Sunday, October 15, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/15

Sunday again, huh?  Well, it's been a surprisingly good reading week, given that I worked two jobs, attended a committee meeting, a kid's birthday party, and a small, casual get together.  I took the weekend to just sit and read, and now I'm going to dig into another week with a HUGE to-do list in front of me.

Quick review of one awful book I read this week will be my Something on Sunday: The Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass. I picked it up because it's about a reclusive family that functions like a cult and the main character is a girl who doubts they are the Chosen Ones.  Castella Cresswell wears homemade clothes and has been promised in marriage to her brother (as  all her brothers and sisters have been paired up).  Everyone in town knows they're weird.  But maybe she wants things to be different.

I love a good wacky cult.  I love an escape from the cult story, and I love a good not-sure-I-want-to-escape-from-the-cult story.  This was neither, and both.  Every single character changed everything they thought and felt from scene to scene.  You can't grow as a character if you don't have a character to begin with. 

And it wasn't just that they were full of contradictions.  Like "I want to escape, but what if Father is right and the rest of the world is going to hell, and also I love my family and don't want to leave, but god the abuse sucks."  Yeah, that's all okay.  But she will literally run away one minute and then start screaming in the woods, and then tremble with fear, and then wish she had blue jeans to wear and a boy to kiss her, and then threaten to hit her sibling with a club, and then, I don't know, join drama club? 

It made no sense, is what I'm saying.  Hard pass.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/8

It's been so long since I posted ANYTHING, but I wanted to get in on Jenny's plan and take advantage while coming back.

Since last I posted, I started a new job, realized it was not the track I wanted to be on, and quit said new job. I will have worked there exactly four weeks on my last day (which is this Friday). 

I am applying for more jobs in the world of librarianing, which I am nervously dipping my toe in.  I'm looking forward to a little time off while I job hunt, though.  If it lasts long enough, I want to do NaNoWriMo.

So I've made a mess of trying to do the career thing, but that's not me. What is me, and what's great, is that everyone in the whole process has been SO KIND. Everyone at my old job (where I'm still part-timing) was so supportive, and the person who replaced me is the literal best, and we now have a TV night with old coworkers and her.  There were hugs and tears when I downscaled my hours.  And the new job was patient when I freaked out a little, and nice to me while I calmed down and worked there, and unendingly supportive when I gave my notice.  They have also found a fabulous person to replace me, so really, everyone in this story literally comes out on top. 

I'm still figuring myself out, but I really feel valued by everyone around me right now, and even while the wider world falls apart, I continue to be so grateful for my good fortune.

In other news, I've read 100 books exactly so far this year; 42 of them have been in the "short works" category that I count as graphic novels, novellas, and children's chapter books (not YA or longer kids books, but the short ones, often with lots of illustrations). The other 58 have been book-length works--novels or nonfiction.  A good shot at making my 120 (which I consider a solid showing) by the end of the year.

If I end up with a month off work, I promise to read for at least an hour every day.  Cross my heart!



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another

Why do I keep reading Stephen King? Why? I have catalogued my problems with him many times before, but I keep coming back.  I blame The Colorado Kid, which I liked even after I'd started to realize what was wrong with Stephen King.

Gwendy's Button Box is another novella, and it's definitely tightly written, which is excellent.  It was apparently begun by King, but he wasn't inclined to finish it, so it was finished/cowritten by Richard T. Chizmar, about whom I knew nothing.  Apparently he's primarily a short story writer, which is not usually my thing (though horror stories are much more up my alley than literary ones).  I can see how the ending isn't very King, but other than that, it's quite cohesive as a story.

Gwendy is 12 when she meets a strange man in the park who gives her a box.  It's got buttons on it and a couple of levers.  The box has strange powers that he doesn't explain well, and dispenses gifts that seem straightforward but aren't.  And then he is gone, and Gwendy is the owner of the button box, and we follow her for the next ten years.

Some of the moments that King does--an old man connecting with a teenager, a kid's life woven into the fabric of her town--are lovely; he's so very good at his job.  The hallmarks of his storytelling are all here.

Including this girl. Gwendy is a likeable character, a good person but not perfect (except, of course when she is, but no spoilers). But when Stephen King starts writing women, I should know better.  I wasn't on the alert for it here, so I ended up getting frustrated when he talked about how Gwendy was too embarrassed to be seen in public in a bathing suit--even a one piece--until she got hot.  There is no relationship with her body that isn't about being looked at by men, either desirably or undesirably--even though she's a track star, even though she's a soccer player, even in memories of childhood before boys were a thing.

The bad guy in the book is a creep in her class who is clearly evil by virtue of his teeth and his smell, who touches her inappropriately and who she slaps away ineffectually.  Maybe that's supposed to be a 1970s thing, but when the creepiest guy in your class, whom you've never spoken to outside of school, pulls up in front of your house to leer at you and ask you to go driving with him, and you're Gwendy the gorgeous straight-A athlete, you don't make up excuses.  You tell him to go away.  Maybe you do it nicely, because you're not a jerk, or maybe you do it meanly, because he's a creeper, but you do not act like you owe him something.  There are times when that exchange happens--on a date you agreed to go on; on a deserted street; places where the creep has the upper hand.

This wasn't a characterization choice; she is not meek at all.  It's just a lack of knowledge of what to do with a female character, and a need to set her up to be assaulted later.  It wasn't anywhere near the worst feminist WTF I've had even this month, but sigh.  Just, sigh. Oh, Stephen King.  I'm still trying.

Read for R.I.P. - Readers Imbibing Peril!  I love the fall!


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Odd & True

I have been eager to read a Cat Winters book for ages. Each one sounds so interesting--historical YA fiction set in the Pacific Northwest! Diverse characters and fantasy elements! But the pile gets bigger and best laid plans and so on. When Odd and True showed up on Netgalley though--sisters fighting monsters!--I figured, here's my chance.

My expectations based on the cover copy were of a bit of a rip-roaring adventure, but the book was actually very much about the relationship between the sisters and how two different people can live in the same family and have completely different experiences.  It's also about the stories we tell ourselves and the power they have over us.

The story is told from two points of view, in two timelines.  Tru's story begins on her fifteenth birthday in 1909, when her sister, who has been gone for two years, climbs through her window and asks her to run away with her. Tru isn't sure why their aunt sent Od away, but she's sent letters from the circus, and she tells Tru now that she's been making a living as a monster hunter, just as their mother and grandmother had done in all the tales Od told her sister through the years.

She begs Tru to run away with her, but Tru is doubtful. Because of childhood polio, she walks with a brace and a heavy limp; making her way in the world promises to be hard. But the tea leaves her sister taught her to read years ago have been showing her monsters--maybe it's her duty to fight them?

Odette's story starts in childhood, on the night her sister Trudchen is born.  We see all the stories that she's told her sister, but we see them as they really happened, with the drama and flourishes stripped away--living with their mother in a remote California canyon, visited occasionally by a charming but absent father and their loving uncle Magnus.

Tru is never quite sure whether Od's stories are true or invented, or whether Od herself believes them or not, is the core mystery of the novel, and I found myself wavering back and forth.  Even as I learned more and more of Od's own story, and as Tru tries to get more information out of her sister, my guess--is Od making this up? is she imagining things?--kept changing.

Tru is such a lovely character. She's practical and realistic, and combined with her physical limitations--she can't walk fast or for very long and is in pain most of the time--this makes her very doubtful of Od's plans.  But Tru is so brave and determined that nothing stops her.

And the loyalty of these sisters, in the face of what seem like insurmountable odds--natural and supernatural--is absolutely the core of what made this book such a pleasure.  It's what I always hoped I'd find when I finally picked up a Cat Winters book. Time to go start another one!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Red

There is no one but Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to blame for the 500% increase in romance novels on my Kindle.  The problem with breaking in a new genre is that you don't know how to find the gems; I'm good at finding the right fantasy and sci fi books for me, but I never had the context for romance before.

But now, I have a neverending supply of romance novels highly rated by smart feminists with good taste, and I am rolling in it.

This is where I read this review of The Red, by Tiffany Reisz. I don't know that I've ever read published erotica before; there's plenty of that in fanfic, whether you're looking for it or not. But the review was glowing, and I was curious, and the book was on Netgalley, so now I'm reviewing erotica, which....does that change the rating on this blog?

I have specific critiques that would get kind of X-rated, so let's skip that.  I'll say that I really liked the structure, how the protagonist and her lover came to an agreement--a sexual relationship for a year that includes whatever he wants, in exchange for enough money to save her art gallery (called, titularly, The Red), delivered in the form of art. I loved how much pleasure the deal gave her, and the balance between Malcolm's demanding dominance and his desire to bring her happiness.

My main complaint came toward the end, so I'll be vague for spoilery reasons: I found the relationship at the end to be way TOO alpha-male takes what he wants. I think the book tried to pull off a switch where my goodwill was transferred from one situation to another, and the switch didn't quite work for me.

But we're talking last-ten-pages quibbles. If what you're looking for is a fun, sexy story that's a little bit fantasy and a little bit kinky, this is a really nice starting place.  It reminded me of the things I like about sexy fanfic, but it managed to do those things while getting me invested in characters I've never met before, which I think is pretty impressive.

There. I reviewed erotica. But I think, new rule: no Netgalley requests that I'd be embarrassed to talk to my coworkers about!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

R.I.P. XII: My List

My last RIP post was mostly about books I've read and(/or) recommended.  But one of the most fun things about reading is planning--I can plan to read a hundred books in a week, even if I can only read about two.  So: of all the scary books I want to read, which ones are in the line-up for this fall?


Well, after being reminded of how excellent Grady Hendrix is, I got all excited about a book from his backlist called Satan Loves You, which for some reason I could only get in paperback. So now I have this physical book on my shelf, which is just kind of...weird. Almost spooky.  On the list it goes!

Ooh, I've been wanting to read Gwendy's Button Box, because I have mostly given up on Stephen King novels, but I'll still give a story or novella a shot.  Bloat is my problem with King, so this is a good chance to avoid that. And there's a coauthor named Richard Chizmar about whom I know nothing. But I found a copy at the library, so here we go.

I've been meaning to read Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, and this seems like the perfect time!  Brenda really liked it, and it's a Lovecraftian story that centers on race, which I think is always going to be really interesting (and probably my favorite approach to Lovecraft, because of the bone-deep squick that is his own approach to race).

Also The Deep, because Nick Cutter is a horror novelist I've heard I should definitely try. Also, to paraphrase my summary of Dept.H: horror in a deep sea science lab.  What's not to love?

Is my list too long yet?  Well, let's throw two more on, because I have Stephanie Kuehn's When I Am Through with You out from the library, and I've got a Netgalley advance copy of something called Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda.  I've started the latter, and the beginning is so heavy-handed that the book is either awful or it's going to be OFF THE RAILS, and my money is strongly on the latter, in the best of all possible ways.  As for the former, Kuehn is always creepy, in an unreliable-narrator-may-be-a-monster kind of way.

God, I'm so excited to get started.  Bring on RIP!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Less Reviewy Than I Intended

I'm so many weeks behind on reviewing that I probably won't be able to catch up. I think September's going to be a crazy one for me: the Friends of the Library is having a big book sale! And I'm on the committee to plan their big event in November! And I'm starting a new job! And leaving my old one that I love but it's time to move on! And my college friends are coming to town! And I have a lot of theater tickets!

It's all going to be fine--great, in fact! Many big and exciting things! But blogging has been falling by the wayside and I think if I do a post a week I'm going to be doing as well as I can hope.

So, because I'm nothing if not an obsessive completist, here's a list of the books I will not be reviewing in the near future.

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver.  I read this one out loud to my eight year old and he liked it a lot, but I felt that there wasn't much there.  The main character sets out to save her brother and travels through a magical world, but after setting off, pretty much nothing that happens in the book is something she did.  Even the trouble she gets into is mostly accidental, and the number of random passers-by who save her is kind of exhausting.  I was much more fond of her bewigged talking rat companion.

Dept.H: After the Flood, by Matt and Sharlene Kindt.  A murder mystery on a flooding submersible research station while a virus levels the outside world.  It's like someone wrote the comic from Station Eleven.  I don't love the art--it's a little too hard to parse--but the story is amazing. Warning: cliffhangers!

Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace.  This is the first novella in the Sin du Jour series, and I desperately hope that I get a chance to review the whole series someday.  This was just great--dark and light and funny and grim and full of monsters and demonic chickens.

Star Scouts, by Mike Lawrence.  Another kids book, this one about a girl who is lonely in her new town till she accidentally gets beamed aboard a spaceship by an overeager scout collecting samples for a merit badge.  She ends up joining the scout troop and having great adventures at a summer camp that's not *exactly* what her dad pictured when he told her to go make friends.

Buy not to worry; there are plenty of upcoming reviews, as well as reading planning posts (my favorite posts!). I have a small backlog of review copies to cover, and I really want to talk about Lindy West's Shrill, though I'm not sure I'll be able to add anything insightful on a book so full of insight.

So, forgive my flurry of absences and batten down the hatches of September.  Because in two weeks, I'm going to work in a library!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Readers Imbibing Peril, XII!

Fall is here, and in addition to all the extra back-to-school shenanigans that are going on in my life (about which much more later), it is also time for scary books!  Once again this year, I'm hoping to participate in the awesome (and thankfully loose) reading challenge, Readers Imbibing Peril!

R.I.P. is in its twelfth year, though it recently switched hosts.  I want to thank Andi at Estella's Revenge and Heather at My Capricious Life for hosting, and Jenny at Reading the End (as always) for bringing it to my attention. The challenge is basically "read some scary books in September and October," which, okay, I'm on that.  Also, "watch some scary movies" and maybe "do other scary things that you enjoy." This is the kind of challenge I can get behind.

Since I haven't thought yet about what I'm going to read for the challenge, I'm going to start this adventure off with a short list that I recently shared with a friend and horror fan who was looking for something to read on a family vacation.  Horror that trends toward fun and wacky, rather than straight-up dark.

My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix.  The author of Horrorstor brings us this story of being a teenager in the '80s, and demons.  It is heartwarming and horrifying.  I love Grady Hendrix.

This Book Is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It), by David Wong.  Sequel to John Dies at the End, I'll admit I haven't read this one yet, but I'm excited to, because of how insane--completely insane--the first book was.

14, by Peter Clines.  Also recommending The Fold, which is kind of a companion book, but barely.  Both very good; I think I liked 14 better for its ensemble cast of gentle misfits.

We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory, because I will never stop talking about this book. Group therapy for survivors of horror movies.

Locke &; Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.  An amazing series of graphic novels that tell a carefully crafted, absolutely horrifying story.  This series is built like a Swiss watch, only terrifying.

I will update more when I decide what I'm going to start by reading, but I wanted to get a post up and get rolling.  Bring on the fall!



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quick Takes: What Is Possible?

It's a summer of impulse books from the YA display!

The Possible, by Tara Altebrando, is about a teenager whose life is being featured on a podcast that is kind of like Serial.  "The Possible" is the name of the podcast, and the teenager, Kaylee, is the biological daughter of a convicted murderer.

Mostly this doesn't affect Kaylee's life.  She lives with her adoptive parents and has pretty much a normal life.  She knows that her biological mother is in prison for killing her baby brother--she testified at the trial as a small child--but it's an old memory that she hasn't thought about in years until the reporter shows up.

Her adoptive parents are against her getting involved, but Kaylee starts looking into the rest of the story, the parts that her childhood memories have nothing to do with. She learns that her birth mother Crystal had been a notorious teen psychic when she was young.  It had been a national sensation, people trying to prove or disprove her powers. As Kaylee tries to sort through who her mother was, she decides to get work with the podcast creator to try to figure out the past.

This one kept me turning the pages--I appear to be all in for YA these days.  Kaylee tends to get what she wants, and she's kind of a brat as a result. And maybe, just maybe, she has some powers of her own.  But her investigation into Crystal's past keeps her life turning in circles around her, and my loyalties changed every few pages throughout the book. 

The most interesting part of the story, though, was how it traced what it's like to be a feature of a story like this.  She cooperates with the reporter, but she only knows her part of the story, and as she listens to the radio show each week (like Serial, the reporting happens in real time between episodes), the story ends up much bigger than she expects, and she's not always on the same side as the storytellers. 

Watching the narrative of Kaylee's life unfold with so little control for her is the best part of the book.  It actually reminded me in some ways of Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, in that the main character is a self-centered jerk who you still root for, and you're grateful as they develop some self-awareness over the course of the novel.

There's a final "showdown" that is so silly as to be unbelievable, but it's darned cathartic so I'll let it slide.  This book is definitely for YA readers; the growing up that happens here is real and pretty touching.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Quick Takes: Here Lies Daniel Tate

YA reading frenzy!  Here Lies Daniel Tate is the sophomore novel of Cristin Terrill, whose debut, All Our Yesterdays, was such a fun and fascinating time travel storyDaniel Tate is the story of a con artist who takes over the life of a boy who's been missing for four years.

The narrator doesn't give us any name besides Danny, so I'll just use that.  He's a homeless hustler in his late teens; to get out of a jam, he flips quickly through a missing persons website and picks out a kid about his age and look who's been missing for a few years.  He only needs it to buy him a few hours; he figures it'll take the cops that long to reach the right jurisdiction.

But Danny Tate's family, it turns out, is rich and powerful, and they show up within hours to whisk him home to their luxurious Los Angeles mansion.  Danny expects to be caught at any minute, but it seems to be working.  Mom is a fragile drunk; Dad is in jail for a white collar crime, and his older brother and sister seem determined for everything to be happy and healthy.  His slightly younger brother seems more skeptical, but of course the five-year-old is on board.  Maybe, Danny thinks, this is actually a great opportunity.  Maybe he can finally have not just a normal life, but a life of luxury.

Naturally, things aren't that easy.  This family has plenty of secrets, and Danny's own secrets might ruin everything.  And of course, the question that hangs over his whole scheme: what really happened to Danny Tate?

I really enjoyed this book, and I'm so excited that Terrill's second book was so different from the first and yet with its own very ambitious and complicated goals. There were definitely some things that made me cock an eyebrow in skepticism, but the book did a great job of taking them in stride--it's definitely a case where something that seems off doesn't throw me out of the story, because I completely trust the author to have everything as part of a greater plan. 

The melodrama runs thick and deep--the minor plot point that several characters are soap opera addicts is a charming nod to some of the outrageous shenanigans within the story--but there's an extent to which I'll believe anything of the uber-rich.  And everyone here has a complex that is just as complex as it ought to be. 

The end is a bit out of left field, but I think it works, and I won't say anything beyond that. I ripped through this one fast, and it was a pleasure to read, which is what one asks for from YA in the summer.  Can't wait to see what Terrill does next!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fifth Season: Dream Cast!

I's real! It's really real!  I've actually been percolating this post for a couple of weeks, just as Hollywood was percolating the deal, and it finally came together: The Fifth Season will get a TV series!

Who wants to fantasy cast it with me? (Observation: when you say you're fan casting The Fifth Season, a large proportion of people will say "the fifth season of what?")

I've been thinking about this for days, ever since I realized that I really wanted Lance Reddick for Alabaster. He often plays hypercompetent (see The Wire), which is very Alabaster; I think he could do haughty and despairing with the same skill.

Lance Reddick via IMDb
So that got me thinking about who else I'd cast.  After I saw The Girl with All the Gifts, I was thinking that Sennia Nanua, who plays Melanie in that movie, might be great for Damaya, who is first learning that the world is going to hate her and what that will mean in her life.  It's a more vulnerable role than Melanie in a lot of ways, but Damaya has a stubbornness that I think Nanua would bring to the role.
Sennia Nanua via IMDb
Then there's Syenite.  She's a young woman with a lot of controlled anger and frustration, talented at her job and infuriated with her new mentor. I'm thinking Keke Palmer. I haven't seen her in a ton of stuff, but I found her in my research and she seems like a really smart actress with a lot of range.  It's tricky to pick a photo for her, since most of her shots are glamorous, and Syenite is practical.
Keke Palmer via IMDb
And of course, Essun.  Essun is the key, the second person heroine, the one who will be around for all three books. She's the one with the past, full of sorrow and a driving, unstoppable focus on her daughter. She's a bit more mature--a parent, and someone whose illusions have all been shattered so many times that it's amazing she's still walking around.  A big role.

Danai Gurira. She's proven herself playing an action role (The Walking Dead), but the rest of her resume shows so much of the range I want to see in this character.
Danai Gurira via IMDb
For Innon, I can't get past picturing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, because the role calls for a big, cheerful, goodhearted fellow who makes everyone happy.  But I think he might be too much of a celebrity for it, and it might be too dark for his image as an actor. So I'm coming around to the idea of Okieriete Onaodowan, better known as the originator of the role Hercules Mullligan in Broadway's Hamilton. I think he can do that big, genial, lovable, powerful fellow.
Okieriete Onaodowan via TheaterMania


I was completely stumped when it came to Schaffa, and I was ready to post this without him.  He's supposed to be pale and lean, with dark hair and ice-white eyes, a very still, often gentle character who is reassuring until you get to know him and thereafter menacing as hell.  My problem was that I kept thinking of very old men for the role, but both by physical description and based on the action of the series, Schaffa is, not young, but in the prime of life.

But Lily had the perfect answer to this question: Aiden Gillen. He's almost too perfect, because it's so perfectly in his wheelhouse--he is the most civilized, friendly man in the room.  But he will not flinch when he breaks all the bones in your hand to prove a point.

Aiden Gillen via IMDb
Lily also had an alternate suggestion for Essun that leaves me torn: Gina Torres.  Again, kind of perfectly on the nose--stoic badassery is her thing.  Honestly, the only thing I'm not sure of is whether she can do the brittle vulnerability that Essun barely keeps under wraps, because Gina Torres is made of pure steel. She could capture Essun's very precise balance of "I could kill you where you stand and I literally can't think of a reason not to, but it will not get me what I want, because that is something that can never be."  It's a very specific brief, and it's right in her wheelhouse.

Gina Torres via IMDb

Lily also helped me with Hoa; I was totally stumped there.  She had a suggestion of the kid from Parenthood, which I had never seen, but that kid is in his 20s now.  But the picture made me think of Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things, and I think he might be my choice for Hoa.  At the very least, he is delicate and pale but also, I could believe he was made of marble.

Finn Wolfhard via IMDb
The only character we couldn't be sure of was Tonkee.  I feel like there are a lot of people who could do her--Tracee Ellis Ross came to my mind, though I've only seen her in photos, never seen her act.  But she has that intense, physical, focused kind of energy that comes across as slightly manic (at least on the red carpet) that would fit Tonkee to a T.  I think she might be my choice, but I could definitely be wrong; let me know if she's a good choice.

(I don't want to be too spoilery, because I know a lot of my friends haven't read the books yet but plan to, but I will say that I thought about a different type of actress for Tonkee, but could not ultimately come up with a choice that seemed right, partly because of Tonkee's age and partly because I just don't know enough actresses who meet that criteria.  But suggestions are welcome!)

Tracee Ellis Ross via IMDb
So there you have it; the line-up that Lily and I have come up with.  I'm absolutely sure there are lots of other great choices; suggestions, critiques, etc. welcome.  Let's dream big, guys!

I absolutely cannot wait.  The Stone Sky is here on my Kindle.  Squee!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Andy Weir ARC Score!

If you loved The Martian, as I did, you have been waiting for Andy Weir's next book.  No one else does exactly his sassy, Capra-esque, hard science thing. I wanted more of The Martian, but I'll also admit that I didn't have a lot of hope that I would get much more than a rehash of the same thing that worked so well the first time.  I was eager, but I can't say that I was optimistic.

But I was wrong!  Artemis was so much fun, and I won't say it didn't have a lot in common with his breakout book, but it's definitely not treading the same ground. If I say to you, "imagine Andy Weir wrote a heist novel on the moon," you will be able to picture Artemis.  If what you picture sounds like fun, well, you're into a treat, my friend.

Jazz Bashara lives in a closet on the moon.  Most people do--square footage is expensive.  But her life is going all right--she's got her little private bunk, her courier job, her local watering hole.  She's even got a solid side gig (well, main gig, really) as a smuggler--Artemis, the moon's only city, doesn't have a lot of rules, but the ones it does have are somewhat strict about things like cigars. 

Jazz is a rough-around-the-edges underachiever, a supergenius (natch) who never finished school because of a series of skeevy boyfriends and a streak of sheer stubbornness.  She's mostly estranged from her father and she's pissed at a lot of people--most of the characters we meet in the first quarter of the book are people she's annoyed with for one reason or another.

When an opportunity to make a fortune for one day of (illegal) work falls into her lap, she jumps on it and the caper is on.  She needs to sabotage some equipment that's outside Artemis's protective bubble.  Here begins the science, as Andy Weir does what he does best, figuring out just what the failsafes and equipment in a place like Artemis might look like, and how a supergenius might sabotage them.  Of course, things don't go smoothly (what heist does?) and Jazz finds friends and allies along the way as she heads in the direction of saving the day.

I loved that there was a big cast of characters and that the relationships in Jazz's life were a big part of the book.  I wasn't really sure Weir could pull it off, but it's heartwarming.  Admittedly, it's not high-level emotional arc or characterization going on here, and the prose is the complete opposite of purple (green prose? is that a thing?). But I liked Jazz the way I liked Mark Watney, and I loved that I got to see her argue and grouch at people, ask for favors and figure things out and trick people and be tricked.

Lately I've been pretty careful with male authors writing female characters, but I haven't got much fault to find here--mostly because there isn't a lot of sex or gender here at all.  I mean, Jazz is a woman, and she talks about how good-looking some men are (which is kind of stilted but not distracting), but mostly, Jazz is just a person, and she's convincing as such.  She's foul-mouthed and irritable and stubborn as hell, which serves her well--Weir is not trying to write "woman," but rather lets her be who she is.

I loved this book. It was so much fun. There were big laughs and low-gravity fight scenes and complicated science explanations and life-or-death ticking clocks.  It's not for everyone, but if you liked The Martian, you want to read this.

(I got a copy of this book for free from Netgalley for an honest review.)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Romance Titles Algorithmed


Finally they have an algorithm for a girl like me, who is just trying to generate fake romance titles! Check out this article with a fabulous list of names generated by mashing 20,000 romance titles into a neural network.

Now, most of the ones in the article are delightfully wacky--although, as the author of the article who built the neural network points out, actual romance novel titles can be almost as fun. So here's a mini-quiz that covers some of that place where they meet in the middle.

A) The Sheikh's Marriage Sheriff
B) The English Millionaire Investigator
C) Her Billionaire Rancher Boss
D) The Consultant Count

A) The Prince's Virgin's Virgin
B) Virgin Viking
C) The Italian's Virgin Acquisition
D) The Virgin Date of Sexy

A) Christmas of the Year
B) Winning for Christmas
C) A Cowboy For Christmas
D) The Santa Wife

This had me thinking about how I would do by hand what the network did--trying to really operationalize the patterns in the titles and the keys that fit together into them.  I've done part of it before: Verbed by Someone's Noun; His Adjective Noun; Verbing the Adjective Occupation.

In some of the series, it's laid out pretty black and white. Here's the current publisher's page for the Harlequin Presents line. Plenty of Someone's Adjective Noun to go around.

The Tycoon's Outrageous Proposal
Cipriani's Innocent Captive
The Italian's Virgin Acquisition (gave that one away!)
The Sicilian's Surprise Wife
The Prince's Stolen Virgin

But then sometimes you can see the pattern, but you can't quite define it.  Like, if you leave out the prepositions, you've got State of Being [possible preposition] Adjective Direct Object. 

Engaged for Her Enemy's Heir
Protecting His Defiant Innocent
Carrying the Spaniard's Child
Bought for the Billionaire's Revenge

Except that Adjective isn't quite the word for all those possessive nouns.And I'm not sure about the Protecting one really fitting.  I don't know, it's late at night, and I'm looking at these lists and just feeling like

This means something
via Imagur

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waste of Space

You'd think a nice staycation would be a great time to get some blogging done, but you'd be wrong.  The beach is exhausting, people.

I got Gina Damico's Waste of Space as an ARC from Netgalley quite a while ago, but I didn't read it till recently because of the PDF Problem. Books with interesting formatting often offer PDFs instead of Kindle files, and with some, like Waste of Space, the formatting can't translate onto my e-ink Kindle.  I ended up reading it on my computer, and I'd recommend a paper copy if you're going to read it.

Waste of Space is a scathing satire of reality TV, modern stupidity, teenagers, and basically everyone.  An insanely slimy and deeply stupid internet TV producer named Chazz hooks up with an organization called the National Association for the Study of Aerospace and Weightlessness (NASAW, aka low-rent NASA) to fake launching a dozen teenagers into space for $$ratings!$$. 

The teenagers are awful, except our hero and heroine. Hibiscus is a mindless, crunchy hipster. Clayton is a rich ass after fame. Snout is...well, actually a decent person, but since he's the hick from the sticks, he talks with a heavy accent and only tells stories about his pet pig Colonel Bacon (who is on the ship with him). Bacardi is the woo girl who stays sloppy drunk and makes out with random people.  There's an overachiever, a girl who speaks only Japanese, a supernerd--every stereotype you can imagine.

Plus our heroes, of course.  Nico, whose parents died and who is really shy, and Titania, who is running from her Troubling Past.

They go into "space," with a weekly half hour show and a live feed. Unbeknownst to them, they're on a sound stage being managed by NASAW scientists at the behest of Chazz.  The world is watching with bated breath, though it's not entirely clear if the world is hanging on a bunch of kids in space or an audacious reality TV gambit.  Either way, the world is full of people who buy this hook, line, and sinker, in spite of it making not a lick of sense.

This is what it comes down to--the book is so heavy handed that it ceases to be satirical and becomes slapstick.  I'm not going to let the YA designation get it off the hook for that--reality TV can be such a parody of itself that you almost can't make fun of it, but that doesn't mean the solution is going so far over the top I can't see the top in the rear view mirror.

Essentially, every character here was such a parody, and the entire cast (including the watching world) was so devoid of common sense, that I didn't have anyone to latch onto.  Even our POV characters, the kids who were pretty "normal" in the cast, were just exaggerated versions of the characters you root for on reality shows.

The coolest thing about the book was its form, as a collection of found documents and transcripts of both broadcast episodes and unaired footage.  The anonymous intern who put the book together and sent it to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children is the person I'm most likely to sympathize with in the whole thing, and she barely appears herself.  But she is the only sign that the world that real people inhabit has any relationship to the one in the book.

I can't say the book wasn't pretty fun, especially the few characters who you learn more about at the end--there's no real development for anyone, but there are some revelations that keep you interested. The boredom of living in a reality TV house between stunts is pretty well-evoked, though I can't say that's a selling point.  But there are some great lines, and honestly, I kind of wanted to meet Bacardi and Snout.  If I had to spend a few weeks trapped in a fake space plane with a couple of teenagers, I suppose I could do worse.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

HIPPO COWBOYS, Y'ALL

Best. Premise. Ever.

First, go listen to this segment on This American Life: "Hungry Hungry People." (Or you can read the Kindle Single on the same story.) It's the true story of how, in the early part of the 20th century, Congress considered solving a food shortage by populating the Louisiana bayou with hippopotamuses.

In her novella River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey takes that proposal, pushes it back 50 years, and imagines the cowboys who would herd and manage hippo production.  This is an amazing alternate history premise.

It's put to the service of what is essentially a heist story, in which five sketchy folks team up to pull off an elaborate plan that will make them a big pile of money--clear this big stretch of water of all the feral hippos. (Also, one of the characters is out for revenge.)

Verdict: more heist than the book could handle; not nearly enough worldbuilding.

I am really hesitant about "I wanted more" as a criticism of a book, because the best books are able to create realism without drilling down into all the detail, and evoking a fully realized reality is often enough.  But I wanted more here because reality did not feel as concrete or specific as I wanted it to be.  It's not that I needed more heist, or more backstory, or more time with the characters.  I needed a deeper understanding of what was going on. 

One issue was that there were just too many characters for a novella.  Five folks on the job, the villain, and the lawman.  If the five on the heist had been an established team who fit together neatly, that might have worked out, but the amount of infighting and double crossing and getting to know each other was just overwhelming, and I felt like I got only a loose sketch of most of the characters.  They were all very different, but I still had some trouble keeping track (the two main female characters both had names that started with A, which confused me more than it should have). 

I'm a bit skeptical about the hippo lore, too.  I assume the author did plenty of research, and I know that hippos are violent and dangerous, but they are not generally meat eaters unless driven to it, so the "hungry" element of the danger of the ferals seemed out of place to me.  If it had been explained why they were so eager to eat people, maybe it would have felt more real? 

Also, we didn't find out what the heist was about for the first half of the book. There's the actual, legit job, the trick they have to make it worth their time and money (but if that was the plan, why did they need a con artist?), and the secondary goals of all the main characters.  It was too much and it never really came together for me.

Which is a shame.  Because hippo cowboys, y'all.  Hippo. Cowboys.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Back from the Land: In Which Hippies Take to the Woods

Alternate post titles I considered here: "Schadenfreude: Wood Heat Dries Your Sinuses; Hauling Water is Hard," or "On Not Knowing What We Don't Know."

This might be the first time I really wished I track where I find the books that end up on my to-read list, because this one was a direct reference from somewhere--another book, a blog post--and I found reading it to be SO interesting that I wish I could go back and retrace my steps.  The book Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s and How They Came Back, by Eleanor Agnew, started out by scratching a very particular itch that I have and ended up leaving me feeling like I had some insights into the author's personal defense mechanisms and personal narratives.

The itch--the reason I picked up the book--is because I love "huh, farm life maybe isn't so idyllic after all" stories. City folk moving to the country and trying to chop enough wood to get through the winter amuses me.  City folks being shocked at how heavy buckets of water are makes me feel--here, I'm admitting it--superior.

I'm not proud of it.  Honestly, I don't deserve the superiority; I'm not the one who woke up twice a night to feed the wood stoves when I was a kid.  But my parents did, every night.  My father had to tromp 100 yards through the snow to feed the greenhouse fires, too, every night of February and March and most of April, for years. I just had to fill the wood box in the entryway from the shed in the barn, and even then, not often.  I was spoiled.

But I know how hard all this stuff is, which is why I get satisfaction watching noobs learn things that my mom is an expert on (cooking on a wood stove is hard!). It's similar to what I enjoyed about Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love. Kimball brought a wry self-deprecation to her recollections of starting this out.  Or what I liked about the This American Life segment called "Farm Eye for a Farm Guy." Listen to it--it's only 20 minutes long and it's super great.

This is what drew me to the book, and the reason why, as I read the first chapter or two, I kept reading passages out loud to my family and chuckling.  These folks are so naive!

What kept me reading, I think, was the insights into the author. Eleanor Agnew moved from, I believe, Pennsylvania with her husband and two young sons to live on a homestead in Maine. (If you are going to live off the land, why would you pick a state in which winter lasts 8 long months? Did you even think about this?)

The book contains her own reminiscences and those of many other friends and acquaintances, back-to-the-landers from all over the country who lived everywhere from communes to wilderness to small farm towns.  She seeks out the threads of commonality to their experiences--including how they end--and that's interesting and worthwhile. But in the end, it is also very anecdotal, and the citations and statistics drawn from sociology and economics don't add any rigor to what is essentially a group memoir.  As a memoir, it works somewhat, even with so many voices and experiences represented. As a study, even a pop-social science study, it doesn't stand up to any scrutiny.

The author has an agenda: she knows that their philosophies were sound, even if they weren't strong enough to live them out.  She believes that "mainstream society" is full of materialistic sheeple, but back-to-the-landers--even those who have rejoined the mainstream and are now architects and college professors--are still pure of heart.  She describes how much she values nature, and how she gets such bliss observing the koi pond in her backyard in the subdivision she lives in.  See, she values nature in ways that other suburbanites do not. 

This sense that the internal lives of the people who share her beliefs are virtuous and consistent and justify whatever outward choices they're making, while the internal lives of others who make the same outward choices are suspect, is pervasive in the book.  She talks about how hippies didn't need fancy new cars, and then she discovers that wow, an old car in a Maine winter takes a lot of upkeep and often means getting trapped in your backwoods home. She even says explicitly that she would not mind at all having a new car, because it would be a safe and reliable connection to the outside world, but doesn't follow that line of thought through to the notion that maybe other people who get new cars have useful reasons, whether practical or psychological.

xkcd.com 
Maybe it's because I've been thinking a lot lately about intersectionality and other people's points of view, but this seems like a huge gap to me.  Maybe it's because she is thinking of the society of the late '70s, when Ronald Reagan was about to get elected, and that kind of cynicism is justified.  But the time she spends near the end of the book justifying how okay it is that they've gone mainstream but they're still more virtuous and in touch with the harmony of the universe than other people just frustrated me and really detracted from the point she never quite got to about what made life more authentic if you have to haul water instead of using pipes.

Also, darn it, she misused words and ideas in a few places.  I don't want to be pedantic, but "I was donned in my uniform" is not how you use that verb; the fact that the average life expectancy was 18 years does not mean that no one lived to grow old; the goal of the pioneers was not to live in harmony with the land, but to gain economic security and prosperity so they could improve their lifestyles.  They lived in dugout houses so they could later afford nicer ones, not because they wanted to live in dugouts.  They would not have said no to running water.

So in the end, my satisfied schadenfreude about the naive kids getting in touch with mother earth was replaced by a kind of sad schadenfreude about baby boomers who still think that they have it all figured out.  I'm reminded of my father's old saying: "My opinions may change, but not the fact that I'm right." Agnew has readjusted her view of the world so that no matter what they do, she and her friends have cornered the market on virtue.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sticks and Bones

Seanan McGuire's Down Among the Sticks and Bones, sequel to her novella Every Heart a Doorway, is the story of Jack and Jill and their door, and how they came to the Moors in the first place.

My favorite character in the first book was Jack, so getting the story of Jack and Jill here was so delightful. I didn't want to put the book down, at all, and when I finished I went back and reread Every Heart just because I wanted a little bit more.  I love how dark this story is, and how many things Jack and Jill are not to each other, even when they are always sisters.

The story can be split into two parts--their life before the door, that turned them into people fit for the Moors, and their life after the door, in their new home.  I had actually expected the part in our world with their parents to be brief, more prequel, but it is actually a substantial part of the story.

I got frustrated with this part a bit, because it creates a lot of distance.  First, the parents are inhuman.  Like, the fact that they're stiff and prim and have all the wrong priorities is not inhuman, but they seem to have no perception of other human beings as people, especially their daughters.  It's so exaggerated as to be--and here lies the twist--fairy-tale-like.

And that's the thing that I realized about the first half--this is the odd, distanced, abstract telling of a fairy tale.  My other complaint was how much showing instead of telling we get, and how the girls end up acting like archetypes, even when they know they're not. I've always said that I'm not a huge fan of fairy tales themselves (though I'm down with a good retelling) because they are not about character at all, and the first part of this book is an exaggerated version of that. 

But this is all the more to contrast with what happens when you get to the Moors.  There, each character is specific and individual. The Master--an actual inhuman monster--has more individual personality than both of the twins' parents put together.  Dr. Bleak is very human, even as he is harsh and abrupt.  Even the villagers seem more real than the people who attended their parents' barbecues--they perceive what's going on around them and react to it in emotionally appropriate ways.

Reading this book was pure pleasure, and I love the person Jack becomes.  She's cold, and hard, and flawed, and that's partly who her mother made her and partly who Dr. Bleak made her and partly who she just is.  But she's smart and determined and acts with surprising generosity.  I think that a cold, hard person who is also generous is a character type that I'm a sucker for, is what it comes down to.

The third one, Beneath the Sugar Sky, comes out next January, and Tor previewed some of the illustrations (with a few short excerpts) today.  It's about Sumi, who deserved a better ending. I truly cannot wait.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Romance Titles Redux (Sorry, No Quiz)

I just....even as I read more romance, an accumulation of romance novel titles will always amuse me.  Especially when they're clustered into types, by publisher or pub date.  Like, this is literally the list I'm looking at of upcoming releases.
Twins on the Doorstep
The Navy SEAL's Promise
Garrett Bravo's Runaway Bride
Buying His Bride of Convenience
The Italian's Pregnant Prisoner
Sleigh Ride with the Single Dad
Christmas Amnesia
Amish Christmas Twins
These are JUST the ones that are all in a row.  There are others on the page that are great (One Night Stand Bride), but they're mixed in with less bluntly-titled volumes like Courting Danger with Mr. Dyer and Never Christmas Without You.

I see two clear groups: Heartwarming Domesticity and Dubious Consent, with a couple of fun oddballs thrown in.  Christmas Amnesia is kind of my favorite standout here.  I kind of want to add mechanical birds and a sentient sockpuppet for a kind of absurdist Hallmark Movie.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Six Wakes

Mystery! Sci fi! Thriller! And what does it mean to be human? All this and more, tonight in my review of Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty.

I feel like I'm coming very late to this party, so you can't possibly have missed this one. I mean, aside from the fact that I read this a month ago, everyone else reviewed it when it first came out--wait, was that earlier this year?  Whoa, it feels like twice that long.

Excuse me, I've lost track of the scale of time.  Gonna go stare into space and regain my perspective.

Which is an interesting segue into the fascinating conceit of this novel, which is that the main characters are all clones. Some people, you see, choose to clone themselves--you grow a new body to adulthood, make a mindmap, and when you die--of old age or an accident--your most recent mindmap is uploaded into the new body and you just keep going from there.

The laws governing clones are very specific: no cloning the living. If that happens, the newest clone is the "real" person and the previous one has no legal right to existence.  No altering mindmaps or genetic structure of the person.  Despite these rules, cloning is controversial, largely on religious grounds.

The six particular clones in this story are the crew of a generation ship--cryogenically frozen people and saved mindmaps and genetic information for clones are stored on a ship that is being sent on a 200 year journey to a habitable planet.  These six crew members are going to monitor the ship for 200 years, cloning themselves as necessary to get through it.  They also all happen to have criminal records, which will be expunged at their new home.

But--the book is a locked-room murder mystery.  Their clones all wake up with no memory of the last 30 years; the last thing they remember was the day they departed.  Their bodies are in various states of murderedness (including one at Not Quite) and the computer AI has been sabotaged.

This is our story.  These six people suspect each other, and as they try to solve the mystery of their own murders, their various histories (with various levels of nefariousness) come to the fore.  They can't trust each other, and all of them are some flavor of messed up (some with violent pasts), and the AI (also not entirely trustworthy) is starting to come back online and look over their shoulders.

So yeah, it's pretty great.  There are a lot of unlikeable characters, but also a lot of likeable ones, and you can't be sure who to trust from either group.  A lot of the story revolves around the last few centuries of cloning history (which of course all of these people have experienced), and the question of how to protect the rights of a new class of citizen with many physical advantages over other people and much social prejudice--well, that's one of the most interesting parts of the book.

As I said, I read it a month ago, which is a million years for me, so I'm not feeling it as viscerally now as I did then. But it was a compelling read, and I really appreciated that some of the characters had personal opinions that were very angry and unappealing to me, but were painted as fully human.  Everyone here was the hero of their own story, which I think is one of the main truths in life.  The recognition of that always makes a book stronger; it definitely did here.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Excuse Me While I Go All Rageballs

Welcome to Feminist Outrage Corner!  Not that I need a new thing to rant about, and not that I have much to add to this post from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  The title says (almost) everything: "Male Authors, Thrillers, and Ambiguous Pen Names." Go read that article first, because they cover most of my feelings there. And in the comments. And the linked articles.

I mentioned I recently got into thrillers.  I hadn't put this together, but women-written, women-centric thrillers are part of the reason for this.  First, because even when they're tropey, they tend to be less sexistly tropey.  Second, they tend to be very much about the experience of the characters as human beings. I'm pretty unabashed about this right now; it's not that I don't read books by men, it's that I am skeptical of picking up books by men.  They have to clear an extra hurdle to make my reading list, for reasons like this, thriller or no.

Anyway, I read Final Girls recently and didn't like it. I felt like the main character's thoughts and her feelings and her actions were all out of alignment.  And I guess you could attribute that to her recovery and the ugly stuff that's dredged up over the course of the book, but it just felt off to me.

So now, when I find out that Riley Sager is a pen name for a dude, I have two feelings. The first one is, yeah, that explains it.  This is what a dude thinks a girl is like. She says she feels one way but then acts another. She doesn't even know what she wants.  Chicks, you know? With their cupcake businesses.

Second feeling: yes, when women get a little wedge of the thriller market, you know what that corner needs? More guys. And if they won't let you in, sneak in the back.  And to anyone who compares this to JK Rowling publishing under her initials, I can only say that there is a huge difference between trying to beat a system that's stacked against you and trying to win more in a system that's stacked for you. There's a huge difference between sitting in the wrong part of the bus if you're white and if you're black.  There's a huge difference between wanting to go to an all boys school and an all girls school.  Someday there might not be, but right now there is.  One is making a little room for yourselves in a space that tries to shut you down; the other is taking a space you already dominate and keeping Them from getting in.

I'm not upset that he wrote from a woman's point of view.  I think that's great.  If he'd used his own name, I'll admit I'd have been more skeptical before picking the book up, but if it had been good, I would have given him full credit. I don't mind the anecdote in the article where a guy tried on a bra to make sure he was describing the process of getting dressed properly (though the first time you put on a bra is insanely awkward; you have to do it every day for months to get it smooth). That's research; people take trips and look at buildings and eat new foods to describe them properly in books. 

It's that they're lying.  These aren't pen names for privacy. They're pen names to trick me.  And sometimes they work, which, okay.  I liked Before I Go to Sleep and didn't realize it was a guy, and that doesn't change my opinion.  But I do feel a little lied to.  And the more I think about that as being deliberate--as figuring out what I want and then conspiring to give me something else, hoping it will be good enough--the more I'm just mad.

Anyway, thanks, Smart Bitches, for the rant.  No, really.  I feel like my vision is getting clearer and clearer, and even when that's painful, it's definitely a good thing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Collapsing Empire

It's stupid how I always forget how much fun John Scalzi is until I read another of his books, and then I want to eat them all up.  Maybe it's because they're a little light--not that they don't deal with interesting and complicated ideas, but that they are so upbeat and amusing that I retain that and forget the meat of them.  I think that happens with Terry Pratchett, too, which says something.  Their books are always better than I remember them being, even when I remember them being very good indeed.

I finally picked up The Collapsing Empire because Linden and Elizabeth both loved it soooooo much.  Like the kind of recommendations that are hard to ignore.  The first three or four chapters are all from different points of view, so I actually found it a little tough to get into at first; just when I got invested in someone, we'd move on to the next someone.  Eventually it leveled out at three main characters, though, and two of them come together--if not physically then into the same storyline--fairly quickly, so that slowness falls back pretty quickly.

And all three characters are COMPLETELY likeable. (I feel like the fact that I'm talking about the likeability of the characters says a lot about this as a science fiction novel--which is to say that it works really well on a human level.)  Cardenia, as a younger and bastard daughter, was never supposed to rule an empire, but when her older half brother died suddenly, she suddenly became the heir to everything. Her matter-of-fact attitude is just what you want to see in a Leadership Thrust Upon Her scenario and is immensely satisfying. 

Marce is the son of a minor nobleman on a planet called The End because it's just so far away from literally everything.  He's an academic with important information (about how the empire is collapsing) that he has to get to the emperox. He's just kind of a dude, but he's likeable for all that--very much the Everyman buried over his head in intrigue.

If it was just them, I'd say they're TOO likeable.  Like, rational, level-headed, pretty flawless Normal People.  Their biggest flaw is they're so straightforward that maybe they're not nuanced enough.  But then you get your third hero--Kira.  She's the daughter of a wealthy merchant house that's caught in the middle of another house's power grab.  Kira is foul-mouthed, impatient, frank to the point of being insulting, and frequently gets distracted by sex.  She's also immensely good at her job (which is basically making money in any way that can be painted as legal or well-laundered), which makes her the most fun character to follow.  Like Marce and Cardenia, Kira is super-competent, but she's not an obvious white-hat good guy, and I think the strength of that really carries the book in a lot of ways.  I was free to love the lawful good heroes because I had this chaotic neutral to cleanse my palate.

The story is about a space empire that is linked by the Flow, which is the only way for ships to travel the vast distances of space.  When the Flow begins to change, the thousand year old empire is going to have to change with it.  But of course (as we all know), changing an enormous society--including bureaucracy, religion, class system, and financial system--because nature is telling you that what you're doing ain't gonna fly no more is not as easy as it sounds (*cough*globalwarming*cough*), and the attendant intrigues begin.

My main criticism matches that of Thea from The Booksmugglers--namely, this story doesn't stand alone.  I had no idea it was going to be part of a series until I was halfway through, but this is definitely one-third of a larger story, not a story in itself.  I liked what I read, and I wasn't trying to rush it, but I don't think it's served by being split up--I think I would much rather have read one 1200 page book than this and then two more later.  Not just the cliffhanger problem, but the fact that everything I've read so far is prelude.  I think going into it as part of a serial story is going to work better than as a series--even though the next installment is over a year away.

Ugh, a year.  Well, at least I'll have time to catch up on all the John Scalzi that I don't know why I haven't read.  Ghost Brigades, here I come!