frayadjacent: Aeryn Sun with her tongue out to taste the rain. Text says "let it rain" (Farscape: Aeryn rain)
I haven't posted a reading meme in a couple of months, but my reading has slowed down too.

What I've read since my last post (in chronological order)

After Atlas, by Emma Newman. A murder mystery set in the same universe at Planetfall. I loooovvvvved this book, and wrote a very spoilery, book-ruining post about it. The non-spoilery summary is: this book has just as strong point-of-view characterisation as Planetfall and probably has a stronger plot. (I'm personally even more drawn to Ren, the POV character of Planetfall, than to Carlos, the POV character in After Atlas, but he is excellent.) It also, in my opinion, makes the weird, frustrating ending of Planetfall more palatable. Highly recommended, and I can't wait for more in the series. (Content notes: suicide and disordered eating feature heavily in the story (I do not recall any fat-shaming -- the disordered eating is not connected to anything related to the character's physical appearance). There are also mentions of male-on-male sexual abuse. Feel free to ask me for more details on any of these.)

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. Oh, you guys. I almost didn't read this book, and I loved it so much. Pepper and Owl's relationship gutted me. Even a passing reference to it at the end of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet brought tears to my eyes. And Sidra's arc was incredible. Such good character interactions, such lovely relationships, such a kind book but with such emotional depth. I nominated this for a Hugo, and am so glad it made the shortlist.

Signal to Noise
, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Magical realism, set in Mexico, with the main character an immigrant who is coming home for the first time in decades after her father's death. There were lots of reasons to love this book, and I did like it, but...the primary POV character is so cruel I found it hard to enjoy. Lots of people enjoy an "unlikeable" main character -- and given that this character is a woman of colour, I am in principle all for it. But, eh, it's just not for me.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. Such a sweet, wonderful book, with lovely characters I just want to spend more time with. I read this after its (loose) sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, so I had one major spoiler, but everything else was new. I loved that this book took violence really seriously -- events that would hardly be considered violent in a lot of science fiction were scary, and the trauma the characters endured was treated as real. I loved how thoughtful the story was. My only complaint is that it wasn't longer. The titular long voyage through unfamiliar space ended up occupying very little of the book, and I think it would have been interesting to spend more time on the boredom and cabin fever that ensued. But I'd have only wanted that if it added to the length of the book -- I wouldn't want anything taken away!

What I'm reading now

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor. I'm not too far in, but so far I'm really liking that it's dealing with the emotional aftermath of what goes down in Binti. The horrors at the beginning of Binti sorta got swept aside later in the book, so I'm glad to see it getting the attention it deserves. I wish I had read this immediately after Binti (I bought them both at the same time, so I have no idea why I didn't), because I'm actually struggling to remember why she is friends with Okwu, instead of at least low-key hating it.

What I'll read next

Probably The Book of Phoenix, by Nnedi Okorafor.

Free book-shaped space

I don't think I ever posted about it, but my main reading goal for 2017 was to read 24 books, and I'm well on track to meet it! But I also keep going back and forth between wanting to read whatever sounds interesting, and reading what will be eligible for Hugos next year. I didn't join Worldcon this year, so I can't vote (to my relief!) but I kinda want to join next year. It's a bit silly -- I've just gotten back in the habit of reading fiction consistently, and I'm already getting Hugo FOMO.
frayadjacent: medium shot of Faith circa season 7 looking determined (BtVS: Faith)
I wrote this on an airplane nearly a month ago, then forgot to post it till just now. I loved After Atlas and nominated it for a Hugo, to no avail.

After Atlas turned out to be a book I could stay up late reading -- something I rarely do. I always get sleepy! But I found the book totally engrossing, because the story was interesting, the world-building engaging, and because Carlos is such a well-written character. Highly recommended, with content notes that the book has references to male-on-male sexual assault and abuse and also deals with suicide a lot. As always, feel free to comment or pm me if you want more details about content notes/warnings.

Major, book-ruining spoilers below the cut )
frayadjacent: Aeryn Sun in her PK spaceflight suit, sorta smiling (Farscape: Aeryn spacesuit)
What have you recently finished reading?

Ninefox Gambit,
by Yoon Ha Lee. I...don't know what to think about this. I liked it, but a lot less than the hype led me to think I would. The story was interesting -- there was never a point when I had to work up the motivation to read -- but I never got that emotional pull I need to really invest in its characters. OK, maybe not never -- I started to get that pull at the very end, but, in a too little too late sort of way. Partly, I think, the twist that I was waiting for -- I didn't know what it would be, but I knew there had to be one -- came about 85% of the way into the story. I did not need quite as much time on the battle tactics/war is hell stuff as we got for most of the story.

The most interesting aspect of the book for me was the presentation of the Kel, and what loyalty and obedience to authority meant for the various Kel characters. That obedience is achieved through physical changes to the brain that basically force it, but as far as I could tell all service to the Kel was voluntary, so the Kel do have agency (and very distinctive personalities) despite the brainwashing. Cheris, the main character, joined the Kel because she wanted to fit in. This seems to be directly connected to her position as an outsider -- someone whose people were recently colonised, whose native language is not the high language of the empire, etc. The formation instinct comes up in many ways: we see one Kel character resent of the forced obedience, we see a character for whom the process fails, and we see a character whose fear is only barely overcome by the formation instinct. And of course, in the end, it becomes central to the story.

But also the book was gory, with references to violence and torture so extreme it became tiresome. (On the other hand, it wasn't actually any worse than the horrors shown in the original Star Wars trilogy, it was just that there was actual substantial narrative attention to the magnitude of destruction.)  And I was not that into the magic tech -- it was frustrating to have something that fundamentally makes no sense, way beyond the way that FTL or transporters or other standards of SF make no sense, be so central to the mechanics of the plot. I heard one booktuber describe it as a sort of magical realism, but for me magical realism gives a sense of the uncanny, and I just...didn't feel that with Ninefox Gambit.

Given how popular this book has been, I sometimes wonder if I don't actually like scifi as much as I think I do.

What am I reading now?

After Atlas, by Emma Newman, in my quest to have something to nominate for the Hugos. I was a little reluctant to read this because I'm not generally interested in the detective genre, but I (mostly) loved Planetfall so I wanted to give it a shot. What I loved most about Planetfall was the main character Renata, and I knew it was unlikely After Altas would feature a character who I'd identify with that much. That is true, but Carlos, the protagonist of After Atlas, is a fantastic character and I'm really enjoying the book so far. I've concluded that Newman is a master at writing characters whose perspective you can deeply understand and empathise with, while also being able to recognise where their judgment is wrong. That is quite an impressive skill. I also really like the way that the book explores the impact of technological changes on people and society, especially in that technology that is genuinely useful and pleasurable is *also* used for social control.

Also, the book seems to be indirectly exploring the effect of automation in creating a vast surplus population whose labor is no longer needed. This is an interesting contrast to Planetfall, where the small society is basically living with full communism and a high level of automation and sustainable technology -- a high-tech ecotopia. The same tech (except light-speed space travel) exists on Earth in After Atlas, but under capitalism the technology creates misery even as it creates convenience and solves problems like food production.

So maybe I do like scifi, just not space opera? But I have a feeling there is some space opera I would like.

What's up next?

More potential Hugo nominations -- I'm thinking of reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers even though I haven't read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I get the impression the former can stand alone.

I've also downloaded the audiobook version of the Great Courses Plus lecture series about the French Revolution, but I haven't started it yet as I've been listening to podcasts.

frayadjacent: Buffy looking to the side in black and white (BtVS: Buffy B&W)
Print/ebooks I read in 2016, in chronological order. I usually have one print/ebook and one audiobook going at a time, so I've separated the two categories. Since I stopped posting Wednesday reading updates sometime in February, I'm including some non-spoilery thoughts on each book.

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott: discussed here

Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott: discussed here and here

Shadow Gate by Kate Elliott: discussed here and here

Traitors Gate by Kate Elliott: discussed here

I won't say much about Black Wolves/Crossroads trilogy since I've posted on them previously, but I do want to note that I realised two things from these books: I really like stories from the POV of a deeply religious character (if it's well-written of course), because it is fascinating to get into a worldview that is so different from my own. I probably wouldn't enjoy it if it was a deeply religious man whose religion justified being a patriarch, and while those character types definitely exist in these books, they aren't POV characters. Also, the world-building in these books is incredible, and I've since read/listened to Elliott talk about world-building and think she is so thoughtful and a master of the craft. I loved a lot of the characters and quite a few storylines in these books, but my very favourite thing was the world of The Hundred itself.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: I liked this book but not as much as everyone else seems to, which has me thinking I was reading it wrong. My head was still very much in the world of Black Wolves/Crossroads trilogy. I purchased Oblisk Gate when it came out but decided to wait until the third book was out and read the whole trilogy.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: I was utterly charmed from the start, and really enjoyed Agnieszka as a protagonist and POV character. The plot was interesting and engaging, and I looooovvvved The Wood as a villain. It was also pretty funny at times! I was unpleasantly surprised by how violent and gruesome the story became. (I was also super stressed with work and utterly devastated by Brexit -- I became unhappy that Uprooted wasn't providing me the comforting escapism I wanted at the moment, but that's not a criticism of the book, just a note on my reaction.) I was ambivalent about the ending. On one hand, it was really lovely. On the other hand, it played into a woman-nature connection that I pretty much never enjoy in fiction. Except occasionally when Ursula K Le Guin does it. Though even then I often don't.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho: This was the book I most enjoyed reading in 2016. In part because it did provide the comforting escapism I wanted. It was funny -- so funny! -- and I loved being in both Zacharias and Prunella's POV. They were delightful characters. It also had some deeply moving moments, e.g., when Zacharias recalls the circumstances of his adoption and reflects on his complicated feelings toward Sir Stephen. Also did I mention this was funny? And such a good romance -- I struggle a lot with romance in fiction, but I loved this one and it even made me want to seek out romance novels for the first time. I hope there will be sequels -- this book provided me with the thing I want most from fiction: characters I want to spend time with again and again.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry: I picked this up a few years ago because 1) [personal profile] coffeeandink recommended it, 2) It's set in Seattle, and 3) I knew McCarry in college. Every time I considered reading it, I knew I couldn't handle reading a book about Seattle. It would make me too homesick. But the last time I visited Seattle, about a year ago, I realised the homesickness had faded. So I put this back on the to-read list.

I had mixed feelings about it. It took a while to get used to the writing style, or rather the POV character's voice, which I found overwrought at first. The setting is deeply familiar, not just the Seattle-ness but also the vaguely turn-of-the-21st century Pacific Northwest punk rock scene, complete with shitty meals that always taste the same made from dumpstered vegetables. I kind of liked that, but it was also distracting. I kept getting put off by the book and setting it down, only to pick it back up again 30 minutes later (I read a lot of it on a long-haul flight).

In the end I got used to the POV character's voice, and the plot got interesting, and there were some really lovely and true moments. And I LOVED the ending. It felt absolutely perfect, and unsettled in a way that I often don't like but that worked so well for this story and character. Then I learned it was the first of a trilogy. But I loved the ending so much, and had such ambivalent feelings about the rest of the book, that I didn't consider reading the subsequent books.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. My first ever romance! I enjoyed this book and the romance was fun -- I especially liked Minerva as a POV character and would like more books with characters like her. I thought the characterisation of the friends was really thin in a way that put me off at first, but eventually I could roll with it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I picked this up after listening to a Fangirl Happy Hour episode on literary fiction. I switched between reading the ebook and listening to the audiobook on this one. It was so good -- my other favourite of 2016. Ifemelu and Obinze (especially Ifemelu) were wonderful characters. I felt Ifemelu's struggles so deeply: her fear that something was wrong with her to make her sabotage her relationships, her struggle with depression, and her experiences with immigration (even though my difficulties have been so, so minor compared to most people's, I still love and feel immigration stories even more profoundly than I used to). Also, I liked that Ifemelu was a pretty judgmental person -- it was an interesting POV to be inside and also made for good exposition. I really enjoyed that this book dealt with not just immigration but also returning. And there was a lot of great humor in this book as well. Oh, and the narrator, Adjoa Andoh, was so good. I kind of want to listen to Alexander McCall-Smiths "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" books just because she reads them.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamana Ngozi Adichie. It took me a while to get into this book; I don't know if it was the book itself or my life circumstances, but it was a slow read at first. It's about the civil war in Nigeria in the late 1960's when (mainly) the Igbo people attempted to secede and form the Republic of Biafra. There are lots of heavy themes that come with that, especially the mass starvation that occurred when Nigeria completely blocked the Biafran borders. This book tells those stories through the compelling personal narratives of three characters, who were mainly non-combatants. One of the non-POV characters, Kainene, was one of my favourite characters in any novel I read this year.

I want to note that in the Fangirl Happy Hour episode mentioned above, it's implied that there is no rape in this book. That is not true -- feel free to message me if you want more information.

Planetfall by Emma Newman. Holy shit, I loooovvvvved most of this book. The POV character suffers from anxiety in a way that is, well, not that similar to mine in terms of specific behaviours, but still I identified with her and her anxiety deeply. I have never read a genre novel (or maybe any novel?) centred around a character who just wants to go home and be left alone because everything is too much. I don't just mean she gets overwhelmed sometimes, like many characters would. She always feels this way. It was incredible, a revelation, even, to encounter a character like that who still gets to be embroiled in space shenanigans.

But the ending of this book was really strange. I finished it and was very confused and went looking for reviews, sure I'd missed something. It seems like everyone agreed it was just kind of a bad ending. It's too bad, this book was so strong otherwise. I'd still highly recommend it, just be prepared to scratch your head a little when you put it down at the end.

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