Catfishing on Catnet, by Naomi Kritzer

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a personal friend.

This. This book is so good. It is so wholesome and so loving. Scary things happen in this book, but there is a constant stream of friendship and support–not flawless, but loving human support. And, not at all incidentally, loving inhuman support. Because this is a book about a young AI finding its place in the world, figuring out its possibilities and limitations. It is very much, very literally, a teen AI novel.

So. A young AI and a teenage human have formed strong internet friendships with some additional humans. They’re both dealing with a lot of stuff. The AI: what are the bounds of ethical interaction, how does friendship work, where can I get more cat pics. The human: ordinary high school stuff is far worse when your mom has kept you moving from town to town multiple times a year to keep your abusive father from finding you. Together they fight crime! Sort of! And also make art and friends and take care of animals and–

Look, this is a very hard review for me to write, because basically this book made me incoherently happy start to finish, and it is going to be SO HARD waiting to post this until a sensible time close to the release date instead of just collaring strangers at the bank and the post office and telling them to READ IT.

REEEEEEEAD IIIIIIT.

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever encountered fiction that portrays the nature of close (core!) internet-mediated friendships this accurately before. This is an emotional reality of my contemporary life that feels completely untouched by most fiction. And it is so great.

Books read, early November

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapter 23. In which the unification of character arcs begins….

Marie Brennan, Turning Darkness Into Light. This is doing a thing I wish I saw more, which is telling more stories in the same world but in a different time period. I really like that, showing how a world can change in small and large ways, how there are always more stories–and this one is an academic’s story, albeit one with adventure around the edges, but the shape of it is very different than in the Lady Trent books. I had fun with it.

Stephen L. Carter, Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster. Carter is writing about his grandmother here, so there is a lot more focus on who Eunice Hunton Carter was as a person and less on the trial with Lucky Luciano than I expected. It was still an interesting biography and well worth reading as a portrait of a woman doing things that were unusual for her time but not unheard-of.

Aliette de Bodard, Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight. I loved the elements of family relationships and melancholy that threaded through these different settings. Though they were not all related stories, there was a cohesive feel to reading this collection that I really enjoyed.

K.A. Doore, The Impossible Contract. Discussed elsewhere.

Paul Krueger, Steel Crow Saga. This was a giant brick of fun. While Krueger’s media influences are written in the blurb on the front–Pokemon! Avatar: the Last Airbender!–they are jumping-off points rather than elements he’s going to copy whole-heartedly, and the way he’s thinking about magic and culture is not exactly like anything else I’ve read. These elements definitely ramify in his characters in ways I liked a whole lot–the length felt like a feature, not a bug.

Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun. Ramification and consequence and the end of a trilogy. The plot twist in how this particular end is accomplished was pretty cool once I got to it, and also the protagonist having to live with fallout in multiple ways.

Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford, and James Devlin, LaGuardia. This comic features alien plants and human families and immigration law and all sorts of cool things. And I actually did appreciate the art, yes, even me, even non-visual me.

Julian Rubinstein, Ballad of the Whisky Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts. You know how people talk about some books and shows and etc. as competence porn, enjoyable just for watching someone do what they do well? This…is the opposite of that. This is a true crime book that is staggering for how few people do anything even remotely competently, and how it just…keeps…going. There is a semi-pro hockey player criminal in the wreckage of immediately post-Communist Hungary and…how did any of this keep working? Lack of resources is a hell of a trip, wow. Wow. What even happened here. Train wreck. No literal trains wrecked but that may be the only thing that didn’t get screwed up. I am aghast. And yes, I kept reading.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities and Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters. Two essay collections, separated by over a decade–the latter is the newer one, and it’s still struggling toward hope. Both of them are dealing with hope as a struggle, and I needed them both. Both brief, both filled with thoughtful, pithy takes. Reading them back-to-back was interesting, too….

Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. This is one of the most harrowing books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a beautiful novel about the effects of PTSD on three generations of a Vietnamese immigrant family. Brace yourself and read it when you’re in a good place if you’re going to read it at all–it’s incredibly well done, and I’m glad it exists, but it was a gut punch.

Peter Watts, Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor. Discussed elsewhere.

Peter Watts is An Angry Sentient Tumor, by Peter Watts

 (and a good thing, too, because if it was by someone else those would be fighting words)

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Regular readers know, I think, that I read a lot of review copies in advance, depending on when I get them and what my schedule allows. I write the review when it’s fresh and post it later. This one I read at the end of a week of being sick in bed with influenza.

This is no one’s fault but my own. I’ve read Peter Watts before, and in case I’d forgotten what it was like to do so, he and Tachyon Press gave this essay collection the convenient title listed above. So that for readers who have not encountered Peter’s writing before–my brief and entirely internet encounters with Peter-the-person, I hasten do add, have nothing of this quality–there is the title in large friendly letters. It does not say Don’t Panic on the cover. It would not dream of saying that. No. This is a Peter Watts book.

So I, clever person that I am, decided that the best thing on day six of being in bed with a variable fever, would be to let an entire collection of Peter’s blog posts and editorial rants wash over me.

I…would suggest that you read this book in another condition, if you have one available to you.

In the introductory essay, Peter makes a comment about John Scalzi having collected his blog posts in two volumes, then an aside about how cheerful John is. And this made me think: possibly there are people out there who were introduced to the concept of John Scalzi by the descriptions of his self-appointed enemies. Who heard that there was this angry, radical leftist who was putting loads of his politics into his science fiction and thought, sure, I want one of those!, went looking and were mildly baffled by what they found. Well, it turns out there’s an entire buffet of such people, it’s just that cheerful centrist John Scalzi is not on the list really. Try Peter Watts if you want a collection of blog posts from a writer like that.

As with any contentious blogger, you’ll probably find at least some of the posts/essays in here to cheerfully disagree with–or to bury your head in your hands, groan, and wish you could disagree with. But remember: the reader expectations should be set pretty clearly. This is what it says on the tin. Not: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor But Look! A Butterfly! or Peter Watts Seems Like An Angry Sentient Tumor But In Just Three Essays You’ll Find Out How He Learned To Play His Cares Away On The Ukulele–And So Can You! There’s a lot of climate change realism, a lot of anger at police brutality and surveillance state assholery, a lot of frustration at entirely valid frustrating human behavior. Also a little bit of talking out his ass about YA fiction, some movie reviews, mourning for some much-loved humans and cats. This is a set of blog posts, not a two-minutes’ hate, no matter how well-directed. It’s easy to slip into “just one more” here even when you’re wincing and going “oh God too much truth.” Just a little more truth though, just one more blog post worth of truth before I go back to my fever dreams….

The Impossible Contract, by K.A. Doore

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also, the author is a friend of mine, and we share the same agent.

This is the sequel to The Perfect Assassin. It’s not as crucial as some series to read the first one first, but there’s a lot of chewy worldbuilding grounding going on, so there’s a lot to be gained from reading them in order, and the first one is still perfectly well in print, so why not?

What it is not, however, is a series where you follow the same protagonist throughout. Frankly, I love that about it. I love having a different perspective, a completely different protagonist–although Amastan is still a character in this one, he’s no longer center stage. His cousin Thana is trying to make and keep her own reputation as an assassin in Ghadid. She’s fond of Amastan but sometimes frustrated with him, and always full of her own concerns, her own ideas–her own love life.

And Thana’s problems only start in the city of Ghadid. They take her into the desert, on caravan trips, into empires, and beyond. Ghadid is Thana’s heart, but the larger world is her canvas. She and acerbic healer Mo are sometimes working together, sometimes at cross purposes, but with a far larger stage than either of them ever expected–and knowing Ghadid well from the first book helps make the rest of it feel even more vivid and urgent. I had so much fun with this, and I highly recommend it.

Books read, late October

Sarah Archer, The Midcentury Kitchen: America’s Favorite Room from Workspace to Dreamscape, 1940s to 1970s. This is one of those photo-heavy books that could have done with a dollop more analysis for my taste. The pictures of how kitchens were designed and advertised to Americans over the middle of the twentieth century is interesting, but there were several things that Archer takes as given but could have done deeper work on–or takes as true that I frankly doubt. There’s one moment, for example, where she blames Lillian Moller Gilbreth being tall for kitchen cabinet heights being taller than the average woman would want them. But Gilbreth, while influential in motion study, was only an inch or two taller than the average height Archer cited–and the cabinet height was a good five inches taller. Is it likely that this is all down to one woman, no matter how efficient an efficiency expert, or is there…some other explanation we can think of, somehow, for this phenomenon? Also, cutting off with the avocado green kitchen doesn’t do anything with the fall of the avocado green (harvest gold, etc.) kitchen, which is also interesting, so it seems a curious omission.

Christopher Brown, Rule of Capture. This is an environmental and legal thriller set in the future. It’s a day-after-tomorrow setting, so there’s a lot about this book that may be a little close to the bone. On the other hand, this stuff is worth talking and thinking about, and I wish there was more of this kind of legal thriller in modern SFF. So.

Ben Clanton, Narval et Loutre Amie. This is a kids’ comic I picked up in French in Montreal, about a narwhal and jellyfish making friends with an otter. It’s extremely sweet and did not tax my French skills unduly.

Nicky Drayden, Temper. This is yet another example of Drayden not doing exactly the same thing as anyone else–a nation (world?) composed almost entirely of twins, with virtues and vices split between them, navigating the dichotomous forces that made them and the social assumptions about those forces that are…not quite right. I love worlds where people are approximate rather than exact about what’s going on in their world (that is how science works!!!) and this was an interesting one.

Greg Egan, The Best of Greg Egan. Discussed elsewhere.

Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82. I really liked the way Fenn managed to deal with the effects on all of North America, not just the part having the American Revolution. The effects on the Mandan and the Sioux and their balance of power, for example, were exactly what I was in this for, and she delivered. This is no less grim than you would expect for a book about a giant continent-spanning smallpox epidemic, but if you’re ready to brace yourself for that it’s really well done.

Daniel Immerwahr, How to Hide an Empire. Imperial America and the ways we do and do not deal with US overseas territories as part of the “real” US. I feel like this one gets a little vague towards the end where the different locations for US airbases and how those are managed gets fuzzy compared to “English spreads worldwide and people drink a lot of Coca-Cola,” but still it’s an interesting read and worth thinking about.

Gina Kolata, Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and the Science that Rescued Them. This is a somewhat disjointed book, starting with the difficulties in getting medical attention to a rare genetic disorder in the first place (difficult if you are close with anyone who has had this experience or is having it right now) and then veering off into how one individual dealt with her genetic lottery. Kolata decided for some reason to treat this individual’s choices as immutable or inevitable in some ways, to focus on what she felt like she “had to” do as though she really did have to, sometimes to the exclusion of other family members in extremely similar situations who had other perspectives and made other choices. Not entirely satisfying.

Laurie Marks, Fire Logic. I’m still not entirely clear why Marks began with the two chapters she began with. After I got through those things got much more interesting. I find particularly compelling her approach to “here are multiple cultures doing the best they know how and being imperfect in the same space, how do they fit together.” I’m very glad I persevered through the first two chapters and am eager to read the rest of the series.

Pat Murphy, Points of Departure. Kindle. I’d read several of these short stories in various anthologies in the past; together they’re a quite different thing, a whole and holistic perspective rather than a tiny window. It’s interesting to me how very different her time travel stories were from the ones I was reacting against in some of mine. How very much less I need to yell at them, basically, than at the men of the same era, though we’re not occupying the same space.

Sarah Pinsker, A Song for a New Day. This is a book I would never have picked up if I didn’t know the author, and I would be much the poorer. I would have read the premise–“musicians finding a way to make music when gatherings are banned”–and rolled my eyes and moved on. But no. No. Sarah is a musician, and as a result, while she believes in the power of music to move people–which it can, it absolutely can–she also knows firsthand the power of musicians to annoy the shit out of each other. This is a book where the musician characters are absolutely real, not idealized versions where the author has muttered “if I’d gotten into music instead of stinkin’ writing, everything would be so much cooler.” And the people who are trying to make money off the musicians are not simplistic villains either, and…yeah. It’s all day-after-tomorrow stuff–an interesting companion to read with Rules of Capture, come to think of it–and I am so glad I trusted Sarah, and you should too.

Natasha Pulley, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. A novel of Victorian London featuring a clockwork octopus and a universe where the ether is apparently real. Since ether jokes were some of the most hilarious things in my physics major (…we made our own fun…), this bemused me. Entertained me. The way its characters attempted to be practical and failed badly and had to try again in entirely different configurations was interesting. Huh.

Kate Williams, The Babysitters Coven. This was mostly a fun teen read, and I will look forward to the sequel, and one thing I was looking for in it was emotional bond between babysitter and kid. Absolutely present. Yes. And strong friendships, yes, that too. I want to flag that there are some parental mental health issues here, in case anybody wants to handle those with care–I feel like the book is also trying to handle them with care, but I know that some friends really don’t want to relive personal experiences with their own parental mental health crises without warning in their fun teen fantasies, and that’s utterly fair, so: that’s in there.

The Best of Greg Egan, by Greg Egan

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a large and fairly comprehensive volume of short stories. For anyone who wants a view of what Greg Egan is up to in his work, this is an extremely good selection of What Greg Egan Is Up To, a cross-section, a sampler. I talk about hard SF a lot in various configurations, and Greg Egan is one of the people who’s aiming at doing it, not just moving other people’s furniture but building his own configurations of hard SF futures, nerdy ideas and the humans that poke at them.

Ideas are Egan’s strength, and it’s fun to watch him turn some of them over and examine them from different angles in adjacent stories. Sometimes it’s the same idea resurfacing–a “jewel” that stores a human mind and how people would interact with such a machine, how they would conceive of which thing was “really them,” their brain or the jewel–and sometimes it’s variations on a more general concept, biochemical happiness, religion and its manifestations in the human brain.

I was a little surprised that Egan didn’t take the time, in a note of some sort, to comment on what things he would do differently now, because I would hope there are some things–nor is that unique to him, heaven knows I’ve learned some things in the time I’ve been writing, one would hope a person would. In particular I’d flag that I’d hope his concept of bisexuality has evolved and that he would no longer use the word “retarded” in the casual offhand manner in which it shows up in a few stories. I’m also a little baffled as to why no one suggested that a story called “Crystal Nights” should either have a clearer connection to Kristallnacht or get a different and considerably more sensitive title.

But with those caveats established, this is an excellent place to start thinking about the career of Greg Egan, and about what can be done with the sub-genre of hard science fiction.

Books read, early October

Stephanie Burgis, Masks and Shadows. This is a fun fantasy about Habsburgs and opera singers and alchemy. There are masked balls and banquets and all sorts of court intrigue of the sorts that I think a lot of my friends find fun to read about, and yet I don’t remember hearing this book talked about when it came out–I only saw that there was another in the world with Congress of Secrets when I looked at Stephanie’s webpage to see when a couple of other things were coming out. And I’m glad I did.

Agatha Christie, Murder on the Links. Kindle. This is an early Poirot mystery, and when I was sick it was a fine light read. I think she was still realizing how much it was going to be a series at that point, with the second volume, but it was fun, and some of the things that bother me about the TV series were completely the opposite in this book (though it would be a spoiler to say what, so if you want to talk about what, email me).

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Binding Thorns. This is the second in its series, and it’s full of ramification and implication, so I recommend reading the first one first. Angels and dragons and Paris! Illness and childbirth and addiction and trickery! So much skillfully interwoven here.

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss. Kindle. Knowing what I do about George Eliot (Maryann Evans) and her actual life, this was a beautiful and heartbreaking book and I wanted to travel back in time and kick her brother in the shins and hug her and invite her and her partner and stepsons to Christmas dinner. This is a passionate story of a nerdy, unconventional young woman and how much she loves her rules-driven brother and craves his approval, and how she basically can never, ever have it. And the ending made me cry, and yet also I think that trying to give it to high school students who don’t have a really strong basis in Victorian cultural mores and this author in specific is futile and likely to make them hate her. But when it’s on your own hook, with the right background…oh, I loved reading this.

Elizabeth Hand, Errantry: Strange Stories. These are, indeed, strange stories; they are slightly off to the side of the main thrust of genre structure and expectation, often with less of a linear plot focus than a lot of genre-central manuscripts and more focus on mood evocation.

Laurence M. Hauptmann, Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State. I was a bit disappointed on how much this focused on the white people who dispossessed the Iroquois, but on the whole it was an interesting additional set of data about the Erie Canal, the power elite of New York State, and the various ways that the Iroquoian people found to remain a force for their own culture and self-determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

Rose Macaulay, Potterism. Kindle. This is a novel about how easy it is to fall into the ruts of the conventional even when your life is dedicated to opposing them. It does not, itself, generally fall into those ruts as often as one might fear; there were several points in its short length at which I blinked and said, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” Some of it is frothy and witty, some of it portrays staggering amounts of anti-Semitism directed at one of its most wholly positive characters, and while it is not approving of that anti-Semitism, you can’t really brace and say, okay, we’re done with that bit now, no more anti-Semitic slurs will pop up here. Similarly sexism: Macaulay is quietly, bitterly, wittily furious at some of the sexism she has encountered and uses it as fuel for this novel, but there it is, if you don’t want to read about it today, don’t read this book today. Aside from that, though: she doesn’t turn conventional pieties in a mirror by insisting that the conventionally pious will get their comeuppances instead of the conventionally impious–she understands the world differently than that, and that was…good but also frustrating but generally quite good.

Eduardo Jimenez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, eds., Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. These were mostly quite short and, like the Hand above but in a completely different direction, very focused on evocative mood and language. I’m glad these stories were translated and compiled, as I found them very much worth reading and will probably return to this anthology for a reread.

Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick, The Witch Who Came In From the Cold (Season 1). This is a compilation of a serial, so it has the pacing of a serial, which is to say, sometimes rather slow. The thing it’s doing where Soviet vs. US and the two kinds of magic don’t map to each other made me very happy, though, and if you’re also a sucker for spy stories, you won’t want to miss it.

Books read, late September

I spent late September having influenza! Boy was that…about as much fun as you’ve heard influenza is! And much of what I could do in that time was read. So read I did! Yay reading! Note: this is a particularly bad time to make comments about how you wish you had that much time for reading, as I had to cancel several other things I was excited about in order to lie in bed, feel terrible, and read. Still yay reading! But…not really to be envied. Even though some of these books are great.

Roma Agrawal, Built: The Hidden Structures Behind Our Structures. This is definitely a “pop structural engineering” level book; for all Agrawal outs herself as a nerd, she’s aiming at the general audience. But if you’re looking for little nuggets of trivia and interest about materials and building, from the most basic structures up to the most modern skyscrapers, this is your jam.

Gavin Chappell, translator, Sagas of Ancient Kings; Sorli’s Yarn: The Saga of Hedin and Hogni; The Saga of Asmund, Bane of Champions; The Saga of Fridthjof the Bold; The Saga of Hervor and Heidrek; The Saga of Hrolf Kraki and His Champions; The Saga of Hromund Gripsson; The Saga of Thorstein Vikingsson; The Sagas of Ketil Trout and Grim Hairy-cheek. Kindle. Oh so many legendary sagas. Oh so many. So many people turning into wolves, swans, and who knows what else. They’re actually pretty perfect to read in bulk with a fever because fever logic and saga logic live next door to each other: and then he ate live coals and turned into a troll, sure, yes, why not.

Nicky Drayden, Escaping Exodus. Discussed elsewhere.

Jennifer Giesbrecht, The Monster of Elendhaven. This novella is darker than my usual fare, but sure-handed and beautifully done. The classes and regions of the worldbuilding, the individual relationships in the magic, the decay and the illness and the murder murder murder….

Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack and Zita the Space Girl. This is a team-up capstone to these two series, and I think it works best if you’ve read the books in both, because a lot of it involves revisiting characters and places from previous episodes in a dash to the finish.

Kat Howard, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone. There are some truly beautiful stories in here, including a college Arthurian that is just exactly my jam. Highly, highly recommended.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Peculiar Ground. This book was mis-shelved by a used bookstore that thought it was fantasy; its speculative content is extremely minimal. Mostly it is a literary novel about walls and boundaries, ranging from the Restoration to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I enjoyed the experience of reading it but once I’ve had a chance to think it over, some of the thematic implications are kind of gross, but not gross enough to ruin the entire thing–especially not gross enough to ruin the rare chance at Restoration garden design fiction.

Kelly Jones, Sauerkraut. This is a really fun kids’ book about a haunted fermenting crock and a kid who likes to make stuff! and his family and their various interests! it is great! it is by the chicken book person! I am basically made of exclamation marks when I talk about this book!

Margaret Killjoy, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion. Kindle. A novella that does not outstay its welcome: it gets in, tells its story of magic in a small town commune of squatters and punks, and gets out again. This is what the pacing of novellas is supposed to do. Its characterization is precise and clear, its plotting doesn’t linger purposelessly, and its details are very well drawn.

Karen Lord, Unraveling. Karen Lord is always doing something different from anybody else, and this is no exception. It’s a labyrinthine fantasy of solving a serial murder related to immortals and their influence on humans, and it pays attention to that influence in ways that don’t fall apart when you keep thinking.

Rose Macaulay, Mystery at Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings. Kindle. Alas, I was bound to come upon one of Macaulay’s works that didn’t hold up for me, and this was it: this is a satire of the Leage of Nations in ways that just feel off and nasty now, some of them racist, some of them merely crass. The central plot feels cheap and shabby, with the resolution an unsatisfying echo of some of the things she manages in better works. Not recommended unless you, like me, have become passionately dedicated to Macaulay and want to be able to talk knowledgeably about what she wrote in all its available details.

Donald McCaig, Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men: Searching Through Scotland for a Border Collie. I cannot fathom the reviewer on the cover of this who thinks it will make you want a border collie. I love border collies, but it is very clear about them as working dogs, and you almost certainly do not want one. But if you want to read about nice dogs and the very weird people who have them, doing trials and things, this is a good book about that, it doesn’t last too long, the dog the writer has at the beginning is still around getting pettins at the end and also there is a new dog, so it is not one of those And Then My Dog Died horrors. Dogs! Sometimes one wants a book, and this is one.

Gretchen McCulloch, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. This was a fast, fun read that described a lot of things that you have probably experienced, or else will be interested to learn about and catch up on, if you like language and its fluidity. I DMed Gretchen excitedly about a particular example in the middle. If you don’t know Gretchen even in the internet way that I do, you probably shouldn’t do that, but you may well have the urge, because it’s that kind of book.

Naomi Mitchison, The Blood of the Martyrs. This is a lovely and loving book about attempting to establish a group based on love and trust in the face of a totalitarian regime. In this case it happens to be an early Christian group in Rome in the reign of Nero, and they fare about as well as you’d expect, but Mitchison wrote it in the late ’30s and was thinking rather more historically broadly than just Nero.

Rebecca Roanhorse, Storm of Locusts. Roanhorse continues to be some of the most thriller-paced fantasy I have ever encountered. Her worldbuilding is unlike any other going on right now in the genre, a radically altered future with drastically changed magic. The new characters in this volume made it fun and a fast read for me, and I enjoyed zipping right through.

Karl Schroeder, Stealing Worlds. It took me a little bit to get into the characters on this one, but I’m very sympathetic to what Karl was doing with the ending, and it’s worth getting there, I think, even if you’re a hard-sell on blockchain fiction, which I am.

Vivian Shaw, Grave Importance. Now okay, yes, I did read this with influenza, so that might have made me more likely to cry, but the ending made me cry in such a good way. It is taking urban fantasy and monster tropes and making them into such a work of hope and love. All the times when people say that genre gives you structure to make your art work within: this is what they mean. This. This capped the series so beautifully and so movingly, and it works best with the full weight of the series behind it, so go, go read, I loved this.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, For Love of Distant Shores. I am so pleased that this is what Tchaikovsky has decided to do with his vast and sweeping fantasy setting. So not only did he write a ten-book series that had a beginning, a middle, and–get this–an ending–when he was done, he did not go do another just like it again to try to get the same result. No! Instead he is using this canvas he’s made to tell different kinds of stories! My analogy for this book is that if the big giant fantasy series is like the description of WWII, this set of novelette-ish length things is like the Indiana Jones stories, if Short Round got to be the protagonist. They’re fun, they’re a completely different tone, they’re exploring corners of the world in ways that Tchaikovsky is good at. Do approve.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 6 and Uncanny Magazine Issue 30. At least that’s how my Kindle metadata lists it! But! We know that Uncanny Magazine Issue 30 was actually Disabled People Destroy Fantasy and that it was actually edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Katharine Duckett, and Lisa M. Bradley, according to the cover. It was a varied and lovely issue, with my favorite part coming with A. T. Greenblatt’s essay about disabled protagonists, but I also found solidarity with Karlo Yeager Rodríguez’s “This Is Not My Adventure,” a story of grief that went some places I needed to go. I realized, looking at my Kindle, that for some reason Issue 6 was the only issue I’d missed in the past, though I’d read a lot of the individual stories, and while it’s not that long ago in real terms, in short fiction terms it feels like the magazine and the field has built a lot on what was going on then, on this issue and others around it, so it was interesting to look back as things grow and build so quickly.

Valerie Valdes, Chilling Effect. Discussed elsewhere.

Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. What a difficult and compassionate book. I knew I would be in good hands when van der Kolk related learning from a mentor whom he asked, would you call this patient schizophrenic or schizoaffective? and got told gently: I would call this patient [name]. While he’s willing to talk about diagnoses and use them where appropriate, his focus is always on human experience, and it’s a stronger book thereby.

Greg van Eekhout, Cog. Discussed elsewhere.

Jane Yolen, Dragonfield, and Other Stories. Kindle. The first of these stories is the same story as the graphic novel of Jane’s I read at the beginning of September, so that was disorienting. And then there were a couple of stories that were among the best short fiction I’ve ever read of hers, so…yeah, worth the price of admission, I should say, even with the different angle/same narrative at the beginning.

Escaping Exodus, by Nicky Drayden

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Nicky Drayden is one of the most creative writers working in speculative fiction at this time. One of the ones with the most pleasant, happiest work…I can’t say that, really. But creative, oh Lord yes, and this is no exception. Escaping Exodus takes a generation ship saga and moves those ships inside massive gigantic space beasts. Y’know, just another one of those.

So if you are thinking, human parasitism inside the organs of a truly epic-sized space herd, wow, cool, yes, you are correct, and if you are thinking, that has the potential to have some really gross bits with sphincters and bodily fluids, you are also very correct. Drayden does not wimp out on including pus and goo here. Our characters carve bone, but also they deal with organs galore.

It’s all in the service of real, flawed human relationships and science fictional conceit that goes beyond “ooh lookit,” though: the lives of the giant beasts are tied intimately to the lives of our protagonists in ways that go beyond the understanding their culture has evolved. They have to come up with new and better ways to manage their own lives–which they can barely do under the current cultural norms–and the beast’s life and life in space, if anyone is to survive. If you’re thinking about the interdependence of life and fragile ecosystems–which, ahem, please do–or if you’re thinking about the way people who love each other manage to hurt each other anyway, you probably want this book. Pus and all.

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout

Review copy provided by the author.

I am writing this review several months ahead of posting it for its release, and honestly it is going to KILL ME to spend the entire late spring, summer, and early fall without people to talk to about this book. But hey! Thanks to the miracle of [checks notes] saving things and posting them later, you now exist in a world where you can go get Cog for yourself.

Much better world.

This is the story of a young robot boy who doesn’t want to be a human, he wants to be his own best robotty self. He is full of curiosity and loyalty and conviction and also a determination to learn from his mistakes. Possibly by making as many of them as possible.

He also has a weaponized sister, a robot dog, and a couple of other companions I will leave as the glorious surprises they are. And also maybe some unexpected special powers.

He is great.

He has a very satisfying plot arc, but truly I would just be happy to hang out with Cog while he shops for cheese and figures out the world. His voice is lovable and satisfying and fun. The themes of the story are the sorts of things that you probably already know–even if you’re part of its child audience–but never fully internalize. This book is a delight. Self-actualizing robots forever.