Books read, early January

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Reread. This is going to be a clear theme in this fortnight’s reading: I was preparing for the humor panel I was doing at ConFusion, and I didn’t want to talk about whether things did or did not hold up when I haven’t read them in [checks notes] [hides under desk]. Seriously, that long? wow. Anyway! I am very pleased with how the humor of this book arises from a surreal sense of the universe, and I am astonished at how much the recent show managed to keep the tone and basically only the tone of the book. Each is very modish, very of-its-time–but in the same way, for different times. Weird. Good.

John Appel, Jo Miles, and Mary Agner, eds., Skies of Wonder, Skies of Danger. It would probably be the most politic, when talking of an anthology filled with friends and cordial acquaintances, to say some vague nice things and move on, but honestly I think A.J. Hackwith’s “Lips of Red, Lips of Black” and Jennifer Mace’s “Thou Shalt Be Free As Mountain Winds” were the stand-out stories in this volume.

Robert Aspirin, Phule’s Company. Reread. I was mostly pleased with how this held up. Mostly. The message of “we need to all work together and share our highly varied strengths to succeed” and “underdogs go!” was still there…but in places it read like “we need all the stereotypes to work together and….” And what’s with a happy ending that’s basically “rich dude finds a loophole to get his rich family richer”? The part that has really not held up well here is “look at how much this rich guy is bypassing regs because he knows best.” Uh. We see how that goes in reality, and it’s way less funny.

Paul Bogard, The Ground Beneath Us: From the Oldest Cities to the Last Wilderness, What Dirt Tells Us About Who We Are. This…was not the book I was looking for. I enjoyed it! You might enjoy it too! But it’s a great deal more of Paul Bogard Has Dirt-Related Emotions than In-Depth Look At Soil Science.

Aliette de Bodard, In the Vanishers’ Palace. I love the worldbuilding on this. Love it so much. Oh wow. I kind of don’t want to talk about any of it, because I want you to discover it for yourself. Eeeeee this worldbuilding eeeee yay.

Jonathan Drori, Around the World in 80 Trees. This was such a beautiful volume, visually as well as in prose content. It’s just what I needed, like the book equivalent of walking in a green cool forest.

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black. This is a beautiful wrenching historical novel about a young enslaved man who is assigned to assist his owner’s brother in scientific experiments and hot-air ballooning. I enjoyed every page of it, and there were several places where I am thrilled to announce that I had no idea where it was going next. Not science fiction but science-important fiction.

Amy L. Handy, War-Time Breads and Cakes. Kindle. Okay, so my friend Justin is a weird influence, and I will download basically anything from Gutenberg. This one is from WWI and talks a lot about stretching (but not eliminating!) yeast and flour and sugar, techniques involving potato sponges and like that. I did not come out of this wanting to do the things in it, but it’s really good as worldbuilding influence, and also quite short.

Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant. Reread. I feel like this is one of the mid-period books where Pratchett was finding his feet again. He did good things here with policing and diplomacy and race and relationships, but…not as good as he would do with those themes later. Still fun from start to finish. And it sets me up for my favorite of the grown-up books next.

Spider Robinson, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. Reread. I am one of the people who had a lot of social associations around the Callahan books, so I really wanted this to hold up well. It did not. Hoo boy did it not. There is gratuitous racism, both explicit and implicit. The gender politics are wretched, and are specifically enumerated so that you can’t think “well but maybe he just hasn’t said that…” nope. Nope! The way that the first woman to come into Callahan’s is treated is simultaneously breathtakingly awful and really transparent as a primer for how I, as a young woman, was expected to behave in science fiction fandom. It was so upsetting. In fact, one of the general things I took from even the better stories in this volume is that this was never so much funny as it was fannish. Lots of not-particularly-clever puns and bonhomie, not so much humor structure beyond that. Sigh. Sorry, teen self.

John Schoffstall, Half-Witch. Generally quite charming, inventive, more medieval than the people trying to feign medieval fantasy by a long shot. I hate to call stuff out that is literally one tiny sub-scene, but…I felt like the sexual violence in this book was handled rather badly. But it was such a small sliver that it didn’t make the entire book not worth having. (On the other hand, it was such a small sliver that WHY.)

E.P. Thompson, Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law. I do love me some E.P. Thompson. This was more Anti-Nomianism R Us than in-depth William Blakiness, but William Blake is widely available, and I do like the infinite branches of Protestantism, at least as a field of study from a distance.

Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog. Reread. Much to my relief, I still found this entertaining. Willis skews toward farce in a direction that can be hard to pace in prose writing, but for me To Say Nothing of the Dog is still on the correct side where the “one MORE thing OMG” aspect of farce really comes through and doesn’t drag into “this is just repetitious, not funny.”

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