Books read, late June

Ben Aaronovitch, The Hanging Tree. This is the latest installation in a long-running series. Do not start here. You will not have the character emphasis to get why various appearances are important or even make any sense. For people who are in the middle of this: there is at least Lesley but not as much Lesley as I could want. On the other hand there is quite a lot of Guleed, and I love Guleed. I love Sahra Guleed enough to pretty much forgive the fact that this is a pretty light entry in this series.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapters 1-4 and Three Twins at the Crater School, Chapter 22-end. Kindle. I am generally, as I have said many times here, not a fan of the serial format, so what I tend to do is let them pile up until I have a book. Or in this case, I let them pile up until I’m traveling and have a good chunk of reading to catch up with on my Kindle. There’s definitely arc plot in these, but their template is both old-school SF and old-school boarding school novels, so there is a lot of short-arc/episodic stuff as well, midnight feasts and sneaking out and getting caught in various hijinks and being in disgrace for them–about as well-suited for a serial as anything could be. Three Twins is the first and Dust-Up is the one that’s going now.

E.M. Forster, Maurice. Written just before the Great War but not published for decades thereafter, this is very simply and straightforwardly about being gay and male in that era. It is a character/relationship study about a young man of that era of “good” but not “high” family and how his sexuality affects everything for him. It is short and in places poignant; Maurice is not perfect and can be very annoying, and Forster knows this, he did not mean to portray a paragon. Even if you feel like you have lots of factual data about this era, about Oscar Wilde and his trial and so on, this is still a work of art that lends texture and contrast and also makes me want to give Mr. Forster a cup of the good hot chocolate and someplace safe to hang out.

Roger Knight, Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793-1815. Logistics! So much, so many! You want to fight Napoleon, you need logistics, and the UK had a bunch of them, and not always enough, and not always lined up properly with each other. And then the logistics fight. I do like a logistics fight.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories. Reread. I think this should be of particular interest to short story writers who are new to their careers and would like to see someone evolve in her ideas and execution.

Foz Meadows, A Tyranny of Queens. This portal fantasy is, among many things, a love letter to those of us who spent our education being the good girls who could be counted upon to be convenient. For all those who were seated with a harasser for the teacher’s convenience, who were ever pinched on the thigh under the desk, whose complaints were “trouble” when the harassment was not. Foz has a story about parallel worlds and magic and travel and dragons and queens and strange beasts–but also a story of standing up and saying no, of finally having enough. This book was not here for me when I was fourteen. It is here for me now, and when my goddaughter is fourteen it will be here for her. And dammit, we will still need it. Caveat: I read it in the airport lounge, and I had to try not to cry in the airport lounge, so. Possibly be careful of your location. But recommended, oh, recommended.

Judith Merril, Exile from Space (Kindle) and Out of Bounds (reread). Who has two thumbs and is on a Judith Merril panel at Readercon? Yes. So. Exile from Space really clarified one of the strong things that’s going on here, which is writing from a female perspective but for a male editorial gaze. Once I saw that I couldn’t unsee it. I’m not at all sure there’s a man of the time who would have had the tools to write this story, or most of the ones in Out of Bounds–but it’s still very much written for them, for their attention. Fascinating. Very space-focused, very Cold War, and I do love Judith Merril or I wouldn’t have volunteered for the panel, so stay tuned for more.

Elizabeth Moon, Cold Welcome. The latest Vatta book, and it’s a crash-landing into difficult polar conditions with a saboteur to find. Even in space there are too many whiners, seems to be the thesis of this book, and maybe so, but it would be more fun if not.

William Morris, The Hollow Land. Kindle. Every once in awhile when I’m traveling I read another piece of Morris’s fantasy to get another bit of how to write him in the story I have in my head. As a fabulist he is a great ceramicist and other sorts visual designer. Oh Uncle Will. I do love him, but not for this, which is overwrought and overemotional and melodramatic and full of “revenge!” and symbolic colors and people swooning and spending years at things in one paragraph. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its own appeal, just…oh, Uncle Will.

J. Robert Moskin, The Story of the U.S. Marine Corps. Grandpa’s. I have been reading through my grandpa’s book collection since he died in 2009. I have done it in no particular order, except that I knew that I wasn’t going to want to leave things I would turn my¬† nose up at for last. This was second to last, and it was very solidly done on the deployments of particular Marines, sometimes down to their individual names. It is less solid on the motivations for those deployments, and not even just on the stuff that might be politically debatable, but if you’re writing historical fiction of any type that involves moving Marines from place to place, this is a good resource. It ends just after Vietnam. (The link is to a third edition which goes through the Gulf War. -ed)

Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, Death by Silver. This is a fairly light Victorian fantasy mystery, wherein men who were bullied and abused at school are put in a position of having to implicate or, sadly, exonerate their abuser of a capital crime. Reading it in close proximity to Maurice and A Tyranny of Queens was fascinating coincidence, as the type of school harassment it depicted was substantially different, and its take on British attitudes toward gay men just before Forster’s period was meant to be historically serious without being depressing. An interesting balance, not a book that will probably be a passionate favorite of mine but still a fun read.

Jessica Shattuck, The Women in the Castle. This book was simultaneously harrowing and not harrowing enough, which is odd. It’s about the survivors (…sort of) of the men who attempted to assassinate Hitler, mostly their post-WWII lives but a bit of the context they had before the war. They face privations and sexual violence, and they forgive, and don’t, and get on with things, and don’t. I feel like if you’re going to write a book that basically takes the position that a lot of people, especially women and lower-class people, were swept along into Nazism and didn’t entirely know what they were doing and that forgiveness is the road forward, engaging more than peripherally with the people they most directly hurt is called for–the people who are not privileged enough to live literally in a castle, the ones who were not a protected class. Women were at risk of sexual violence even in that protected class, but as this book demonstrates, that was not unique to the Nazi regime and is somewhat aside from the questions of it, so…the questions of forgiveness of it, how a country moves forward from it, deserve more depth than this gives.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Michi Trota, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issues 15, 16, 17. Kindle. I’m not sure there was a weak piece in all three of these issues. I’ll put the links in short story posts, but in general I enjoyed all the content and was glad to have it in this compact form–especially since rereading a couple of the pieces I’d already read online brought aspects of them to my attention that I hadn’t entirely noticed before.

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