard Wilson;
Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw;
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Journey of the USS Jeannette by Hammond Sides;
The Terracotta Army: China's First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation by John Man;
Poetry For Cats: The Definitive Anthology of Distinguished Feline Verse, edited by Henry Beard;
The New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko;
Question Everything: 132 Science Questions--and their Unexpected Answers by New Scientist;
Pilgrimage: The Book of the People by Zenna Henderson;
Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie--Inside the DIA by Donald Goddard with Lester K. Coleman
and
The Far North: Explorations in the Arctic Regions by Elisha Kent Kane, MD.

Phew. That took a lot of typing!
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I'm currently reading Hermetech by Storm Constantine and getting mildly annoyed by the New Age-y bullshit, the infodumps and the head-hopping. Also, it seems to be taking a long time for the story to get anywhere.

As for the whole 'plot device to stop young woman having sex' thing, this has popped up a lot recently and Me No Like. FFS. Don't think I've ever read a book where someone / something intervenes to stop a young man having sex, apart from his own agency. Bah.

There's a good story underneath, I think. Somewhere. Buried.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Possibly too many to list here, as I've been slack, and they've piled up, but let's see.

Hermetech by Storm Constantine;
Pennterra by Judith Moffett;
The Third Eagle by R.A. MacAvoy;
A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski;
Legacies by Alison Sinclair.

(all off the Mistressworks wishlist and all bought from Awesome Books under their 'buy 5 save 10%' offer)

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead;
Lightborn: Seeing is Believing... by Tricia Sullivan.

(both from the The Hive)

and, while collecting those from my local bookshop, I picked up The War in Pictures in six volumes, published by Odhams Press Ltd. 'The war' is WWII. Couldn't resist all those pictures.

All six volumes were piled up neatly on the chair next to me, but that was Before the Kitten.

From the charity shops:

Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains by Jon Krakauer;
Girl Reading by Katie Ward (liked the title and decided to take a chance on it);
Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges (yes, back to that pesky WWII)
and
City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer (about which I have doubts, tbh; 'bawdy' doesn't usually offer much for gurls).

Let me see, what else?

Husband brought me a small stack of books from one of the charity shops in the town where he works. Wasn't expecting them at all.

An Anthology of Women's Writing: Erotica, edited by Margaret Reynolds (!);
Eye to Eye -- Women, edited by Vanessa Baird;
Living With Contradictions: Controversies In Feminist Social Ethics, edited by Alison M. Jaggar
and
Women in the Muslim World, edited by Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie (presumably because I had An Argument with someone about whether a white Western woman could really understand the experiences of Saudi women) (where the white Western woman was Hilary Mantel) (who, just to be recursive, blurbed Girl Reading).
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Having ploughed through Ancillary Justice--and it did feel a bit like a chore at times, due to the relentlessly unemotional narration--I'm now reading Tricia Sullivan's Dreaming in Smoke.

She do like to throw you in at the deep end, Ms Sullivan, she do. It's almost a disappointment when something's actually explained.

Brain needs a workout once in a while. *massages sore brain*
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Arrived in the post today, Dreaming in Smoke by Tricia Sullivan, another from the Mistressworks list. Interestingly, while perusing the MW wishlist, I realised that another of the books I bought at the weekend, James Tiptree, Jr.'s Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home, is also on the list. So that's one more MW book than I thought I had! Shall definitely have to keep visiting that sff bookstall.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Saturday was a gala book day. We went into a local town that has a Waterstones and the sff secondhand bookstall I found earlier in the month and I bought lots of books. From Waterstones, from the sff stall, from another more generalised stall, and from the charity shops. Finds included a book from the Mistressworks wishlist for less than £1. Yay!

In Waterstones, I patrolled the Science Fiction shelves looking for books by women and not finding many. Finally I picked up Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Then I wandered over to the history section looking for Michael Foot's history of SOE, which was mentioned a few times in the book about Vera Atkins and SOE I've been reading recently. In particular, Miss Atkins herself was quoted as describing it as being 'as accurate as the Bible'. But I thought to myself, it won't be there anyway. What are the chances? But there it was, in a shiny Bodley Head edition, just republished this year.

It was £18.99. Ouch. But I was able to fill my stampy card and get £10 off. Phew. Funny how that works, though--you buy twenty pounds worth of books to get the last two stamps on the card, then pay off £10 with the card, so you haven't ACTUALLY paid for the twenty-pounds worth that justified you having the two stamps in the first place.

Ouch again. Moving on from existential financial analysis, these are the books:

SOE: 1940-1946 by M.R.D. (Michael) Foot;
Insurgent by Veronica Roth;
Ice! by Tristan Jones;
Empire of Blue Water by Stephan Talty;
Mutiny!! Aboard H.M. Armed Transport 'Bounty' in 1789 by R.M. Bowker and Lt. William Bligh;
Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers by Jane Robinson;
The Journal of Nicholas the American by Leigh Kennedy (from Mistressworks wishlist);
The Aliens Among Us by James White;
Telepathist by John Brunner (probably already have a copy but 224 miles away);
Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)
and
Yonnondio by Tillie Olsen.

I also bought a non-fiction book from a charity shop but on arriving home I realised a) I already had it and b) it wasn't any good. So that's going straight in the croc box for recycling to another charity shop.

Also when I got home I discovered a proof had arrived from Random House: The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons. What a great thing to come home to--a free book!
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Benefits, Carmen Dog and Catseye arrived today. The first is published by Virago, the second by The Women's Press and the third by Puffin.

Shame they didn't arrive yesterday, as I've already embarked on a reread of Mansfield Park. Couldn't find Persuasion. It needed my dad to persuade it out of hiding. Ahem.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Ian Sales has updated his Mistressworks list, making the number of books up to 100, and removing some Fantasy works. The new list can be found here.

You just know I'm going to go down it again and post here those I've read.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley;
Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin;
The Dispossessed by Ursula K LeGuin;
The Female Man by Joanna Russ;
Don’t Bite the Sun by Tanith Lee;
Floating Worlds by Cecelia Holland;
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (altho possibly the novella, not the novel);
The Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffery;
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood;
The Dream Years by Lisa Goldstein;
Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind, edited by Sarah Lefanu & Jen Green;
Queen of the States by Josephine Saxton;
Cyteen by CJ Cherryh;
Grass by Sheri S Tepper;
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (at least, the short story);
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
and
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

That's, what, 17? And two of those are a tad dubious. I note I credited myself with A Door Into Ocean last time round, but I'm really not sure about that one. And I saw Sarah Canary in Waterstones on Saturday but decided not to buy it. Silly me!

Will have to do better. Really.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
So it seems I'm not reading Despatches, as I haven't picked it up in other a week. At least opened it, it's in my bag so it get picked up a lot.

Currently I'm reading a chapter from the Mounted Police of Victoria & Tasmania. Although it's mostly names, and what they did. I should look for a NSW one.
[identity profile] monissaw.livejournal.com
Still reading. These "stories" all seem to be idea-driven. As in, "here's a cool idea, let's stick in some characters and a setting and call it a story". Also, I've decided the main character is the same person each time. Not sure I care enough to read more.

despatches
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Monissaw is still reading Despatches from the Frontier of the Female Mind, but I finished it last night with a cat sitting on me to keep me in place until the job got done. Well, okay, the cat was probably cold.

Reading in the short introductions to the stories that this one took eight years to write, and that one fifteen years, these short, often very short, stories, I'm reminded of a quote from Joanna Russ:

Long before I became a feminist in any explicit way, I had turned from writing love stories about women in which women were losers, and adventure stories about men in which the men were winners, to writing adventure stories about a woman in which the woman won. It was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life.

On the face of it, only LOTR and its companion volumes in mass like Jonathan Strange should take that long to write. What's the hold up, ladies? What's going on?



'A Sun in the Attic' by Mary Gentle struck me as an alternate history story, although it may be intended to be set on a different planet entirely. I felt a bit cheated by this story, as it opens with an apparent threat that turns out not to be a threat at all. But maybe that's the point. Maybe that's the trap the story intended me to fall into. If so, I fell. No denying it.

Inside a framing story, wife and husband team Roslin and Gilvaris are looking for Del, who's also Roslin's husband and also Del's brother. This is a matriarchial society that practises polyandry. It turns out that Del has been dabbling in forbidden sciences and is trying to flee the country with his invention. For the good of everybody, however, his invention must be suppressed. This struck me as a bit odd when we have a 'barbarian' character (from a patriarchal society, natch) extolling the superiority of science while at the same time stating that Del's country has "put walls around the mind". Despite being anti-science, the country is scientifically advanced. Still, I suppose that's the current state of America, so it's not impossible.

A thought-provoking story and probably worth a second read.

Wife and husband team! I wrote husband and wife team first. So engrained are these conventions.

Frances Gapper's 'Atlantis 2045: no love between planets' is a straight up wish fulfilment story that's not all that scientific, truth be told. At the darkest hour, a portal magically opens up to whisk the narrator away. Yeah, right. 'And with one bound she was free.'

Where does that leave the rest of us?

'From a Sinking Ship' by Lisa Tuttle irresistibly reminded me of HHGTTG and that Star Trek movie with the whales. Dolphins leave the dying Earth by means of aliens with whom they've been communicating. At the end, I said, aloud, 'So long and thanks for all the fish!'. The story postdates HHGTTG by a few years and predates the release of the Star Trek film by a mere year. Escaping dolphins must have been in the air.

(Again, where does that leave the rest of us?)

'The Awakening' by Pearlie McNeill is a chilling near-future tale of a dying Earth in which the government has total control 'for the public good'. It's a patchy story that keeps making huge jumps in time, driving a bulldozer through unity of time with cheerful abandon. In that respect, it's bloody annoying. There's also a hint of somewhat cardboard characters, especially Nancy, the protagonist's daughter, who plays such roles as the story demands while consistency of character is bulldozed along with much else. Plot-driven would be the term.

The ending however leaves you shuddering.

Looked at from one angle, 'Words' by Naomi Mitchison has a valid premise. What if electrical stimulation of the brain could open up new ways to perceive the world? But when one character postulates, "But that led on to asking, were these the only sense synapses or were there others for some other sense we had never experienced? Cells that had never been animated, so to speak." we're deep in FTL territory. If you can't swallow the premise you can't swallow the story. Shame.

Zoe Fairbairns' 'Relics' would be wasted on anyone who hasn't got a sense of humour, especially those unable to laugh at themselves. It's a fun romp through a post-apocalyptic world. No, really. Although I can't help feeling that the opening scene should have been cut as it has absolutely nothing to do with anything that happens next. Well, okay, it has its parallel in the post world, but I'm not sure it's strong enough for that scene to be given so much space. Have a laugh, anyway.

With 'Mab' by Penny Casdagli, we're back in FTL territory. Or maybe it's meant to be funny. It made me uneasy, although the insights from the author's work with children are of interest.

Raccoona Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr, aka Alice Sheldon, has, in 'Morality Meat', written a story that's still topical. Perhaps even more so. In an America where abortion is illegal, we follow two congruent stories. That of Hagen, a trucker who has an accident while hauling meat to the rich men of the Bohemia Club North, and that of Maylene, forced by indigence to give up her baby daughter for adoption.

Their stories come together in exactly the way the title leads you to expect. Painful.

At times, the story feels a bit forced, and as if it really doesn't want the reader to miss The Point. As Sheldon is capable of writing much more subtly than this, I wonder if the constraints of space or the dictates of anger are to blame. It's a story that would be easy to dismiss on the grounds of 'preachiness'. After all, you can prove anything with fiction, as I'm fond of saying just before the book hits the wall. But Sheldon isn't a writer you can easily dismiss or ignore. Her simple, straight-forward prose has power.

The last story in the anthology is 'Apples in Winter' by Sue Thomason. Only a few pages long, it's one of the strongest stories in the book. The characters, especially Maia, leap off the page. It's a story of love and culture clash. Of jealousy and difference and pain. Definitely worth a read.

We can't afford to forget books like this. We can't afford to lose our heritage once again.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I made a start on the current book from the Mistressworks list, Despatches From the Frontier of the Female Mind, but now seem to have ground to a halt. It's been a difficult few days, one way or another, and I've been more interested in comfort reading, if I'm honest. Today wasn't a day on which I could get any serious reading done at all. If I mention cars and garages, perhaps that's sufficient explanation.

However, so far I've read:



'Big Operation on Altair Three' by Josephine Saxton;
'Spinning the Green' by Margaret Elphinstone;
'The Cliches From Outer Space' by Joanna Russ;
'The Intersection' by Gwyneth Jones;
'Long Shift' by Beverley Ireland;
'Love Alters' by Tanith Lee;
'Cyclops' by Lannath Battley
and
'Instructions for Exiting This Building' by Pamela Zoline.

Eight stories down with nine to go. It feels surprising that there are so many stories in such a small book--a pocket-sized paperback. Although the font is quite small. I've also been trying to peel the sticky label off the back, but it doesn't want to come cleanly. I hate labels on my books.

'Big Operation on Altair Three' didn't gel for me. It has the feel more of notes for a story than of a story that's been completed. The big reveal doesn't have the impact that it should have. The premise is shocking enough in theory: a woman having a hysterectomy in order to advertise the superiority of a car's suspension. But the story doesn't have the chops to pull it off, somehow. It feels flat. The ending trails off into nothing and it's over. And...? That's the feeling I was left with. And...?

'Spinning the Green' is a meta story from before the meta story was supposed to have been invented. It's possibly more fun to try to trace the sources drawn upon than to follow the actual plot. My mind started running happily on Reeling and Writhing and Fainting in Coils. Anyway, what is the plot? It's a sort of mash-up of Tam Lin and Beauty and the Beast, except there is no Beast. It's an allegory, stoopid.

'The Cliches From Outer Space' was probably terribly witty and apposite when it was written, but it has dated badly. Russ pokes wicked fun at various storylines that are not unfamiliar to those of us who've been reading genre for more years than we care to admit, but it's all been done since. If you're coming to this now, you'll think it's tired ground being retrodden. If you'd come to it in the eighties, it'd probably have leapt off the page and slapped you in the face. But it's vintage Russ. She's there, talking to you.

'The Intersection' drowns in abbreviations and acronyms, and it's explainy. That's all.

'Long Shift' is a solid tech story where telekinesis has been identified and harnessed. It intrigued and drew me in. The downbeat ending feels right, especially as it's presented in a curiously upbeat way. Probably a story that should be better known than it is.

Tanith Lee's 'Love Alter's is easily the best story so far. It's well written and the premise grabs. In a predominantly homosexual society, where all that sordid heterosexuality has been left behind, a woman falls in love...with a man. Beautifully observed and told with just the right mixture of self-knowledge and wilful denial. Score.

'Cyclops' is, sadly, the sort of story that I dislike, whoever's writing it. So it lost out in my estimation through no fault of its own. The premise is sffy enough: a fugitive has proof that Earth was not the birthplace of...here I always stick. Humankind? Humanity? Earthlings? Well, whatever. The proof offered is sufficiently arcane to make the reader think. But here's the thing: it 'explains' something from mythology. It's a bit like all those time-travel stories that 'explain' past events, or even past people. Do not like. Personal quirk. Nothing to be done.

'Instructions for Exiting this Building in Case of Fire' is a difficult and disturbing story that also deserves wider recognition than it's had. A group decides to combat indifference to, well, I suppose these days we'd say globalisation, climate change, capitalism, etc, by kidnapping children and relocating them in areas likely to be affected by the aforesaid. It's deeply strange but never convinced me this would actuallly work. Worth a read, though. If Bradbury had written it, I'd have heard of it before.

So far, so mixed. Definite recommended reads are 'Love Alters', which is really beautifully done, and 'Instructions for Exiting this Building in Case of Fire', which you should damn well read because it's right up there with the darkest visions of the future.

Hmmm

Sep. 10th, 2013 09:37 pm
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
Having gone through the Women's Press books in the .csv file I exported from Goodreads just before trashing and burning my account, I see that I have read Queen of the States by Josephine Saxton, even though reading the synopsis on the Mistressworks list brought no memory of the book to mind.

I suppose that slightly improves my score :).

It's now 16/90 or 18%.

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