One of these days, I will get through an entire half-month without getting sick. This is not that day. In the meantime there are books.
John Joseph Adams, ed., Federations. Mixed bag, and I had been hoping it would be focused on actual federations (federations are cool!) rather than just vast space thingers. Not that vast space thingers are not also cool! It just seems unlikely that I’ll get an actually-federation-focused antho now that there’s been one titled that way but not. Aaanyway. Favorite stories were Genevieve Valentine’s “Carthago Delenda Est,” Alastair Reynolds’s “Spirey and the Queen,” and Mary Rosenblum’s “My She,” although Reynolds should note that naming someone Wendigo and not doing something interesting with it is like naming them Vampire or Werewolf. Or worse. There’s a reason nobody has a glamorous sexy wendigo urban fantasy trend. Don’t name people Wendigo. Sheesh. You don’t have to be from a state or province endowed with Ojibwe people to know this.
Marie Brennan, Deeds of Men. Kindle. Politics and the Ware family in this Onyx Court novella. The more politics, the better I like it, but I would recommend not starting your Onyx Court experience here–I think some things just won’t make sense, and others won’t have the emotional weight they need. Start with one of the books, preferably Midnight Never Come.
Stephen Budiansky, Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare. Kindle. Operations research people (mostly indeed men, but…sigh, title). This was substantially a biography of PMS Blackett, called Patrick Blackett throughout because physicists have since discovered PMS, I guess. He was a navy nerd who became a big ol’ lefty and also did some pretty cool physics stuff, and he is worth knowing about. I don’t know if this is the best book to find out about Blackettry in some hypothetical ideal universe, but in this universe it may well be.
Paul Collins, The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars. Kindle. Mostly a book that made me want to read more about Pulitzer and Hearst in crunchy non-pop-history detail, but it was a fast read.
James S.A. Corey, Caliban’s War. So Jo and Mark eventually convinced me to give the vomit zombies series another go, and there were two major improvements over the previous vomit zombie-ridden volume: 1) fewer vomit zombies (duh), and 2) female characters of note. That helped a lot. It still did not make me love the vomit zombie series, but at least there were interesting things going on, and I will not need persuading to read the third one.
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage. Grandpa’s. An American classic I’d never read before. (I skipped that year of high school and only filled in intermittently.) I think the thing that struck me most about this was how much it had an attitude I learned to see as a result of WWI, but before WWI. The Victorians and Edwardians were not nearly as universally enthralled by dulce et decorum est as we are sometimes encouraged to believe they were.
Roger Crowley, City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas. Kindle. If you read another history of Venice and thought, “What this needs is more Adriatic,” this is the book for you. It still left out a great deal of what I find interesting about Venice, but there were more pieces of the puzzle, particularly more Byzantine pieces.
M.F.K. Fisher, Serve It Forth. The interest of Hanne Blank and Jon Singer in M.F.K. Fisher finally got me reading her, and I was greatly entertained thereby. Many of these essays felt short to me, but I think that was just a matter of getting used to her style and form, of accepting that she had said what she wished to say and was done. For those of you who don’t know Fisher, this is food writing, not recipes or restaurant reviews per se but writing about the experience of cooking and eating. Very quick read, very pithy.
Stella Gemmell, The City. This reminded me of K.J. Parker to the point where if somebody said, “K.J. Parker is secretly Stella Gemmell,” I would not be in the least bit surprised. (I don’t think K.J. Parker is actually Stella Gemmell, mostly because someone said we had learned–much to my surprise–that K.J. Parker is male.) The main difference–and for me this is an important one–is that amidst all the muck and betrayal, there are functional and even loving human relationships. There is overwhelming empire, there is fighting and despair and horror in the more general rather than genre sense, but there is a stained glass maker, and there are people who actually like each other. And since that’s more or less why I stopped reading K.J. Parker, I’m glad to see Stella Gemmell on the scene filling that niche.
Barbara Hambly, Good Man Friday. The latest in the Benjamin January mysteries. Ben and some of his family go to Washington DC in search of a missing nerd. Several politicians and Edgar Allen Poe make guest appearances, and Hambly is not able to resist a few sneaky Poe references, and also a few not-so-sneaky. While I am not generally keen on that kind of thing, Hambly (Hamilton) is one of my major exceptions, and this is a very reliable series for me–perfect thing to have on hand for a sick day.
Christopher Hibbert, Disraeli: The Victorian Dandy Who Became Prime Minister. Do you want a bio of Disraeli? Because this is one. Otherwise it is not outstandingly meritorious. But if you want a bio of Disraeli with no particular argument or thesis about his thoughts, actions, or life, boy howdy, here ya go. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that sort of thing is handy. Still.
Penelope Myrtle Kelsey, Tribal Theory in Native American Literature: Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Indigenous Worldviews. Extremely useful, interesting stuff here. The section about late 19th century American regionalism/sentimentalism being deployed in service of Dakota philosophy/worldview was breathtaking and exciting and, honestly, was just one of those moments where you read a bit of lit crit and say oh, of course, I mean naturally. Probably not a book with a very wide audience, but very solid for the audience it has, which includes me.
David Liss, Mystery Men. One of my favorite historical fiction writers does 1930s superheroes for Marvel: yeah, okay, I’m in. This felt like a string of origin snapshots–not even developed enough to be full origin stories for any of the characters–so I probably would have wanted one mystery man at a time. Still and all, the 1930s setting really was a 1930s setting and not an idealized one, and I am a sucker for the Great Depression.
Hilary McKay, Indigo’s Star and Permanent Rose. Rereads. I love these books. They just make me so happy. Both of them made me giggle almost more on the rereads than on first reading. I picked them up because they’re in a stack to lend to a friend, and I can’t wait to talk about them with her, because we had the same favorite bit of the first one. (With Rose and the signs while Caddy is driving. I was reduced to helpless squeaking rather than laughter at that point the first time I read Saffy’s Angel. And I think Permanent Rose may be the best of them. And maybe I should reread Saffy’s Angel one of these days, also, and have I said I want a Sarah book? Because I want a Sarah book. Lots.)
Brian Switek, My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road With Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs. I think I am the dead-center audience for this book, because it’s mostly a summation of how dinosaurs are not like we thought they were when I was a kid, yes, me, when I was a kid. (Many “overturning what you were taught when you were a kid” books are aimed at Baby Boomers or older Xers and are overturning things I was never taught–like by the time I was in sex ed in school, we were having repeated to us that you can’t get AIDS from a toilet seat, no no no no, when we never thought you could and why were the adults obsessed with toilet seats? Well, this is like that, but with feathers. Um.) It’s also a physically lovely object, with a fold-out cover that’s really well-done. A lot of what’s in it I already knew from reading science magazines, but still, yay dinos.