went through Hades with my hat off (ergoipsofacto) wrote,
went through Hades with my hat off

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bracing for a landslide

My cat's been sick. He's getting better, but it's been an intense and alarming few weeks and I've not been on my A-game, mentally. Still, in the interest of doing something other than staring at him and wondering if his breathing sounds better or worse today, howzabout a belated book post for July?

Among Others, Jo Walton
A really weird case. While I was reading it, I liked it, but anytime I put it down and walked away for a bit my opinion began to sour. Since I read most of it in one afternoon, I ended up having a favorable impression at the end and then, two or three days later, waking up like HOLD ON WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT BOOK, ACTUALLY. HOW DID I GET DUPED INTO READING THE ENTIRE GODDAMN THING.

The good: our protagonist, Mori, a bookish 15-year-old Welsh smartass who recently lost her twin sister and the use of one leg and is now being shipped off to England to her estranged father. She’s seen some shit, and she can do magic, so she thinks she’s worlds above any other people her age. But she doesn’t realize there’s all kinds of shit she hasn’t seen yet, and Walton nails that balance between cynicism and being a dorky naive kid who’s still figuring things out.

The bad: HOLY BALLS, ALL THE ENDLESS FAFFING ABOUT AND COMPLETELY MISPLACED PRIORITIES. Mori’s such a fun person to ride around with that I didn’t realize while I was actively reading the book that nothing was fucking happening. And when anything did happen, it was downplayed, swept under the rug, and never spoken of again. I don’t mind loose ends, I don’t mind subtlety, I don’t mind some characters’ motivations being left ambiguous, but THERE’S A SCENE WHERE SHE THINKS HER DAD IS TRYING TO MOLEST HER, AND IT’S LITERALLY NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN. Instead of any sense of rising action, there’s a bunch of random incidents, most of them rather dull and a very few of them SURPRISINGLY INTENSE BUT LET’S OVERLOOK THEM FOREVER, and then the climax arrives out of nowhere and takes like three pages and we’re done. It is goddamn bizarre.

(Plus there’s that thing where a huge portion of the book revolves around Mori’s growing friendships with the local book club, and… I don’t know. Is there any way for an SF/F author to write about THE WONDERS OF SF/F FANDOM without it seeming like a bit of a circlejerk? If there is, this book has not found it.)

Gifts of the Crow, John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell
This book I was under no illusions about at any time. It is not well-written. I realize achieving a readable and pleasant prose style with science writing is difficult, I really do, but surely the incredibly repetitive sentence structure could have been caught at some point in the editing process, and its overall organization could have been made somehow less strange. There’s also a tremendous amount of inconsistency in the amount of background knowledge the authors assume readers possess. One chapter they’re explaining the process of coming up with a series of alternative hypotheses and walking through how to eliminate each one - suitable for people who haven’t done science since grade school - and in another there are incredibly detailed descriptions of the architecture of a bird’s brain and how memories are formed.

That said, IT’S A BOOK ABOUT CROWS AND HOW SMART THEY ARE AND ALL THEIR WEIRD BEHAVIOR. Plus it goes into the neurobiological side of it more than you’d normally get in a pop-sciencey bit, PLUS this is the group that did that experiment with the masks. I was frequently annoyed with this book while I was reading it, but the content was A+, right up my alley, would consume again. ...So maybe I’ll just stick to the documentary I saw Marzluff’s research in, so I can see video of cute crows myself.

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
...If there’s one thing Among Others did for me, it was remind me OH RIGHT LE GUIN’S SCIENCE FICTION IS AN APPALLING GAP IN MY READING. I’ve read the Earthsea Cycle a couple of times, but The Left Hand of Darkness was the only other thing of hers I’d read (and was floored by).

But basically, this cements something: I stand forever in awe of her worldbuilding, godDAMN. And all that careful construction doesn’t preclude things from happening and people from being interesting! I tend to be put off by those science fiction (or occasionally fantasy, brandon sanderson) books that have This One Concept They Want to Talk About, and This One Society Built to Talk About It. My priority level is pretty much characters, THEN plot, THEN all your fancy ideas - and Le Guin, being a complete badass, manages to get across all her ideas via a plot that is driven by characters behaving plausibly and consistently like themselves. It’s a little slow and deliberate, but it works like a charm. (I APPRECIATE THE HELL OUT OF SHEVEK, WHAT A COOL GUY.)

I also appreciate the complexity - it’s not a straight-up anarchistic utopia vs. capitalist dystopia thing; both systems have advantages and disadvantages, and there are people on both sides who don’t fit in or work against their society’s ideals. It’s much more messy and organic than some straight-up treatise on how YO THE UNITED STATES IS SHITTY IN MANY WAYS AND WHAT IF GOVERNMENT WASN’T A THING (...if I’m getting excessively flippant here it’s because I’m that intimidated by how smart this book is and I don’t want it to look like I’m trying very hard to still fall this short of understanding)

But, ahem, yeah, it succeeds on several levels all at once and it’s made me think about some stuff, which is probably another level of success. Man, I don’t know, I’m not that bright, what do you want from me.

Also, hit some milestones last weekend - 6 months since I moved out into the apartment, and 5 years since I started writing Doors. I was too busy hauling Luc to one vet and another to have any energy left to pay attention to either of these things, but whoa, hey, TIME SURE DOES PASS, DOESN'T IT?
Tags: books
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