Books read, late October

Constance Ash, ed., Not of Woman Born. Reread. We have a bunch of anthologies on the shelf that no one has picked up in ages, and I’ve been reading them a bit at a time, looking for forgotten treasures. This one was very late-’90s focused, not at all what you’d get out of asking people to do a reproductive tech anthology now (which is interesting in itself–same theme every twenty years?), but the hidden gem for me was Janni Simner’s story. When I read it the first time in college, Janni’s was just a name, one of the unfamiliar names in the table of contents, and while the story charmed and interested me, I don’t remember it particularly.  This time it read as a harbinger of thoughtfulness to come from Janni.  Perspective can make all the difference.

Kathryn Burns, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru. Focused on how the Spanish colonists used some kinds of writing and denigrated others to colonial aims.  A certain amount of interest in native writings, though not enough for my tastes.  Interesting book, brief and to the point.

Lyndsay Faye, The Fatal Flame.  The wrong timing of this book for me, I’m afraid. I have really liked this historical mystery series of Faye’s, but I had just finished bouncing off yet another historical TV series that treated prostitution as the default historical profession for women. (Farmer, people. The default historical profession for women was farmer. I get it that you don’t always want to film that, but: farmer.) I am glad that some people–some of them friends of mine!–have thoughtful things to say about sex work and sex workers in historical settings, but on the whole I am becoming a tougher sell for casual portrayals.  Faye’s book really skirted the edges of that.  And yet it did all sorts of things I like, mid-19th century early policing and immigration and labor tensions and politics, woo! so I really think this is a case where it was a badly timed selection for me. I’d start at the beginning of the series, not with this one, though.

Katrina Firlik, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside. All sorts of interesting mechanical details about what neurosurgery feels and smells like. Unevenly paced and edited, so Firlik will be chirping along about various infections and then suddenly hit you with a Raymond Chandler poem that knocks your knees out from under you. I think this one doesn’t cross the line into “of interest no matter what,” it mostly really is of interest if you like brains.  (Brains!) But I do.

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Starts with the very earliest colonial days, goes through to the 20th century, all the reasons why a person with some African and some European ancestry might choose to cross what we as Americans perceive as the color line and try to be perceived as purely white.  Also went into some of the logistics of that type of passing and some of the things that might be considered drawbacks or losses from that choice. I understand why Hobbs chose to focus on a black/white split only, but I wish I knew where to get more of the books (or if there are any yet) that go into the gradations of brown: what persons of partial Native American ancestry had as options, what persons without that ancestry managed to use as options all the same, where there were shades of not-quite-whiteness perceived at the time that are less clear to us now (did some people we would call African-American consider it useful to pass themselves off as Jewish? some Mediterranean European ethnicities? other world ethnicities that were lesser known to white populations at the time? when/where were those choices common?).  It’s totally okay for that not to be the book Hobbs wanted to write, and yet it is a set of dimensions about race, racial passing, and the American experience that I hope someone does choose to write about in depth.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy. At one point I laughed loud enough to alarm the dog.  And I love the Translator so very much.  There’s more going on with Stations and Ships and who is Significant, and I really love those questions–human vs. Significant–I really love how this series is wrapped up in that way.  But what I think is likeliest to stick with me and make me want to reread and reread is the Translator.

Jenny  Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. Many of you have read an essay or article from this book, about girls in Afghanistan dressing as boys and living as boys for part of their childhoods for various reasons.  Nordberg goes farther into gender in modern Afghanistan and how it is not quite what Westerners assume.  My main qualm about it is that she often seems too surprised herself that gender is not a monolith, that the treatment of it in her Swedish upbringing was not universal. The anecdotes about Afghani life and gender are fascinating, though, and well worth the (short) time.

Daniel José Older, Half Resurrection Blues. Some of these characters have short stories associated with them, and I’ve liked the short stories, so I was glad to pick up the novel. It was at least as good.  It’s pacey and fun, its characters what we should have seen in urban fantasy ages ago–sharp and funny and emotionally involved with each other and with their city. I’m very glad to see this is the beginning of a series.

Kim Stanley Robinson, ed., Futures Primitive: The New Ecotopias. Reread. This anthology made me so angry. It was not making even the vaguest attempt at writing ecotopia, at tackling any of the ecological problems that were already, by the mid-’90s when it was written, starting to become quite clear–I remember, I was there. Robinson had written actual ecotopia himself, and this was a reprint anthology, so one couldn’t even chalk it up to “he asked a bunch of big names and was disappointed in what he got but had to go with it.” Much of it was undirected primitivism, some of it not even that, but the ecological component was nebulous at best. We’ve kept this anthology on our shelf since the late ’90s, and I’m afraid it was not one that rewarded the shelf space or a reread.

Matthew David Surridge, Reading Strange Matters. Discussed elsewhere.

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 5. Kindle. It turns out that when I got around to reading the Kindle copy, I had already read basically the whole thing online. So I merely note the completeness for my own records.

Catherynne M. Valente, Radiance. Discussed elsewhere.

Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa, The Runaways Vol. 1. This made me smile, although the ending of the volume–well, I’ll be interested to see whether anything happens in volume 2 that makes me like the very ending any better.  There were all sorts of fun bits along the way, enough to make me want to keep going in the series, but the very ending left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. This is the story of a bunch of teens who find out that their parents are supervillains, basically, and run away and try to deal with the entire situation themselves. Many of them have some flavor of superpowers themselves, and there are other superpowered people in the world, and…well.  Hijinks, as you would expect, ensue.

Brian K. Vaughan et al, The Escapists. This is an incredibly establishment comic for a comic about indie comics. The self-awareness factor did not seem high. It wasn’t offensive, but I didn’t see a lot of point unless you’re a rabid fan of Kavalier & Clay and possibly even then.

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