Books read, late June

It’s panel prep season! A lot of my reading this fortnight was preparation either for Fourth Street or for Readercon. So: many rereads. And so little time for other things.

Edward Eager, Magic by the Lake, Magic or Not?, The Time Garden, and The Well-Wishers. Rereads. The suck fairy had been at The Time Garden–there’s barely a bit of it that isn’t racially stereotyping and insensitive. Which makes me sad, because the general conceit of magic through varietals of thyme was cute and fun…but it made me aware that in my childhood I might not have encountered a character of Pacific Island heritage who was not portrayed as a cannibal, and that was pretty gross. (Nor was this the only example of racist portrayals in that book, nor was it Eager’s only use of that trope–Magic by the Lake is the companion volume to The Time Garden, as the children in the two encounter each other in the same scene written from different perspectives.) I have a lot to say about Eager’s relationship to Nesbit’s works–that’s the panel I’m preparing for–but here I will simply say that the difference between Nesbit doing her own thing and Eager looking back to try to do her thing looks pretty important to the result. The dubious magic pairing held up better (Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers)–the latter was in the “okay for its time” category regarding how coy it was about race while trying to take on the theme of desegregation in housing and education–doing that while carefully never using any words that might be race-markers and never letting the illustrator illustrate the Black characters is…pretty shaky ground. But at least the book came down on the side of “these people are people and we support that,” I guess.

John M. Ford, From the End of the Twentieth Century and The Dragon Waiting. Rereads. The former is a brilliant and eclectic collection of short stories, essays, and poems. The latter…oh, oh, the latter. The Dragon Waiting holds up no matter how many times I reread it. It simultaneously does alternate history and does subtle meta things about alternate history and inevitability. It’s got vampires and wizards and Richard III and a strong Byzantium and…stuff, it is full of stuff, it is entirely full of stuff, and every time I reread it there’s something more I’d forgotten or hadn’t fully apprehended. Highly, highly recommended.

Dorothy Heydt, The Witch of Syracuse. Kindle. This is a mosaic novel about a woman who is sometimes a physician and sometimes a witch. It’s set in ancient Greece and does really well with its setting, historico-mythically. The heroine is engaging and fun, and the trials she runs into are interesting. Definitely enjoyed and would recommend. (Free! -ed)

E. Nesbit, Five Children and It. Reread. Actually held up substantially better than Eager despite being almost twice as old: Nesbit’s children are flawed, forthright, stubborn little beasts having magic adventures, and it’s still reasonably fun. She takes more care than her era really would have found proper to make sure she’s not stereotyping Roma people (not perfectly successful at this–but better than not trying), and there are little pokes and jabs at the status quo in odd and charming places.

Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, Will Murray, Chris Schweitzer, et al. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Like I’m the Only Squirrel in the World and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Who Run the World? Squirrels!. These are just plain fun. Especially if you have no reverence for the other Marvel superheroes and enjoy seeing them skewered, mocked, and parodied. There is nut-eating as well as butt-kicking in these.

G. Willow Wilson et al, Ms. Marvel: Super Famous. I like Ms. Marvel a lot and enjoyed this comic, gentrification and all, but it suffered by being read in close proximity to the Squirrel Girl comics, because they took nearly identical paths to their young heroines’ romantic lives. Ideally there will be more divergence in future. Meanwhile it was still reasonably fun to encounter Kamala’s super adventures overlapping with her family stuff.

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