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Susan is a recent graduate of the school of AWESOME, a huge fan of speculative fiction and also captain of Renay's minion-squad. You can find her on Livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] not_cynical or on Dreamwidth at [personal profile] spindizzy.

Being friends with Renay leads to some interesting requests. I mean, she has in the past asked me to help her pick out somewhere in my home city for a fictional career criminal to live, write 100,000 words of fic with her (... She's winning), and get in Wordpad to write her porn (No really, there's an icon and everything.). So being asked to review scifi books for Lady Business? Shouldn't phase me apart from, y'know, being surrounded by incredibly smart feminist ladies!

With that in mind, have five micro (or... Not so micro as the case may be!) reviews:

The Honourable Mention

cover of Crossover by Joel Shepherd showing a woman with a gun shooting at a flying vehicle

Crossover by Joel Shepherd [GoodReads]. I’ll be perfectly honest with you — this was the book I was going to review for this post. I didn’t know the context prompting this week of scifi (It was kindly rounded up a few days ago for those who’re also behind!), and thought “Cassandra Kresnov is an amazing female character —' she is smart, incredibly badass, and she manages to be a hot character who enjoys sex without a) being treated badly for it and b) having a single explicit sex scene." before I realised this week was for female authors. The Cassandra Kresnov books are excellent — but this week is not the week to discuss them.

cover of Clover by CLAMP showing a girl with wings sitting on the ground

Clover by CLAMP [GoodReads] Ah, CLAMP. Your artwork is absolutely GORGEOUS, especially in this book. It has PAGES of CLAMP’s gorgeous, detailed artwork in COLOUR, and I freely admit to being way too distracted by that. If you like CLAMPs art and the combination of simple layout and detailed accessories/art, this might be relevant to your interests. The character designs are lovely by the way — Sue, Ora and Gingetsu have my favourite designs of anyone in the manga, and the weaponry designs are fantastic.

The story is told backwards, which makes more sense than it seems it should — the first two volumes deal with Sue and her journey, the third with Ora before that, and the last with Ran even before that. My favourite story arc has to be Ora’s, I’ll admit — she is my favourite character, just because she’s got a dream, and she’s got things that she loves and make her happy and regardless of what’s going to happen and when, she is going to live her life and her dream and enjoy it. She is my favourite. I would have loved to see more about the mystery plot that’s touched upon involving her as well — the plot of the main storyline doesn’t interest as much as that would. SPOILERS: Although it IRKS ME TO ALL HELL that she is fridged. Although actually, I’m not sure whether it’s actually fridging at this point? She doesn’t seem to provide that much motivation for her boyfriend as it does for Sue — it seems more to be a motivation for Ora herself? It just annoys me that she’s killed and then it’s never explained, we don’t get to see it being investigated, NOTHING. Annoying.

Also, as an aside, CLAMP! I see you are keeping up your trend of having the relationships be a touch on the creepy side — Sue is a tiny girl who appears to be about twelve or thirteen (there is no proof that she is or isn’t, SPOILERS: because apparently the place she and Ran lived halted their aging and accelerate it should they leave, which really DOESN’T HELP ANYTHING because Ran looks about six in his origin story and is said to only have around five years to live, and Ran doesn’t look that much older, and — well, there is love and suggestions that some of these relationships are intimate and my brain is still flagging this as creepy. … On the other hand, still not as creepy as the guy who seems to want to kill Kazuhiko and keep his corpse for um. Personal use. Um.

BASICALLY, this is CLAMP being CLAMP in its usual “pretty but not necessarily wholesome mode," and just. Yes. If you have read and enjoyed CLAMP you will probably enjoy this!1

cover of The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold showing two men and a woman on the bridge of a spaceship. Woman is posed sexily wearing pink, of course.

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold [GoodReads] Hilariously, I got whole chapters into this book before I realised that it was actually the third in the series! What I’ve read is very fun. It feels a little like a fantasy novel in space, what with the focus on the politics and the family line declining in importance, and as far as I’ve got Miles is an entertaining protagonist! He is somewhat like Joker, for those who have played anything in the Mass Effect franchise — his internal commentary is very much full of snark and wild fantasy, and he too has a bone disease that causes them to shatter. He is one of the rare few scifi heroes who ISN’T marvellously handsome and strong — which STILL doesn’t reassure me regarding the ladies in this book.

TV Tropes assures me Miles’ mother is amazing, badass and smart (she knows her own mind! No one gives her shit! EVERYONE QUAKES IN FEAR OF HER PASSING!), but so far the only female character who’s shown up in more than one scene is the Beautiful Damsel. Not in distress, and quite eager to go off and join the army if only she could — and considering the blurb promised me that he somehow the main character ends up with an army of mercenaries, so I am going to hope and pray that it beats the generic cover it was cursed with (Really, the only thing stopping it from being the most generic 80s scifi cover ever is the fact that Miles is sitting in a corner going “Really? You’ve stuck me with THIS?") and has the female characters being awesome.

cover of Trouble and her Friends by Melissa Scott showing a woman looking to her left on a black background

Trouble and her Friends by Melissa Scott [GoodReads] This book! I love this book. It is a cyberpunk mystery2 where all of the main characters are queer, a particular type of hacker with the ability to access the net with all of their senses, and not necessarily white. And I do love how all of these of these things matter to the characters but they’re not necessarily important — Trouble and Cerise were partners, and no one cares about that beyond “Are you two still connected and involved in illegal activities together?"

cover of Grimspace by Ann Aguirre showing a woman sitting on a piece of machinery with a weapon in hand

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre [GoodReads] I’m not actually sure where to start with this one! It is entertaining, and I read through it quickly! It’s full of action and drama, and the main character, Sirantha Jax develops a lot over the course of the novel. The concepts for the planets and worlds, and for the secondary characters are really interesting and I find the characters reactions to BIG things (Loran’s response to Sirantha offering to be friends in particular — I cannot say more without spoilers, but it’s believable and not a massive cliche.) But! (... You knew that was coming.)

The thing is, this story feels... Inconsistent to me? Sometimes what the first person narrative shows and what the first person narrative says are completely different things. For example, for chapters Jax shows empathy and respect for March, only to follow it with an offhand

I can’t remember not hating March at this point; it’s the one truth to which I cling.

… This hatred hadn’t been mentioned before (Maybe as vague mistrust, not hate.), never been mentioned — my response to that line was “It is? But you haven’t — you never —"

The secondary characters, as I said, were interesting — but a character that arrives two or three chapters before the end has almost exactly the same amount of characterisation as characters that had been there since the beginning of the novel. Just saying.

I also found the plot to be really inconsistent, if I’m being honest — the part about breaking the monopoly is a small fraction of the plot, and then the group gets distracted. And distracted again. And again — in the book’s defence, all of the distractions follow a logical path, and I can see why they get distracted. It’s just that the main plot resolution comes about without the main characters really doing anything.

The friend who lent me the copy I’m using for this review (I have an ebook copy, which I don’t find practical for reviews; I’m not intending to cheat.) thinks that the reason for this is that it’s actually a character study — the point of the novel isn’t the plot, or the Defeat The Faceless Evil Corporation! — it’s actually Sirantha Jax’s development. I can definitely see where he’s coming from with that — Jax starts of a semi-broken wreck wracked with guilt (although still ready with a snappy comeback for all occasions, empathy, and daring heroics), and over the course of the novel she becomes a... More stable, functional hero? On the other hand, I have read Rose Madder by Stephen King [GoodReads] which does a similar thing (the best summary I have found of it is that Stephen King "buil[t] a feminist theology as a metaphor for the reconstruction of a battered woman's sense of self-determination.") and it has a coherent plot. Therefore, I am unconvinced that a character-oriented piece has any reason to not have decent plot.

I realise this sounds like I didn’t like Grimspace, but that’s not true! I did enjoy it, it just... It is Ann Aguirre’s first novel and it feels like one? I found out in the course of this review that this is actually the first in the series, so the books may improve as the series goes on. They’re definitely worth getting out of the library at least.

It is not just the Guardian list
I have a confession to make. Putting this post together was something of an experience for me.

When Nay mentioned this post, I decided I’d just go through my shelves and review the books I found there — after all, people had been buying me lots of scifi books! I MUST have lots of books that would work for this! I did actually go upstairs almost immediately, promising to be back in five with A List! A list of books that were a) scifi, b) written by ladies, and c) written about ladies!

… Fifteen minutes later I came back very confused because out of all of the books I own (at least two hundred, three hundred) that were written by ladies or about ladies (half to three quarters of that), I had a grand total of FIVE that came near my criteria. As for ones that fit the whole thing — scifi by and about women primarily... I had one. Just one.

I’ll be honest, that was not what I was expecting. I like to think I’m equal opportunities in what I read, I like to think that I read all genres equally — so if nothing else, this has shown that I’m not as even on these things as I thought I was! I hope that the upside of this is that I’ve introduced some new books to people!

1: If this is relevant to your interests, might I also recommend Stigma by Kazuya Minekura [GoodReads] — it’s the artist of Saiyuki doing a full colour manga that ALSO involves a bitter man guarding a small child on a journey and possibly loving them inappropriately, with 100% fewer girls with wings and equal amounts of creepy nemeses who seem to want to have sex with the hero, kill the hero and possibly do both of these things at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME. It is beautiful and about as messed up as you expect.

2: And it’s nineties cyberpunk. The nineties had the best cyberpunk, if only because of the scale the authors thought at. The internet is a magical place in cyberpunk, magic that is connected to your brain and looks like a high-speed film of New York. I... Kinda love it a lot. See also Hex by Rhiannon Lassiter [Goodreads] for the YA genetic mutation nineties cyberpunk (albeit without as many queer characters).

Date: 2011-07-22 05:45 am (UTC)
owlmoose: (book - key)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
Great list. The Bujold is the only one here I've read; I'll have to look into the others.

Stick with Miles at least a little longer -- in general, the books get better as you go along, and the ladies get more awesome. I recently read the entire series beginning to end, and I enjoyed it immensely. I recommend reading the Cordelia books, too; the second one is really good, and they both provide much more context for Miles and the factors that make him what he is.

Date: 2011-07-23 05:00 am (UTC)
krait: a sea snake (krait) swimming (Default)
From: [personal profile] krait
Stick with Miles at least a little longer

This! And/or, preferably 'and', read the "prequels" which feature his mother directly. (That's Shards of Honor and Barrayar, or the handy omnibus with both, Cordelia's Honor. That seriously may be my favourite sci-fi novel of all time...)

Date: 2011-08-20 11:00 am (UTC)
spindizzy: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. (Book turned brain)
From: [personal profile] spindizzy
I plan to - I was really enjoying The Warrior's Apprentice while I was reading it! And I do want to read those - I've heard that his mother is AMAZING (TV Tropes? Actually full of things involving her, that's where I heard of the series from), so I'd love to see more books about her. :)

Date: 2011-08-20 10:57 am (UTC)
spindizzy: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. (Book turned brain)
From: [personal profile] spindizzy
I do intend to keep reading The Warrior's Apprentice - I'm really enjoying Miles as a protagonist and his narration makes me happy. I'm glad to hear the ladies get more awesome - I admit, I was suspicious when I saw the cover and started to get my hopes up when the female characters were actually introduced. :)

I've heard from lots of places that the Cordelia books are awesome - don't they feature Miles' mother being amazing, or is that one of the other books?

Date: 2011-08-20 03:51 pm (UTC)
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
The Cordelia books are, indeed, about Miles's mother being awesome. Really Cordelia is awesome whenever she appears, but of course you get more concentrated awesome when she's the protagonist.


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