renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
I've faced the fact that all the individual review files I have for some of the books I've read this year are lies, damn lies. YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK! Instead, I am declaring amnesty, so some short reactions:

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson: I picked Spin up last year because it was Hugo winner, and I was in the mood for some excellent science fiction and was told it would deliver. However, I was not told about the lesbians, but then again if I had been I probably wouldn't have read the book, because what utter bullshit that whole storyline is. I recently reread it because I thought I would read the sequel.

Spin lives in the sneaky category of "literary science fiction". If you slapped a generic cover on it and stuck it on a shelf in the fiction section it would probably sell just fine. It reminds me of the novels I used to pick up in my literature classes a few years ago; late 20th century mainstream fiction that's interested in emotional connections, love, and friendship with genre elements quietly left out of the blurbs, and the other stuff is just there as a metaphorical coat rack to keep hanging more character building and motivation on. I can't say that the science fiction is pasted on, because that's the main element of the entire book, which often takes up chapters and chapters of exposition as Jason explains how he's changing the world with the power of his brain, and Tyler simply holds on. But it doesn't feel like the point.

But the story isn't simply about the night that the stars go out, and set Tyler, Diane, and Jason on an inescapable path toward what the world comes to call the Spin. It's weighed down by first love, the loyalty of a best friend, and hope for understanding across cultures. It's about how even in the future, faced with the limitlessness of ourselves, we are still afraid and lash out and destroy what we've help build or create, frozen in place by having to face our own demise or the reality that we've created something and we don't like the outcome. It's about how we never stop looking for — or playacting — God (and we're just as, or more, vengeful). It's about how we're obsessed with our own mortality as a species, often more self-destructive than whatever it is that might kill us.

I'm never going to be able to talk about the science of the story, its rigor, and the ultimate plausibility of what the narrative is telling me (ha ha science). It sounds like it works? Yay? I mean, for a story where a ~magical~ arch appears via ~science~ and powers itself using the core of the Earth or something. Whatever, it's a love story. IT'S A ROMANCE, I will die on the hill of this being science fiction romance, because so much of Tyler's life revolves around his desire for Diane, how the compass of his life points him directly toward Jason, and how Jason changes both their lives. Not that the narrative ever deals with this, considering how it handles its lesbians (and its treatment of other cultures). I'm sort of grateful it keeps playing the platonic card with Tyler and Jason. Less fail in a book with quite of bit of it re: women is a good thing (poor Diane, really, although I really liked that she was off being a badass at least a little in some of the falling action). Who knows what it would've done with male queerness. NOTHING APPROPRIATE, PROBABLY.

Anyway, I liked it a lot! Enough to buy it after reading it from the library! Enough to try to read the sequel, but the opening didn't do much for me and then I ran out of time with my library copy. I haven't been moved enough to buy the sequel so I can take my time. What I wanted was to know more about Mars (A FEW PICTURES WAS NOT ENOUGH,) and Tyler and Diane's future, but whatever, if I get curious enough I'll just make it up myself.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard: I'll point everyone to Mieneke's review of this book. She effectively sums up most of my problems with it. This was so promising! Dragons and romance and politics and war! Unfortunately I feel like the book gutted itself by trying so hard to get the main characters together by putting such weird social restrictions of class into the mix. The restrictions didn't add anything in particular except a fairly annoying roadblock that fails to create any drama whatsoever. That roadblock is later cut down in a very short deus ex machina-esque scene. The book kept trying to manufacture drama over the class differences between Corin and Tam, when it might have been better served bringing in more of the dragon culture instead or letting Tam be an awesome doctor instead of letting her be subsumed into Corin's royal identity. Or, you know, doing anything else but ~forbidden romance~.

I also have decided to admit I just don't care about regency-style romance at all except in really specific cases that are utterly random so I don't expect them until they've railroaded me with emotions and/or anachronistic ones that actual fans of regency-style romance probably hate. I find it dull and am often get bored with how essentialist it can be (the entire courtship here was dull in exactly this way), and much preferred the romance once Tam and Corin had to set off on their own. I could have read an entire book about the politics outside the court! Figures I got into the book once everything was on fire and destroyed and lots of people were dead. I'M A TERRIBLE PERSON.

Also, the magic/visions in this book were very vague and hard to visualize and keep the thread of the story. I continue to regret my inability to fantasy. At least I didn't really need to take notes this time.

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan: I first read Margo Lanagan with Tender Morsels, and yeah, what a book to start on, right? Good job, me. But I absolutely fell in love with her language and the way she took particular tropes and made them bleed. But! I find Lanagan to be a pretty emotional author to deal with due to subject matter in her work. So when Ana loved The Brides of Rollrock Island, I knew I was going to read it, but I was mildly terrified of what I might find.

UNSURPRISINGLY, I found heartbreak and woe and bittersweet resolution, and an incisive commentary on human empathy. What's so gutting about this book is the casual nature of cruelty is that it's not just a weapon that we wield against others, but instead one that works at both ends. Misskaella's story, although only a small part of other pieces of the narrative, casts the entire island into a spiral of misery and longing and fear of loss, and although she is able to fill her life with things she wants, she's unable to fill it with things that would actually occupy the empty spaces inside herself, and casts herself in the same cruel mold as the people who abused and mistreated her. I felt especially horrible for the woman changed and denied their home by men and the women betrayed and abandoned by those same men.

But Lanagan does that beautiful thing she does with language and character that unfolds the story in a way that doesn't heart punch you until you're deep into the characters and really want to know how they fair in the end Then she starts heart punching you. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK HURTS, it's so good and thoughtful and painful. I can take or leave selkie stories as a theme most of the time due to their innate penchant for heartbreak and woe, but this book was really well done.

Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen & Lynn Zubernis: Wow, my experience of fandom is so radically different than this! I'm guessing this is because I've never been part of a huge, massive fandom during the heyday of a particular fannish platform. I always come in on the edges. Whoops!

This book is definitely about convention culture, too. I spent most of my time flabbergasted at the amount of money these women were spending on these events. I take time to seriously consider ebook purchases over $10 and they're jamming multiple conventions in a year plus travel/lodging. SUCH radically different fandom experiences happening here: fandom for me has often been about accessibility and community and entertainment in times where I had little to no money to spend on new things. That's a huge selling point for me throughout my life: have hours of fun with friends, for the cost of your internet connection and time! So I was definitely coming from the opposite direction, especially when fandom started hurting their friendships and family relationships began to suffer because of what looked like a convention addiction (quickly waved away because the trips were in service of their academic work).

This book also engaged in some really weird gender essentialism from the get-go. If it wasn't defining media fandom as something for women explicitly (the whole argument was often very binary), it was citing really problematic research that relied on gender essentialism to function as "evidence" to support what they were arguing for about how men and women engaged in fannish behavior. They also used the defense that they were behaving like society tells women to behave and so never dealt with a lot of the interpersonal problems they were causing: don't rock the boat, don't cause problems, etc. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes. If you recognize you're being an asshole, just...be an adult? Talk about it? Fix it? Use your words!

The weird us versus them way they framed other fans was really off-putting. Other fans were often cast as jealous and potential competitors as the writers worried about their position straddling the line between fan/academic. I know SPN can be a pretty wanky/back-biting fandom, but the negative references overshadowed the positive parts quite a bit.

The interesting sections where they examine the Supernatural convention culture, the rise of conventions of this type, interview the actors, assistants, conventions owners, and others were fascinating even if I was boggled to watch them outright lie to an actor about why they were standing in a line. I've never, ever felt this much shame about fandom (I do have some), although I know it's likely a serious issue for a lot of people with professional identities. That's my own privilege rearing up: I've never had a job that would punish me for having a hobby that's not mainstream. I wouldn't get fired, I wouldn't lose my funding/tenure/respect of my colleagues…but it's very strange to read a book written by people who operate under the specter of fan shame. They apparently created an entire separate work using their interviews and research which is more focused toward academia; I want to read it as well to see if they dig in a little deeper to the fan shame issue and how to deal with it in Fandom at the Crossroads.

Anyway, it's all Ira's fault I'm in this fandom and reading freaking books about it. THANKS A LOT, IRA.

vN by Madeline Ashby: What I really wish I could do is write a huge, squee-filled entry about this book and how much I came to love it on my second read through (I read it last year for the first time). But I love it too much to know how to structure a formal review about it. Amy is brilliant, and definitely one of the entries on my "genuinely good people" character list, who does the right thing even when it's hard on her or forces her to make tough choices. This book deals with a lot of things: bodily autonomy, sexual consent (well, it's a book that amounts to the liberation of a social class where huge swathes of that population have been used as sex objects, soooo), friendship, love (both familial and romantic), the structure of family and what makes a family, evolution, and weirdly (or maybe not, who can tell with some parts of this story) about all the different ways there are to grow up and how it's an ongoing process no matter who you are. We're all advanced versions of ourselves, after all.

The end of the book is a bright flashy WTF sign, though. I'm still not quite sure what actually happens. Maybe someone else can come explain it to me using small words, like I'm five. Anyway, I shipped Amy and Javier super hard, but am terrified about the possibilities in the sequel, which I have waiting. PLEASE DON'T BREAK MY HEART, MADELINE ASHBY.

Date: 2014-06-05 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] susanhatedliterature.net
I liked and admired The Brides of Rollrock Island, but I think I need to reread it to really *get* it all.

I read and enjoyed Moth and Spark, but had to think for a couple of seconds to remember what it was about, so not so memorable as you'd hope. I've just reread my review to refresh my memories and I quite liked the romance, although I did have quibbles with how it was handled.

Date: 2014-06-06 06:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] susanhatedliterature.net
More dragons would certainly improve it!

Then again, more dragons would improve anything

Date: 2014-06-08 10:41 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (feministponies)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Excited to see your thoughts on VN and I will eventually get to it once I stop finishing off series.

I haven't been able to decide about Moth & Spark, but if there aren't enough dragons it's probably not one for me.

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