A Queen in Hiding, by Sarah Kozloff

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

Okay, so here is what you need to know about whether this book will drive you up a tree: the princess is for no reason explained in the book called a princella instead. Just to be more fantasy-y. And the princella and her mother the queen are the only two people in the world who grow naturally blue hair as a mark of their royalty.

Now, if you got through that and thought, what the hell, I grew up on Mercedes Lackey’s white horseys and I’ve been sick, yeah, pretty much, let’s go with it, this is that book, this is exactly the book to read when you want to curl up on the couch with a fantasy adventure where all the queens for hundreds of years have had the same first initial and there are loads of specially special signs and animals talk to young girls in their heads but never about anything really upsetting and uncouth.

I want a book like that sometimes. I don’t usually want it twice, and I never read through it telling myself it’s perfect. But there are sea battles, there are thrilling escapes, there are wicked schemes, there are loyal retainers, and if you want a one of those, it sure is a one of those. By cracky it sure is. (The duke and duchess’s kids are duchettes. I. I just. Duchettes, they are duchettes. Sure why not.) The ending has a twist that is not really supported by much of anything except the need to proceed into the next three books, all of which are coming out this year. And the more I thought about it after…well, don’t think about it after, is my advice.

Once I was away from the adventure of it, one of the fascinating things about this book is how its surface politics and its deep politics contradict each other. One of the things that the villains are angry with the good nice queen about is her support of equity, wanting workers to get paid well and not exploited! Buuuuut when you look at how the actual farmers are treated by the book, farming is treated as stupid and brainless at every turn, completely unskilled. Spending her entire childhood with farmers gives the princella zero insight into the skills necessary for farming even though she can speak to animals, because animal husbandry apparently takes no skill at all. (Spoiler alert: this is wrong.) The very spirits of the world are constantly demonstrating how special the royals are compared to the common folk, and given an entire childhood to learn about the ways of the common folk, mainly what the princella seems to learn is wow, these people sure are dumb and boring. So what we’re getting here is noblesse oblige, not equity.

It does not get better from there. Maybe the sequels will. Or not; they’re already in production, so there’s no chance for Kozloff to take a breath and learn. It’s all coming on very, very quickly for the princella and her…I can’t really say friends, because she spends her childhood with one best friend who never gets a personality. I can’t say allies. Subjects, though. It’s all coming on very, very quickly for the princella and her subjects, and if that’s the kind of fun you want, here it is.

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review copy provided by the publisher.

If you’ve been following the new releases from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint of kids’ fantasies, I think you’ll be pleased with Rebecca Roanhorse’s addition to the line, a tale of modern Navajo (Diné) kids fighting exploitative monsters on behalf of the world. If you’ve been reading Rebecca Roanhorse’s science fiction fantasy thrillers set in a ravaged American Southwest, I think it’ll be exciting to see her do a kids’ take on the same region and legends. If you haven’t been reading either–welcome, you’ve got a lot of fun stuff ahead of you.

And this is one.

Nizhoni Begay has never quite figured out how she’s going to shine in the world, but she’s sure there’s going to be something. She’s in the midst of crossing basketball and internet stardom off her list, but surely something else will come along where she can dazzle. It turns out there is! And it is monsters! Or the hunting of monsters! So that’s…well, it’s a lot, honestly. It is a whole book worth and possibly then some. Nizhoni’s little brother and best friend have special gifts of their own, not just along for the ride, and so do some unexpected other cast members, sometimes in disguise.

So this is a heck of a quest. Trains and giant birds and personal growth and magical arrows and things that you would want on a quest! It is fun and it has brave kid protagonists and they eat Cheetos and fight baddies and basically I think you will like it and also some kids you know might like it! Okay? Okay!

City of Stone and Silence, by Django Wexler

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also Django and I have taught workshops together and generally hung out at cons etc. I have his and his wife’s Christmas card right here.

This is the sequel to Ship of Smoke and Steel, and while I think it would stand alone fairly well practically, a lot of what’s missing here that was there in the previous volume is…the monsters and the magic. A lot of those things are in this book by implication, brought in by their more extensive presence in the previous book, so this one can focus more on character relationships and further development of the worldbuilding.

I would hope it would go without saying that this is no bad thing? But what it is, to my way of thinking, is a reason to read the first book first, to not attempt to pick up mid-series and hope to have the relationships and stakes handed to you on the fly, when the first book actually takes the time to lay them out for you and give you that arc.

Some of the late-book twist is…a known trope, which is not inappropriately deployed here, which remains nevertheless not my favorite trope, but I know some people love it. It’s a genre-crossing fave for a great many people, and I don’t want to be too spoilerific about it, but if there’s a particular SF/fantasy bender that bugs you more than spoilers bug you, message me and I’ll talk about it. I don’t think Django does it badly, I hasten to add, it’s just a thing that doesn’t excite me nearly as much as the character relationships do. I’m really glad that this is a book with the strong motivations it has, the focus on how and why these people care about each other turned up to basically eleven on every page. That’s worth far more to me than more giant crab fights. Even if I missed the giant crab fights a little.

Books read, late December

Eleanor Arnason, Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens. Kindle. The artist aliens worked better for me than some of the others. This feels to me like the sort of science fiction about gender that works better as a stepping stone than as an edifice–but I’d rather that we think of a lot more things that way, that we value where it gets us than try to treat it as eternal. And I do like the ongoing attempt at alien perspective here.

Janice Boddy, Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men, and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan. This is an ongoing anthropological study of the social forms and services of possession in a particular Sudanese village. The author goes into some detail on genital mutilation practice and how it relates, so that’s a hard chapter to read, but necessary for context, and the rest of how religion interrelates with both local and nonlocal culture is fascinating here.

Stephanie Burgis, The Princess Who Flew With Dragons. The last in its trilogy, young philosophers of multiple species arguing about power in ways that should be accessible to 10-year-olds, while running around caverns and soaring through the skies. Great fun, just what I needed, hurrah.

Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer, eds., Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries. This is a very unwieldy physical object, because its conceit is that it has the original poem, then three translations, all side by side, so it is basically double-wide, one two spine three four. And then there is commentary after. The editors have gone to some trouble to get three different translations, rather than just three translators of similar ideas, demographics, time frames; the poems are from all different languages, so the commentary is from different people, and if one set of commentary makes you hrmmm skeptically (probably at least one will), there will be another set for the next poem. I love this sort of thing, and I love this thing, but you definitely want to read it at home on a dry surface, not on the bus or in the bath or on a boat or with a goat or…yeah. It’s a very cool weird thing to do.

Terrell F. Dixon, ed., City Wilds: Essays and Stories About Urban Nature. This is an extremely mixed bag, not just in format but in content. I sometimes marvel at what kind of editor wants bell hooks and someone incredibly sexist in the same volume. Why? But editors are mysterious, and there were some lovely passages about different kinds of small nature particularly, tiny animals neatly observed, very personal.

Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint. Reread. I think the thing that hit me very hard on this reread was Alec as stifled scientist. How that is very clearly in the text and almost all of it offstage–and the entire Mad Duke persona proceeds thereby. He has been thwarted in his pursuit of knowledge, all his misbehavior, everything, the entire Tremontaine saga comes from the powers that be taking scientists and grinding them under their heels–almost completely offstage. This was not the first I read of its series, so I didn’t come to it with that perspective initially, and it hit me like a ton of bricks this time. Dramatic and picturesque sad boys are much more effective on me when they’re for science.

Rose Macaulay, The Making of a Bigot. Kindle. Yet another example of Rose Macaulay not doing the same thing everyone else is doing. This is a book about an earnest young man who can honestly see the good points in everyone’s point of view and how he is closed into not doing that. It is, like many of her other works, a quite funny tragedy. Like several others, it makes me want to introduce her to my friends and protect her rather fiercely from the world she lived in. (We’re just over the ridge, Rose, you can almost make it….) Her mimetic universe is like watching someone die of an infected cut knowing that there’s a usefully moldy sandwich in the next room. Lordy. I will flag that I am removed enough from her context that I cannot entirely tell what is meant by the very brief sections of interracial relation, whether the characters are meant to be satirized for being patronizing or for trying to have friends of different races at all; if the latter, ew, Rose, cut it out, and this ambiguity may not be worth sitting through for you depending on your own context.

Laurie Marks, Water Logic. The elements flow on, and I have gotten as far as water, which is as nonlinear as one might expect. I knew that I didn’t know where this one was going, and I was satisfied with that. I feel very restrained that I didn’t dive on air the minute this one was done. Soon.

Hilary McKay, The Time of Green Magic. I am startled to say that I really like Hilary McKay’s mimetic work better. This was fine, even moderately entertaining, but the fantastical element took a very clear backseat to the mimetic elements and yet stood in for a lot of the McKay wry humor, in my estimation. And I would like both please. Or if not both, I would keep the humor; I can write fantasy myself, and read it lots of places. Ah well.

Lydia Millet, The Fires Beneath the Sea. I am not entirely convinced that Millet has read any middle-grade other than Madeleine L’Engle before she wrote this. No, that’s not fair, there’s probably Susan Cooper or somebody for the bad prophetic poem element. I hasten to add that this did not make for a bad reading experience in the slightest, that “it is 2010 and I want another Madeleine L’Engle novel, this time with environmental themes, so I guess I’ll have to write one myself” worked out reasonably well for me in this case. Better, in fact, than you’d predict. Even with the extremely jarring otter in the first chapter (look, otters were my dad’s thing, it was…a lot for me). It’s just…mostly you expect a professionally published novel not to be quite so much I Read Madeleine And Here’s What I Learned, and yet here we are, and I’m good with it.

Lina Rather, Sisters of the Vast Black. Nuns in a living spaceship–the spaceship reminded me a bit of Nicky Drayden’s in Escaping Exodus but had to have been a matter of convergent ideas–and dealing with personal faith, imperialism, and science. This was right up my alley. Novella, so it won’t take you too long.

Elif Shafak, The Architect’s Apprentice. This is a lovely historical Turkish novel about architecture and elephants and love and politics. I will be interested in reading more by Shafak, who’s new to me but not to the literary world–I love having back catalog to explore. Caveat: while the Romany people are treated generally positively, I don’t know how culturally accurate the portrayal is of Turkish Romany of the period, honestly do not know as this is not my field of expertise. But they’re not the main focus of the book, and in the rest there is some interesting borderline fabulism and a lot of historical flutter, which I enjoy.

Books read, early December

Yves-Marie Berce, History of Peasant Revolts. This is actually not what it says on the tin, it’s a history only of the peasant revolts in France in the years leading up to the French Revolution, and actually mostly in Acquitaine, with only a few notes about other regions and their similarities and differences. I still find that interesting, but the narrower focus is definitely worth noting. Berce seemed to have the firm conviction that he would never be considered a peasant, which is not a conviction I share, so that grated in some places as well. Worth having but also worth supplanting and/or supplementing.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School, Chapter 24. Kindle. The final chapter of this serial, bringing the threads of this book together for a conclusion that happened to be quite appropriate to the season in which I’m reading it, in its own Martian way.

Stephanie Burgis, Kat, Incorrigible, and Olivia, Invisible. (The latter on Kindle.) This is a charming and magical middle grade novel and the tie-in short story about the daughter of the protagonist of the novel. There are fancy dress balls, house parties, sibling fights, and bits of magic gone completely wrong. They’re rollicking good fun, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Mary Cagle, Sleepless Domain Volume 1. This is the beginning of a comic that’s very heavily influenced by anime. It’s full of magical girls with a diverse set of powers, attending school together to better facilitate their schedule in protecting their city. This plot arc is just getting started.

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Sundering Flames. The last in a trilogy, with lots about parenthood and protection, decay and hope. Definitely don’t start here, but I’m so glad to have gotten here in the end.

Nancy Goldstone, Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots. Oh seventeenth century Germany. Oh Stuart England. OH JAMES I AND VI NO. No matter what you think you know about what a jerk James I and VI was, there is always more jerk for that man to be. Always. But there were loads of interesting and (at least somewhat) competent Stuarts running around not being monarchs of England and Scotland, and this is good stuff about them. If you’ve looked at The Triumph of the Winter Queen in the Boston Museum of Fine Art, this is them. If you’ve read Neal Stephenson, this is them. Descartes shows up, Liebniz shows up, Northern Europe was very small at the time. There’s room for the Defenestration of Prague in here and still time to stop off to paint self-portraits. Good fun.

Guy Gavriel Kay, A Brightness Long Ago. Do you like Guy Kay books? This is one. I wouldn’t rank it among the most brilliant of his offerings unless you are passionately in love with Florence and possibly not then (I am not, so I can’t judge), but there are lovely moments in it, and I do, in fact, like Guy Kay books, and so look, here’s one, I read it, I’m not at all sorry. I love what he does with thinking about what it would be like to be at various moments in history, but sideways enough that he can do his own things with them.

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House. This was extremely compelling and horrifying, the memoir of an abusive relationship in very short chapters, vividly written, self-aware, self-contained, alarming. I was glad to read it and glad to be done reading it.

Judith Merril, Homecalling: The Complete Solo Short SF of Judith Merril. I’d read a lot of this already, but I’m really glad to revisit it and have it all in one cover. It has all the flaws it always had but also all the virtues. I love her so much. I want to go back in time and fetch her and show her what we’ve done.

Daniel Jose Older, Dactyl Hill Squad: Freedom Fire. Second in its series of middle grade books about children of color fighting the US Civil War for the Union, using their telepathic connection to pterodactyls, in an alternate universe full of dinosaurs. Full of fun but also full of serious stuff, as Older has no intention of treating the Civil War as apolitical as well he should not.

Joy Lisi Rankin, A People’s History of Computing in the United States. Short, pithy, focuses on who used computers at various stages and how that use shaped their further development, what barriers and assumptions that use and development encountered. An interesting counterweight to more common narratives where single individuals developed vacuum tubes in, er, vacuums.

Troy L. Wiggins, DaVaun Sanders, and Brandon O’Brien, eds., Fiyah Issue 12. Kindle. Another strong and interesting issue, this one themed around Chains. My favorite story was “The Midnight Host,” by Gregory Neil Harris.

Books read, late November

Neal Ascherson, Black Sea. This is a general history of a region that needs wayyyyy more than a general history. However, a general history is a start, and having some thoughts about, for example, fishing in the Black Sea in different eras, seems like a good thing. A brief intro to who the Greeks regarded as barbarous in the region and what line they drew is pretty instructive about what was considered barbarous elsewhere in the world in Hellenophile cultures. And so on: not a good last book to read on this, a pretty okay first book.

Daniel Braum, ed., Spirits Unwrapped. I make a policy of not reviewing things I’m in, and I’m in this.

John Crowley, Reading Backwards. Discussed elsewhere.

Kameron Hurley, Meet Me in the Future: Stories. This is my favorite thing of Kameron’s in a long time–lots of different tastes of her range of style and topic. Some of it is heart-breaking, some of it is alarming, all of it is Kameron, what a great place to start with her work–or keep going, if you already started.

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. I don’t think Dan Jones writes his own subtitles, because this book was a lot more like The Plantagenets: Oh My GOD What a Terrible Idea the Monarchy Is. I mean, I came in with that baggage, but I really don’t think Jones is in any kind of disagreement with me. It’s kind of heartbreaking watching the English people stagger through “we’ve got a really good form of government now…no wait, it’s not working, try turning it off and turning it back on again…why is it…I’m pretty sure it’s ordained by God this time….” Full of good juicy stories especially when you’re clear that it’s about the Plantagenets, not the Plantagenet era. I mean, I’d prefer Mercians and Saxons, but you take what you can get in these troubled times.

Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on Catnet. Discussed elsewhere.

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond. This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. It’s funny enough in spots that I laughed out loud (and usually I am an “I’m laughing on the inside” northerner), but the entire emotional and especially intellectual core of the book is profoundly sad despite all that. As much as I’m a gigantic fan of Macaulay’s work, and oh, I am, I wouldn’t put this very high on my recommendation list not mainly for that reason but also for the reason that I expect a lot of modern readers are less enthusiastic about dealing with mid-century Church of England missionaries and their inevitable prejudices in their pleasure reading, even if a great many of those prejudices are thoroughly satirized. There are beautiful things here, I just wanted to kidnap Macaulay and bring her to stay with people who do talk a great deal about good and evil but not primarily in an early 20th century Church of England framework. You could almost have gotten to that world, Rose my darling. It was over the next ridge. Oh Rose. Now I’m going to take a break from writing my book post and have a cup of tisane and try to get over not being able to have Rose Macaulay and George Eliot to my mother’s for Thanksgiving again. It’s an ongoing process.

Laurie Marks, Earth Logic. I came late to this series but am really enjoying what it’s doing with different cultures trying to coexist with varying degrees of success, and how that’s overlaid with different individuals with their personal kinds of thought trying to coexist. Being an air person doesn’t mean you will get along well or agree with another air person, no matter how much earth logic makes you want to throw up your hands; how human and how humane this series is, and how full of ramifications, and everyone knows how I love ramifications. I can’t wait to get to the later volumes.

Garth Nix, Goldenhand. This brings together previous threads in the series. Nix is good at monsters and creatures. I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that it’s a good starting place; I don’t think it’s meant to be. If you haven’t done the whole Sabriel series, probably don’t start here, but if you have, it’s worth the time.

Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays. This is one of her more plant-specific collections, and where it’s not plants it’s nature. Short and pithy and worth reading.

Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh-Century England. This was a really lovely book about two queens of the early English period and the world and expectations around them. There was in-depth stuff about who worked for them and in what capacity, what they were called upon to witness and why…nerding out about medieval queenship, hurray.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas and for the last issue Michi Trota in the nonfiction spot, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 31. What a solid issue, oh, how good. It helps, of course, to have Elizabeth Bear’s novella “A Time to Reap” taking quite such a large percentage of word count instead of something worse–but there was also “Nutrition Facts” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires and Jenn Reese’s “A Mindreader’s Guide to Surviving Your First Year at the All-Girls Superhero Academy” on the fiction side, and then Jeannette Ng’s “As You Know, Bob…” for nonfiction, just for the things that leapt out at me, so really, quite a lovely issue.

Reading Backwards, by John Crowley

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a mixed volume of essays and reviews, and the reviews are the kind of reviews that are more essay than straightforward booknote. While the topics vary, the trend line of Crowley’s personal life means that the personal essays tend to veer literary and artistic anyway–with the exception of those that focus on end-of-life issues, which in some ways are the strongest in the book, the most compassionate and the most able to step outside their own perspective.

Because perspective is both the strength and the weakness of this volume. Crowley is, as you know if you’ve read any of his novels, an extremely erudite writer with a fluid prose style. Reading his essays is a window into that person, and mostly that is an extremely relaxing and enjoyable experience.

The problem comes in when there are places where he has failed to consider perspectives unlike his own to a degree that can make some of them feel blinkered–for a sentence, perhaps, in some cases, or for entire passages–and then I wrinkled my nose, drew back, wished that someone, at some point in his long life, had suggested to him that his might not be the only point of view worth considering. From casual sexist asides (“mentrix,” really? snark about how people used to raise their own children?) to book summaries that ham-handedly put the onus for racism in entirely the wrong place, there are all too many moments where a broader perspective would have improved the work immensely.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the collection got better as it went on. I’m glad I got past Crowley blithely asserting that everything is basically handled for wheelchair accessibility in US cities (what, no, that is not true) and apparently having no introspection about what it might mean to have lied about his sexuality to get out of the Vietnam War considering what toll the reality of that sexuality took on actual friends of his, because he did have other things to say that were very much worth hearing. But if you find those early essays too high a barrier to entry and find somewhere else to look for discussion of end of life care or the works of Richard Hughes, I can’t say I’ll blame you for that either. This is a very mixed bag indeed.

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….