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I finished it today. I was drawn to it enough to add it to my Yuletide requests!

I love Baru Cormorant. She is competent and she is ruthless, and she inspires loyalty. She uses assets to the best of her ability. She is driven. I also love her relationships with the dukes – especially Tain Hu. The loyalty kink was very button-press-y. Baru being willing to do anything to succeed at her goals was amazing.

I loved the worldbuilding. Falcrest taking over places with economics! A complex Aurdwynn with its own problems and history! Nebulous powers behind the throne and the promise of cutthroat politics!

ending spoilers )

Now, this is not a thing I'd rec without caveats – there's homophobia, the threat of government-mandated eugenics, some sexism, and the whole imperialism shit – but if one likes competent female characters and economic worldbuilding, it's worth checking out. There'll be a sequel, The Monster Baru Cormorant, that I'll nab when it comes out.
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I, um, did another book-inhale yesterday. Dichronauts, in true Greg Egan fashion, requires some background reading from the author's site to figure out WTF is going on. Mostly because I was a bit confused by the coordinate system. (The Sun rises and sets; the migration happens because the axis of rotation is tilting, not because of the Sun's movement.)

The main characters, Seth and Theo, are in a symbiotic relationship, where Seth (a Walker) sees along the East-West direction and can move, and Theo (a Sidler) echolocates along the North-South direction and subsists off Seth's bloodstream. They share inputs, and have a sort of telepathic communication. Everyone in their society is a symbiont pair. The reason for this arrangement is that instead of three space and one time dimension, there are two space and two time directions. They live on the surface of a hyperbola hourglass thing, and the axial dimension is time-like, so light can't go there – but sound can. The plot is basically an excuse to explore this world and all its weird geometries, but the world is interesting and the exploration well-executed, so I don't mind. Egan also goes into some of the societal tensions of Walker-Sidler relations, and based on the noms spreadsheet, someone seems to want fic of that for Yuletide.
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I have acquired a terrible flu, and am frightfully bored, because I want to go outside and exercise, which is ... not advisable. Instead, I made inroads into more of my to-read pile.

The Stars are Legion
Firstly, it's a standalone, so no nail-biting wait for a squillion sequels.
Secondly, the back cover blurb doesn't quite capture the thing.

Despite the fact that it's first person, I liked it! (Especially the "Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion" bits that preface each chapter.) There are two narrators, Zan and Jayn. Most of the narration is from Zan's POV. The premise is that there is a Legion of organic world-ships who are decaying, but cannot leave their position – apart from one empty one, Mokshi, which Zan is sent to get into. By Jayn and her family. Zan has succeeded repeatedly, but each time she comes back without her memory. Now, Jayn's faction isn't the only one, and there's lots of interesting politics going on.
All the inhabitants of the world-ships are women, and the ship somehow makes the women get pregnant and give birth to components – gears, etc. The ships do have metal frames, but they're patterned off humans and have arteries and such. There is some gore and body horror, though I could read it, and I'm not at all a fan of body horror. If pregnancy squicks you, skip this one.

spoilers )

On a related note, I am accepting book recs for science fiction. On a semi-related note, I tried getting into Fran Wilde's Uplift and bounced off the teenage first-person POV protagonist. I'll probably try it again later, but oh well. If that doesn't work, I have a younger sibling who's into fantasy.
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So, after this being a thing recced to me by like 10 squillion people and every Worldcon panel ever, I inhaled it in one sitting. It is now past 21, and I have yet to eat dinner, but: so worth it!

It's military science fiction where the basis of the military tech is interesting, the battle scenes are well-written, there's an intrigue component going on simultaneously, and it's got casual bisexuality! It's pretty much exactly what I wanted from Iain Banks' Use of Weapons, and resembles Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice in some ways. The best way I could describe it is Ancillary Justice meets one of the Vorkosigan saga's Admiral Naismith books. The cultural stuff in Ninefox Gambit feels innovative enough, and it's certainly got a fresh take on things. I'll add the sequel, Raven Stratagem, onto my birthday books wishlist.
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It's 2004, so probably out of date, but Andrew H. Knoll is good at writing.

Life on a Young Planet is nonfiction about Precambrian life on Earth! It had lots of interesting stuffs about bacteria and other micro-organisms, as well as weird Ediacaran life. The prose was also nice, and it clearly explained a lot of new stuff, like life preferring to use carbon-12, and thus the carbon-12/carbon-13 ratio being a useful measure of life's presence. It also explained shortly some blind alleys of thought, as well as why scientists went there.

All in all, a very intriguing "What" book on an interesting subject, with brief forays into and mentions of "Who", "How", and "Why", to give better texture. It's also given me a few ideas to toy with in origfic.

Additionally, [tumblr.com profile] shiftingpath gave what was maybe the best explanation of the appeal of exploration narratives ever in TGE chat. (Repeated small stories of tension and release in small adventures.) I am toying with it in the aforementioned origfic.
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I do not regret reading it, even if it did end up in a rather dark place. What bothered me the most was the sheer hetness of the thing: Diziet Sma's "ahh yess I had a nice time with THE MENZ – not the laydeez, the MENZ" and just the reminders that the main characters were het, every time there was a sort of sexual situation, and a lot of them sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Just ... have the characters be het and engage in hetsex, no need to go all Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today about it.

small amount of spoilers )

Skaffen-Amtiskaw is a treasure.
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Nominees are up. Here are my thoughts on each of the short stories, apart from the Castalia House one. Grading out of five, where
0 = this is a terrible piece of shit
1 = I didn't click at all and wish for that time back
2 = You Tried, but not my thing
3 = okay enough, could be someone else's 4 or 5
4 = a good story that I engaged with
5 = mind=blown, excellent

The City Born Great, NK Jemisin
First up, a story in the genre of Psychological Weird Magical Realism WTF. The metaphors were florid, and I didn't click with the emotional beats of the story at all.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers, Alyssa Wong
Exactly the same emotional core as above, except with a different plot. Slightly better, if only because I like weather more than cities.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies, Brooke Bolander
I liked the use of formatting, but this is essentially issuefic with a Psychological Weird Magical Realism WTF veneer. At least it's shorter than the above two.

Seasons of Glass and Iron, Amal El-Mohtar
Okay, this is issuefic, too, but the experimenting on the binding magic and the femslash ending have me forgive a lot. Also, the fairytale grounding makes it more straightforward mythic than Weird Magical Realism.

That Game We Played During the War, Carrie Vaughn
ACTUAL SCIENCE FICTION. It's got some nice telepath worldbuilding and has clearly thought war with teeps through more than the average telepath-writing author. The complex feels, opaque to the narrator, transparent to everyone else, and the weary yet hopeful atmosphere mean it's the best of the pack.
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Some SF classics that I've missed (like, all the women authors save Le Guin, whose The Left Hand of Darkness I seriously bounced off of) are freely available online! I'll make this a semi-regular feature, since why the hell not. Minor spoilers in the cuts.

Today, it's James Tiptree, Jr (Alice Sheldon) time.

Love is the Plan the Plan is Death is a rather litficcy short story. Read more... )

The Women Men Don't See is ... hard to describe. Read more... )

All in all, more confusing than anything and not especially meaty by themselves. Very litficcy and mostly up to interpretation.
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440 pages, copyright 1988 (and its age shows), Space Opera.

I finally finished it. It was enjoyable but I wouldn't rec it due to major Problems: the non-Guardship female characters were few in number, and the ones with the most screentime caused me to wince, especially Valerena; I loathed all the Tregessers, especially Blessed, who should have died in a fire on page 1; the "hero" who I sensed I should cheer for was really fucking bland; and there was too much telling without even explaining (there's a network of Guardships who've upheld the law for eons, and it's just stated that this guy's troops have them secretly following a plan, without even any exposition).

spoilers )

Mostly, I was left pitying WarAvocat, whose enemy was a total Gary Stu.

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Sharing Knife quartet, Lois McMaster Bujold
meh )

Long Earth series, Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
nice except ISSUES )
(discussion with [tumblr.com profile] sixth-light )

Nexus, Ramez Naam
enjoyable )

The Goblin Emperor
, Katherine Addison
okay )

Confederation/Valor series, Tanya Huff
nice aliens and nice BOOMs )

Heris Serrano
, Elizabeth Moon

lacking in exposition and/or BOOM )

Spin State, Chris Moriarty
gripping )

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It's decent hard-ish SF space opera (yes, I know). The plot was good, but he didn't wrap it up well.

Revelation Space: Reynolds introduces two (two!!) awesome female viewpoint characters (Ilia Volyova, Ana Khouri) plus one annoying male one (Dan Sylveste, annoying entitled bore #1). Of the plot-important other characters, most are male. Works perfectly well on its own, closes introduced plot lines decently. Apparently considered 'ponderous' by SF critics.

Redemption Ark: Another awesome female viewpoint character!! (Skade) Back-to-back badassery and sisterhood with Ana and Ilia!! Then come two annoying viewpoint dudes (Nevil Clavain, annoying self-righteous bore, and Scorpio, annoying murderous pig - literally) and a meh-to-annoying female viewpoint character (Antoinette Bax, why didn't you ever speak to other women or, um, acquire a personality beyond "plucky-ish hero personality(TM)"?)

Absolution Gap: Two viewpoint guys (Quaiche and Grelier). I kind of liked Grelier. Rashmika Els is introduced; her POV is okay until the plot hits her. Then the archetypical whiny entitled dude, Vasko Malinin comes onstage. Ugh.

The spoilery stuff )
Well, I guess Mr. Reynolds did something right, seeing as I'm so motivated to fix everything :P
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Chris Beckett - Dark Eden
A spaceship crashes on an unknown world. Several generations later, the descandants have filled up their valley. A dude decides something must be done.
Vaguely interesting society, could have gone without the main character wanting to establish male supremacy etc in his breakaway tribe. Also, the characterization of the spaceship's only woman made me go gaah. And the characterization of the main character's mother. Also, the main character is meant to be likeable, despite being something of an asshole.
Bechdel pass.

Chris Beckett - The Holy Machine
The whole world has become a patchwork of religious totalitarian states, apart from Illyria. Our (male) main character decides to run away from the totalitarianizing Illyria, with a high-quality sex bot.
Came across as saying that all high-tech/atheist societies are morally bankrupt. The main character's mother comes across as a shy ten-year-old girl. (Beckett had a decent idea and went too far with it.) Also, the main character is meant to be likeable, despite being something of an asshole. He still gets the girl.
Bechdel pass.

David Brin - Sundiver
There are aliens in the Sun. Our (male) main character is called to help with the investigation.
Unlike Brin's The Postman, I was able to slog through. Suffers from Smurfette Syndrome. The main character is made of Boring. Brin's style of writing bores me. The only woman is competent, but for whatever reason, doesn't do anything in the climax, even though her doing something would make more sense than the actual climax. Also, she's tossed off as a reward to the main character, even though they have zero chemistry.
Bechdel fail.

Gary Gibson - Angel Stations
A wavefront of radiation is traveling towards Earth. First, however, it will hit and sterilize Kasper, which has sentient aliens. The story of people wanting to save the Kaspians.
Suffers from Smurfette Syndrome. All the important aliens are male, even if female ones exist. Bonus points for lesbians, even if it's only in flashbacks. Not only readable, but interesting.
Bechdel pass.

Generally, when a SF author needs to come up with a culture that differs from the current mainstream, zie creates male supremacy, often religiously mandated. (See: Masada from David Weber's Honorverse, The World Whose Name Eludes Me from Gary Gibson's Shoal Sequence) Not only is this annoying to those of us who would like to have even the smallest feminist sympathies, it is repetitive, overdone and boring.
So, when I started reading Dark Eden, I was happy: a matriarchal society! Finally! Then, Beckett starts writing in a way that implies that all the society's woes are the result of its insularity, which is caused by its matriarchality. And by the end it's patriarchal, militarized, etc. Agh.
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All you need to know of the plot: A lost human colony, Darien, is rediscovered. However, it has a warpwell, created eons ago to for a war against the Dreamless. Mainline humanity's allies, the Sendrukans, have Ominous Plans regarding Darien. Also, there is a side-plot involving a guy from another lost human colony trying to get to Darien.

The Review )

Recommendation: Don't read the trilogy when I can read it for you! (Buy some Asimov, it'll infuriate you less.)


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