August Reads

Fucking hell is about all I can say really. I mean, I read 11 books, 5,030 pages, in August. This is not something I'm likely to repeat (come on future me, prove present me oh so very wrong) as I had a week off alone in the house and a bank holiday weekend shut away in my room. But, that's not terribly unusual, it's just that, recently, I've had good intentions but then Twitter.

This time, I managed to avoid the need to read every single tweet. It helps I had such good books though:

That is eleven books (5,030 pages) by six female authors (eight books) and two male authors (three books). Four re-reads (setting up for the next volume or for my book clubs). Four brand new authors. Two book club reads and nine free reads. Eight with some queer content. And, most importantly, every single one of them worth it.

So, here's the list and a few comments on each (beware spoilers)...

Pantomine, Laura Lam
A young intersex (socialised) girl runs away from her rich family who are looking to "fix" her and joins the circus as a male acrobat. I don't read a lot of YA (my snobbishness is showing) but Laura Lam was on a panel at Nine Worlds and the set up sounded interesting and I love the idea of the travelling circus as a setting and it was there, tempting me, at the book stall. I read this on the way back up from London and enjoyed myself. It covers a lot of what you'd expect - trying to work out who they want to be, working that against who they were, who they are and who other people think they are.

And it has a circus!

Smiler's Fair/Hunter's Kind, Rebecca Levene
I'm putting these two together as they form the first two books in a series. First came across Smiler's Fair at Nine Worlds last year where the author mentioned a gay character and... a travelling circus! (I promise this isn't a trend). Again, I enjoyed this book and was anxious to get the second to find out what happened to the characters I loved - particularly Krish, the scientist goatherd (who seems to now be going through an similar to ASoIaF's Dany) and Eric the gay rent boy sold to a cult and Rii the enemy's creature enslaved to that cult. I kind of miss the scientist goatherd Krish we met in the first book and hope that we can see that side of him, his intelligence and excitement and geekiness return. Other than that, solid fantasy epic.
Fool's Assassin/Fool's Quest, Robin Hobb
Another case of the first two books of a trilogy. The third trilogy charting the relationship between Fitz and the Fool and the sixth (I think) set in the world. You need to have read the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies (at least) to understand why these ambling, gorgeously written books are so exciting. The books are slow and revel in the depths of the characters and the world and there are so many significant moments that will bring tears - of both the sad and the happy kind - to your eyes.
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
Winner of the 2014 Hugo for best novel, this is beautiful space opera. Featuring a story which alternates between the story's present adventure and events of a thousand years ago, the book is able to slowly reveal both the world and its mysteries. A lot has been made about Leckie's civilisation (the Raadch) not using gendered pronouns in their language and the difficulty it causes them when they interact with species and languages which do make that distinction but I'm not convinced it works as well as Leckie might have hoped (I remember reading an article where she did suggest maybe using a gender neutral pronoun rather than "she" would have been better) as it doesn't really explore anything beyond how tetchy other species get when the wrong pronoun is used.

Far more interesting to me was the main character - the sole surviving segment/drone of a distributed artificial intelligence. Breq's story is one of discovering their individuality which shouldn't exist and trying to force the hand of the single person ruler of the Raadch who has split themselves across multiple bodies for so long that she is working against herself. The juxtaposition of those two stories works really well.

It received one of the best scores at the Manchester Sci Fi Book Group and I'm planning on re-reading the sequel (Ancillary Sword) in preparation for Ancillary Mercy later this year.

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
Another book that's been deservedly winning awards (including the Arthur C Clarke Award). This is a story of a post-apocalyptic (flu, not climate!!!) world and a travelling theatre (look it's been 2,221 pages since the last one). It's a book very much about the characters and the world rather than any particular mystery or action (despite what the blurb on the back may lead you to assume). Beautifully written, although I'm not sure I got a key metaphor (if, indeed, it is meant to be a metaphor/parallel/something). Again, high praises from the Warrington Book Group.
Vurt, Jeff Noon
This is my housemate's favourite book and the oldest book on my list. I have the 20th anniversary edition and was prompted to read it by the launch of the Vurt RPG kickstarter. It left me in a deep state of WTF?!?!?? It is definitely a book I think I will get a lot more from on a re-read. I certainly felt a lot more comfortable with the three short stories included in the anniversary edition and am confident that I will enjoy the novel itself a lot more on future re-reads.
Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Cixin Lui (translated by Ken Lui and Joel Martinsen)
Three-Body Problem is the winner of the 2015 Hugo Best Novel (The Dark Forest has only just been released), it gives a Chinese PoV to a threatened alien invasion. Bleak. Oh so bleak - the novel features humans who have so given up on humanity that they invites the aliens to invade and work to help them achieve that aim. The Sophon - a computer built upon the 2D unfolding of a proton - is a gloriously silly piece of technology aimed at disrupting our scientific advancement so that the Trisolarians can be sure of victory - how awesome is that?

The second book opens with an ant exploring a gravestone - I want fanfic of this ant and its descendants. I want fiction featuring ants as the protagonists (hey, this is sort of like Breq in Ancillary Justice I suppose...). In summary, ANTS!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
You';ve come a long way to get to the bottom of this list, well done. But keep reading, I need to SQUWOOO about this sooooooo much!!

Like Station Eleven and the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, this is a book about the universe and, especially, the characters. The plot is straightforward and kept out the way. But the characters, oh the characters. A lot of comparisons have been made to Firefly and the crew certainly have that dynamic - we come to them as a (mostly) complete family who know each other and are close with each other. However, I think the better comparison is Farscape - not the early stuff where they're learning to trust each other, but Farscape all the same. Why? Farscape had aliens. True aliens with cultures and bodies which were different but who had learned to live together despite the compromises they have to make to do so.

It's a book about those aliens, those cultures, those different ways of seeing things. This book is far more alien than most science fiction, but able to show us humanity beautifully. Compare these to aliens like the Presger in the Ancillary Justice series - the Presger are, really, beyond our understanding. They're cryptic and alien, but that's almost all they are. The aliens here are real people with real cultures.

If you're only going to read one of these books (slackers!) make it this one (and that is a hard thing to say on the back of such an excellent selection).

And I want a Feather Family!

While I still have your attention (hello?) Year 4 of Welcome to Night Vale has started. The first episode of this year (The Registry of Middle School Crushes) is, I think, an excellent jumping on point, and today's episode (Triptych) is a really enjoyable episode although perhaps not as good for jumping on. Of course, you could always start at the start...

Anyway, I think it's time for me to hit the sack. Goodnight! Good Reading!

Alex
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