Books read, August

Mishell Baker, Impostor Syndrome. The conclusion of the trilogy that began with Borderline. This book is so focused on consequences and relationship implications (two of my favorite things!) that it’s not the place to start this series. It’s only three books, the whole thing is out, go ahead and start from the beginning. But is it a satisfying ending? Yes. Oh yes.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School, Chapter 16. Kindle. The larger world implications at the edges of this boarding school serial are really coming into play here….

Lois McMaster Bujold, Flowers of Vashnoi. Kindle. This novella bookends “The Mountains of Mourning,” coming around full circle to mutation and radiation and how attempts to fix problems sometimes complicate matters. I don’t know that I’d say it was fun, but it was pretty satisfying–and I like to see Ekaterin and her skills take center stage.

Jeremy L. Caradonna, Sustainability: A History. A philosophical overview of the concept, starting with forestry and going through to the present sets of politics and concerns. Not particularly long, worth having.

Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China. Elvin has pored over who knows how many pages not just of farming records and court documents but also bad poetry (yes, really!) to glean environmental data from China and figure out how and when various environmental changes happened. The human-induced shifts in various parts of the Chinese environment–not just elephants but rivers and beyond–were fascinating to watch over this period. Very cool book.

Maria Dahvana Headley, The Mere Wife. I was captivated by this book. Maria has a way with her writing that tends to do that to me. This time the language, the way the Beowulf translation touchstones sang through the specific prose of the book, got my heart. I feel under-Beowulfed, generally, and this is a startling counter to that.

Kate Heartfield, Armed in Her Fashion. I am not much for grimdark and generally hate zombies, and yet I tore through this eagerly. It was not at all typical of either grimdark or zombie fiction, being set in the Low Countries in the late medieval period. Its treatments of gender, power, and sin were spot on for its period and for ours. I also appreciate reading a book where I can’t predict what the author will do next. I feel like Crash Davis here: don’t dig in, I don’t know where it’s gonna go.

Alex Hirsch, Gravity Falls: Lost Legends. This is four short stories in the Gravity Falls universe/characters, in graphic novel form. It absolutely has Gravity Falls nature. I giggled wildly. If you’re feeling the lack of Soos in your life (or whoever, but obviously Soos), this will fill a little of the void. No, not that void. That’s still infinitely empty, obv.

Ellen Klages, Wicked Wonders. I think people talk about whether authors have idealized childhood or focused on its dark side, but they don’t talk a lot about the focus and intensity of being a particular kind of small child. I was that kind of small child. I think Ellen was too, because she completely nails it, and whatever the plot is, I am there for that kind of vivid writing about that part of life. This is a series of short stories, not all about childhood, but a lot; not all dark, but a lot. Recommended.

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Fated Sky. Discussed elsewhere.

Nicholas P. Money, The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization. This was a lot more basic than I had hoped. He talked about the different products that owe their entire existence to yeast, beer, bread, okay, cool, but…it’s very pop sci, put it that way. If you have a science background, you may find it disappointing; if you don’t, you will not find it at all daunting.

Ryan North and Erica Henderson, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe. I too am up for beating up the Marvel Universe. Yes. I too. Also I love the off-the-wall way Squirrel Girl takes on basically every comics trope she comes into contact with. But really: you had me at beating up Tony Stark.

Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race. A lot of this stuff is very remedial: Oluo is writing with great kindness and patience about her experience as a Black woman in America, with asides about how all of this affects non-Black PoC. I picked it up because I didn’t want to be the progressive white woman who was all “oh I don’t need to learn any of this stuff” and definitely needed to learn this stuff. It was a beginning reading. That’s what it’s supposed to be. There’s more to be had, but this is a good starting place.

Charles Sheffield, The Amazing Dr. Darwin. Reread. I am constantly in a process of reevaluating our bookshelves: what am I absolutely sure we will never reread again, what do I remember fondly, what has fallen down a memory hole so I honestly don’t know what category it’s in. I picked up this Charles Sheffield book with some trepidation: I read it more than 15 years ago and have no memory of it, and that’s…often not a good sign. In this case, however, it was a delightful series of historico-scientific mystery short stories. It was several standard deviations above “it was like that at the time” in terms of sexism and treatment of minority figures–though it’s clearly not a contemporary book, it’s pretty solid on the treatment of persons unlike Sheffield himself. So if you want to read about Charles Darwin’s grandfather solving medical mysteries with the cutting-edge knowledge of his time, there’s this book, it exists, it’s fun, it’s worth my shelf space.

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby and The Mother of All Questions. I have discovered that if I have a book by Rebecca Solnit, it moves to the front of the queue pretty automatically. She is a prolific and far-ranging author, and this holds true regardless of the topic. I didn’t even know what the topic of The Faraway Nearby would be when I got it, and yet: top of the stack. It turned out to deal with cold and apricots and Solnit’s health and relationship with her mother and…bunches of other stuff. I went and downloaded a Mary Wollstonecraft book because of that one, I told a friend about the Marquis de Sade’s burial, I…thought thoughts. And The Mother of All Questions, sort of the same but different thoughts. Angry sad motivated thoughts. I’m going to keep making an effort to read through her back catalog, because it’s always rewarding.

Abra Staffin-Wiebe, The Unkindness of Ravens. Discussed elsewhere.

Jo Walton, An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look at the Hugo Awards 1953-2000 (discussed elsewhere) and Starlings. Jo doesn’t think of herself as a short story writer, but the short stories in this volume are fun and humane. Very few of the poems were new to me, but having them collected is very convenient. I was there for the first reading of the play, and now it’s in a real book. So. An eclectic and interesting collection.

Martha Wells, Rogue Protocol. MURDERBOT. New entertainments for–and from!–Murderbot! Particularly new dimensions in robot-human relationships, feelings about them that can’t be disposed of easily, plots to foil and figure out, all in one small novella. YAY MURDERBOT WE LOVE MURDERBOT.

Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance. Kindle. I read this with a playreading group, which is new for me. It’s structurally Really Weird (first act: why even; fourth act: wait what), but we had fun with it, laughing and gasping and all the things you would want. And there was a lot of “oh is that where that line came from!” (Be really careful about the cynical witticisms that are frequently just attributed to Wilde; in context they are often a clever thing for a villain to say that Wilde shows no sign of believing.) (The fox hunt one I kind of think he did though.)

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: Civil War II. Kamala Khan and a bunch of sidekicks becomes Kamala Khan vs. the proto-fascist state, Kamala Khan finds respite in family, Kamala Khan is not sure what to do next (and I want to find out).

J. Y. Yang, The Descent of Monsters. The latest Tensorate novella, epistolary, research-focused, fascinating, fun. I love these. More.

Jane Yolen, Tales of Wonder. Kindle. An assortment of short pieces across types of speculative fiction. I’d read about half of them already, and liked them, and the other half were new. A really good Jane introduction, I felt, and it held my attention even when I was exhausted.

Adam Zamoyski, Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871. Zamoyski, in this book, is trying to look at cultural threads through a bunch of revolutions. One of his strengths is Eastern European history–he will spot the Polish people you didn’t even know were being neglected in other books. He occasionally goes a bit off the rails for some other areas (a lot of people would be surprised to hear that English colonists in the Americas did not have mixed race children, for example) and is not the most brilliant prose stylist, but the places where he’s in his element don’t have a lot of overlap with other books you can get on this topic. So…don’t make this the only one you read.

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