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Earlier this week I looked at my challenge goal which predictably fell apart in April, after my ~whirlwind~ summer began. As pals have told me, my 100 unique women writers project was...optimistic...and 36/100 is pretty darn good. Then I realized I've read 36 new women authors and/or artists (because I count artists and colorists who are integral parts of the emotional of a narrative since I do what I want). That's great! And because I've read those authors now recommendation algorithms spit out drastically different suggestions. It's been excellent; highly recommended project. Maybe set a lower goal, though. LEARN FROM MY ERRORS. Because it turns out the more authors you read the more favorite authors you discover. Back lists are great, but time-consuming!

I haven't quite managed to get back on track everywhere. In fact, I'm going to be surprised if I make it to the end of this column! I have less to review than I otherwise would because I can write reviews of comics and graphic novels but I can't quite bring myself to post them due to Extreme Fear and Anxiety re: the comics community/being yelled at. However, it's not like you're missing much with the absence of my Hot Takes on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF, Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening, or The Vision, Vol. 1: Little Worse Than A Man. I'll just say: give them a try because all are good, one is excellent, and the other made me throttle the universe for not giving me the next issue yet.

Recent Reading

cover of Company Town

Company Town by Madeline Ashby — I've been reccing this story all over, but haven't written a longer review because I'm intimidated by how intelligent and well-trained on the future the author is and don't want to Shame her work with my technological plebe fingerprints. This book is short, but full of some incredibly smart ideas and incisive commentary on society that are folded so well into character moments that they don't feel like a political statement although they are. They feel like the tiny tragedies of a life lived under a myriad of different oppressions and marginalizing moments, a story about someone who is a have-not and how that makes her who she is, beautifully drawn and brutally human.

Go Jung-hwa is a self-defense instructor and a bodyguard for the local sex workers union. She's one of the few on the oil rig where she lives to not be a part of the augmented reality system that's ubiquitous in this near-future due to a neurological disorder. When the Lynch family buys the oil rig where she lives, Hwa becomes the preferred candidate to protect and train the heir to the family, Joel, due to death threats against Joel from the future (yes, the future) because she's unconnected and therefore, unhackable.

This novel is zero to sixty from the moment it opens. There's a lot of world-building out of the future beyond the augmented reality system, including doctor robots, invisibility suits, companies as government (oh, but really, aren't we almost already here?), and commentary on the way sex work has matured and become respectable means of employment. This was one of my favorite elements of the novel; it normalized sex work. There was no shaming. It was work like everything else, with regulations, co-worker gossip, and weird clients. These women felt real and complicated and so when they start being targets of a serial killer after Hwa leaves her bodyguard job to protect Joel, it feels personal in a way that reached through Hwa and socked me in the heart, because Hwa feels so guilty and conflicted.

Hwa's relationships with Joel and her boss Daniel were the other standouts of the novel. More fascinating than the near-future elements was the subtle, careful way Ashby developed Hwa's relationship with Joel, who was young but delightful. The development of the romance between Daniel and Hwa was more complicated, contrasted with the reality of how often men can be violent, petty, and dominant toward women. There's a scene with some emotional violence against Hwa that feels so raw and physical that I had to put the book down and take a break. But even as her emotional safety is challenged, the narrative reminds us that there's a reason why the violence toward her wasn't explicitly physical (she would have busted their faces because she is tough and these men know it), and that so many acts of violence are the product of toxic masculinity and cowardice.

The novel unraveled a bit for me toward the end because I didn't quite follow the time shenanigans. This is fine, though, because so much of the other elements were wonderfully emotional and thoughtful, and so many of the previous suspenseful . I'm a little curious about the end because of Hwa's neurological disorder. There's ongoing conversations in culture about examinations and critiques of how disability is portrayed in stories, but I don't have the toolkit right now to engage with it. Maybe one day!

cover of The Queen of Attolia

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner — I'm finally finishing this series so Ana has to hold up her end of the agreement and read my favorite Star Trek fic (it's a 100k+ fic series, in actuality, hence me having to read three books and a fourth when it releases).

The Queen of Attolia is brilliant from a storytelling perspective. The mysteries and plot twists are so well-done that I stopped wondering when I would quit being surprised by the book and just settled in, prepared to go, "WTF?" every few chapters. The political machinations of war, the quiet struggles to keep power or gain power, the struggle with disability, and constant tragic reveals are the backbone of this story. I enjoyed it quite a bit because I was constantly curious how the characters would solve their problems. It was like problem-solving porn.

The one complaint is that the characters stay distant from the reader quite a bit unless you make a lot of assumptions. There's not a lot of detail, because providing more detail to their inner lives would necessitate revealing some of the cogs of the overall plot, leading to the reader being less surprised about an upcoming surprise. If you read for character and need the narrative to give you anchors to care about the characters instead of building the characters out in your head (yay for building headcanon; thanks for this skill, fandom!) this book may feel a little emotionally empty. But it was a deliberate choice and I can't really find fault in it considering that the political plot is so great.

Also, I found this 200% better than The Thief.

cover of Superior

Superior by Jessica Lack — A few years ago I read Hero by Perry Moore (who was a great guy; I learned a lot about how writers get trapped in stereotypical ruts from our email exchanges and I'm still sorry about our loss). My familiarity with superheroes was still very new. I was excited about Hero because it was queer YA. I haven't re-read it in awhile, mostly because I'm sure it wouldn't hold up. The charges of sexism I lobbed at it back then probably won't have changed much and might honestly look worse. But it was the first prose superhero story I read.

Now a hefty percentage of my reading is superhero based between my comics and Marvel fanfic. I haven't done much prose reading about superheroes outside fanfic for awhile, even though there are several books out now (some just this year, like Heroine Complex and Not Your Sidekick). But the amount of romantic superhero fanfic I read is off the chart, so I wasn't sure how much I would like Superior by Jessica Lack, because I compare everything to the (often excellent) fanfic I read. Plus, I am a noted Short Fiction Curmudgeon, where anything original that's shorter than 8,000 words is not going to be long enough for me to care about the characters.

(I'm so sorry, short fiction writers. It's not you, it's me. Please write more stories about AIs and cats.)

Superior is about Jaime, who is interning for the local superhero. His job comes with a lot of awkward kidnappings, and during one kidnapping he meets a cute guy, Tad, who happens to be the assistant of the super villain who has plucked Jamie off the street and into his clutches. On the surface, this is a short piece of fiction about two young men being attracted to one another. They learn to care for each other despite their differences and secrets, but the story is also doing some interesting, lighter critiques about heroism, tragedy, worth as a person, and personal responsibility of superheroes/civilians.

Oh, and there's a critique of unpaid internships from the love interest which I found hilarious.

There was one element that brutally ejected me from the narrative, and it was a phrase that's been cropping up in fanfic for awhile. "Popping the P" is normally launched after a character has said something and the author wants you to know they're really emphasizing the letter at the end of the word. It's one of those quirks that was cute the first 100 times, but now I'm like, omg, if your dialogue isn't strong enough to communicate how the character is saying this word, then telling them isn't necessarily going to fix how they read it before they read your from-on-high direction. All the instances I see it in the character is responding in a mocking (sometimes affectionately) or insouciant way, and I, personally, would read the emphasis of the P in things like "Yep" or "Nope" without the help from the narrative. Where did this phrase start? How come it spread so fast? Why does it jar me out of the narrative when it's harmless? Is it spreading from fanfic to original fic? I'm both annoyed and fascinated.

Anyway, that may look like my biggest complaint, but it's not. My biggest complaint is that this was only 16k and not a full novel with lots more angst and fucking and angst about fucking. Which is like getting a slice of cake and then asking the baker why they're not busy making eight more cakes like it, oops. But it was so nice and charming and fun! I would totally read the novel with these characters in this universe (or the Epic Romance/Angst fest between the background hero/villain of the piece).

cover of Once Broken Faith

Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire — I may be in a minority here, but this isn't one of the stronger books in the series. It's good and addresses a lot of political issues that the previous books opened up and does excellent work with the characters and their relationships, but all in all I felt disconnected from the plot and the side characters being strangers overall didn't help. I was bored when the detective work was being done and would really only check back in once that ended and there was more main character/relationship work. This reveals my ~bias~ for books with great characters.

Something about the mystery this time and the framing of the narrative just didn't quite grok for me and the resolution felt too easy given the stakes. This book is a solid entry but felt like a bridge toward the future rather than the wide, gaping chasm of "WTAF?" that McGuire is so great at opening underneath the reader when she wants to. I'm not sure why I expected the chasm instead of the nice, only slightly dangerous bridge with rocks underneath that I got. Also, I'm getting a little fatigued by the same people ending up in Mortal Peril all the time, but I feel like that's part of my annoyance with the character death trope finding a new outlet. But it felt like a ton of crumbs were being laid for future novels, several of which make me ~nervous~ and also ~~excited~~.

L O L we have to wait a year for the next book, though. Screw all of you jerks who hooked me on this series. You're fired.

Date: 2016-09-20 11:07 am (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
The fourth Attolia book has been out for a while!

Date: 2016-09-20 05:16 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I adored Once Broken Faith for the worldbuilding, which is my other favorite element besides characterization. We got to find out a LOT about the various fae kingdoms in that part of the world and their relationships with each other. I'm also very pleased that I was immediately thinking "stasis field" after the description of the first murder; usually I'm not that quick on the uptake. :-)

What did you think about the novella at the end of the book? That was characterization from start to finish.

Date: 2016-09-22 02:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Backlists are great but time-consuming" is a thing I'm maybe going to cross-stitch on a pillow so I'll never forget that it is true. Luckily it's fairly rare that I'll so love an author I want to go back and read their full backlist.

The Queen of Attolia is indeed 200% better than The Thief. And The King of Attolia is again better yet for me. It's still a book full of smart people solving complicated problems, but it's also (in my opinion) getting you a scootch closer to what the characters are feeling. Gen's so cerebral that it's hard to connect with him as a narrator. The narrator of King of Attolia feels a lot of ways, bless his baby heart.


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