spindizzy: Alice in chibi mode looking really confused, with the text "curiouser and curiouser" above her. (Curiouser and curiouser)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Hello my darlings! I know, you weren't expecting to see me again so soon, but seriously it was pop up an extra time or have a book post on Thursday that was eighteen stories long and none of us wants that.

A quick note: I accidentally messed up when I was compiling my last Eight Book Minimum post, and somehow managed to not paste my review of Seasons of Glass and Iron in. Thanks to commenter [personal profile] tangerine42 for the save, it is now live and you can read it here.

(I THINK I've avoided making that mistake today. I THINK.)

  1. Pluto Volume Six by Naoki Urasawa [Jump]

  2. Pluto Volume Seven by Naoki Urasawa [Jump]

  3. Pluto Volume Eight by Naoki Urasawa [Jump]

  4. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley [Jump]

  5. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin [Jump]

  6. Pandora Hearts Volume Eight by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  7. You Will Surely Drown If You Stay by Alyssa Wong [Jump]

  8. Everyone From Themis Sends Letters Home by Genevieve Valentine [Jump]

  9. The Book of How to Live by Rose Lemberg [Jump]

Cover of Pluto Volume Six by Naoki Urasawa Cover of Pluto Volume Seven by Naoki Urasawa Cover of Pluto Volume Eight by Naoki Urasawa

1. Pluto Volume Six by Naoki Urasawa [Top]
The first thing I wrote in my notes was apparently "We know who the villain of the series is now, and we know who the title character really is; everything from here on out is just the series breaking your heart for the fun of it." Which... Isn't really wrong!

(I don't think I need to say that this is going to be super spoilery, do I? Because it will be.)

In this volume, Gesicht investigates who Pluto was before he became Pluto; Professor Hoffman is in danger; everything is terrible.

There is a consistent theme of the robots in this series being better at basic humanity than the actual humans. Episilon has his family of orphan children; Gesicht's priorities are on not hurting someone who isn't attacking him, and making sure that Hoffman is rescued even when the humans he works for don't care. Plus, Gesicht's biggest concern now that he's remembered what he's done is "Why didn't you put me on trial for killing someone?" when the humans decided that he's too valuable to lose. (Plus they deleted his memories. Even of his kid. That's just cruel and fucking unethical, right?! That's awful.

(Speaking of awful: Gesicht trying to talk to Helena about starting a family without telling her that they already had a kid? Also cruel and unethical. A different kind, of course, in that it's not state-sanctioned cruelty, but what.)

But yes, the reveal that Pluto-the-monster was once an ordinary robot studying in Holland is heartbreaking, because he seems like he was kind and trying his best – and then his father happened. And Sahad apparently never wanted to fight, never wanted revenge, and watching him see through his father is really well done. (I feel like someone smarter and better informed than me could get some really good political commentary from Sahad's arc, but I am not the person to do it. Someone pitch Lady Business on a political analysis of Pluto! I'll wait!)

I know I mention the use of colour every time it comes up, but seriously: it costs extra to do, so more effort and money has been sunk into this series, and they use it to show life in the middle of nothing. It's great and I appreciate it.

Okay, seriously, this is your final warning on spoilers! Happy? Good.

I honestly expected Gesicht to make it to the end of the series. He's been our POV character since the beginning, so his death is a genuine shock! And the fact that he dies so concerned for Ali is really harrowing to me. But the bit that gets me is not just Gesicht's death, it's Helena's grief afterwards. It's really well-handled, and it shows her learning how to grieve, how to have and express these emotions that she doesn't remember having before, and it's really well done. (It specifically points out that it doesn't matter if she's faking the tears to begin with, because it will still help, which is actually kinda thoughtful advice?) The fact that it's Tenma helping her – actually gives him more depth, as well, because he's such a terrible human being, but he gives good advice and takes the time to grieve with her for what they've lost.


2. Pluto Volume Seven by Naoki Urasawa [Top]
In this volume, we focus on Epsilon and his orphanage! Epsilon is an excellent foster-parent who always notices when kids aren't there; the humans working at the orphanage pretty much sell a child; I am emotionally compromised.

I think that Epsilon's story arc might be my favourite. He is a pacifist who got called in for clean-up after the war (and nearly killed a child due to negligent military personnel, which explains a lot about his choices), and is the last one standing against Pluto. I really appreciate how specific he is in his use of language when talking about fighting Pluto ("I defeated my enemy"), how focused he is on protecting those around him including Pluto, and his kindness with the children. I take umbrage with a point made in the next volume about "seeing your child grow is what it means to be alive" but I will allow that it laid the groundwork throughout the series to get to that point.

(I am REALLY UPSET by what happens to Epsilon, okay, I was heartbroken.)

But also: human bigotry! A woman at the orphanage sells a child in exchange for a donation to the facility and not investigating the orphanage further, because it ~has to be better for the boy to be with humans~ whether he wants to go with them or not, and I can absolutely believe that as a thing that happened, but it's still... Utterly banal, everyday evil, on the part of the man making that bribe/threat, and on the woman who agrees. (There are too many situations that could be a metaphor for, to be honest, I will let everyone make their own choice.)

(I feel very weird about anyone thinking that the appropriate way to memorialise a conscientious objector is to call them a "true warrior".)

Also I feel like it we need to take a second together to admire the confidence it takes to introduce plot-critical characters one volume before the end of a series. Especially because the recurring image of this tiny crack in a building as a metaphor is quite cool.

There is a lot in this volume, even more than I've yelled about here, but it's interesting to me that the robots who specifically wanted to keep Pluto alive, and possibly even protect him (Gesicht, Epsilon) did the best of any of the robots who faced him. It's cool and distressing in equal measure.

3. Pluto Volume Eight by Naoki Urasawa [Top]
OKAY, I am giving up on keeping this spoiler-free. If anyone doesn't want to be spoiled, please just skip over this one, okay?

I just want to take a breath to go over a few facts before we start, like that the main villain of this series has the motivation "The only thing we have here is prosperity! And the good ol' United States of Thracia will prosper forever!" And that the "Weapon of mass destruction" that was the ostensible reason for going to war was never a weapon; it was a greenification robot, but nobody cared.

Pluto is not subtle, guys. Not even slightly.

This final volume has a weird mix of predictable and horrifying. The end of Atom and Sahad's arcs were very well done, but those developments weren't necessarily surprising.

On a smaller level of social horror, a thing that really bothers me in Pluto is how it treats Helena. She doesn't know she had a child. Gesicht found out! Atom found out! But at no point does anyone mention it to her. (By implication, she also didn't look at Gesicht's memory chip when she had it, even though she could have, which is an interesting character note.) I just – they don't have the right to make that decision for her! And it's just a background detail that bothers me! On the plus side, at least Helena knew that Atom was lying to her, that's something. Even if she does thank him for it.

(It's interesting how much of the world relies on "what everyone knows" about robot behaviour to stop them looking too closely, which always trips them up later. Robots can't lie... Inless they're advanced enough. Robots can't hate... Except that they can.)

But the horror that is the explanation for "500 zeus a body" is awful, both for how Gesicht found his and Helena's child and what happened to them. It's awful, and that neither Gesicht nor Helena chose to remove those memories but had them taken for them is really sickening.

I just... I know it's predictable, but the conclusion that "Nothing comes of hatred" and two abused sons who've been abandoned by their fathers crying together and working together to save the world instead of killing each other really worked for me. And I liked that even though the anger that Gesicht felt when he died was strong enough to focus Atom and bring him back to life, it's still his conclusion that nothing comes of hatred that gets through.

I'd also like to point out that the way this story is told is really good, including but not limited to:
  • There's a scene where an evil teddy bear is explaining the end of the world ("That weather robot didn't need to feign such alarm." "Feign?" "Sure. It's just like he said. It will cause almost universal death. [beat] But we robots will survive.") and the panel pacing is excellent. The way that Naoki Urusawa used silent panels to add that extra beat was really good.

  • The mirroring of the first scene where we meet Atom is really well done; in that scene he picks up a snail and rescues it. In this one he picks a snail up and stares at it, considering while the people around him worry that he's not who he was, before he puts rescues it. It a really nice touch!

  • I actually like how few details it takes to show how close Atom is to his breaking point; it's literally just a few extra lines under his eyes and his irises shrinking a little, but it makes him look so worn.

  • The way it represents ludicrously complex maths by just flinging some into a speech bubble and letting the bits being cut-off show that there's more not being shown.

  • Uran's narrative voice talking about "the day the world was supposed to end" giving success a sense of inevitability but also consequence.

IN CONCLUSION: I have some issues with Pluto but as a series overall, it's pretty good! It's an interesting approach to a robot-based murder mystery, it is not subtle with its linking to modern issues (including but not limited to bigotry, stereotyping, choosing who counts as people, illegal wars, corruption, scientific ethics...), and the art is really consistently good. It's one of my top ten "if you have never read a manga before, this might be a good place to start" series, and if you've not read it I do think it's worth checking out!

Cover of The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron HurleyCover of The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 7 by Jun Mochizuki

4. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley [Top]
I have been so excited for this essay collection, because combos of personal essays and writing-craft essays are my favourite, but I kept putting it off because I was worried about it not living up to my hype.

It... Mostly did.

Part of why I put off reading this collection was discovering that it contains the Requires Hate essay (and a bonus one where she essentially accused the people of disliking the Requires Hate essay of not reading it, when ironically I have read this essay the most of any in this collection to be sure that it aggravates me for the correct reason.), which is... Kind of a blot on the collection? Like, respect to her for including an essay that is actively controversial, but also it kinda niggles at me whenever I pick up the collection because it's an essay I disagree with on a fundamental level. (I'm fairly sure she says that she's not excusing RH/Benjanun Sriduangkaew's abuse of others but instead wants people to stop obsessing about her, but it really comes across as her asking "Why are you all angry at her when male authors do this all the time?" and "Are you all angry because she played you?" like that's a better thing to be saying.)

But APART from that consuming vortex sucking up all my feelings, I really enjoyed The Geek Feminist Revolution. It's a good mix of autobiographical and craft (I particularly liked her explanation of effective copywriting/ad writing in Making People Care: Storytelling in Fiction vs Marketing, and her autobiographical essays really snag on my mind, which is cool), and her media criticism was great – including a look at True Detective that I hadn't considered. The essays are snappy and sometimes angry and mostly satisfying, even when I disagree (with the obvious exception). I think if you have read Kameron Hurley's non-fiction online and enjoyed them, this is going to be up your alley, although you will have seen a lot of the copy here.

5. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin [Top]
I kept putting this off and putting it off, and for the life of me I don't know why because it's amazing. I'm going to try to keep this spoiler-free, because while it's probably still good when you what's going to happen, I'd honestly recommend not being spoiled if you can?

The Fifth Season is about the world ending (again), on both a literal level and a personal one. On the day the world ends, Essun comes home to find out that her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter, and she leaves their community to find them.

The world building is incredible. There is so much thought put into how people might evolve to survive, and all of the different ways that the apocalypse can happen and the ways it might affect the world! And all of the choices (good and bad) that would need to be made in such a circumstance, and the social impact of these There are also the orogenes – magic users who can control the earth itself to an extent, and the science of how that works is really cool.

The narrative does some really clever things to direct the reader and how it wants to reveal things, and the way that relationships (and societies, really) are built and changed and broken over the course of the book mean I pretty much crammed into my face in one evening. It's really good and I absolutely recommend it. Also if anyone wants caution warnings or spoilers, send me a DM or leave a comment and I will sort you out!

6. Pandora Hearts Volume Eight by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: Break reveals his backstory to be even worse than expected, Vincent attempts to convince Raven to make terrible decisions, Oz and Echo have a Lovely Time at a festival, and I continue to lie weakly on the floor wailing about found families and character growth.

I think this volume does a really good job of explicitly laying out one of the manga's themes in words: that of taking responsibility for your own choices. Break explicitly says that he "was thinking only of [him]self" while declaring that his actions were "all for [his] master's sake" and how you have to choose your own path without using "for somebody else" as an excuse. This is directly contrasted with two scenes about Vincent, who consistently refusing to accept responsibility for his actions – in one case, he explicitly weaponises that against someone, and in the other he a) explicitly tries to convince Raven that killing Alice "for Oz's sake" is the best plan, and b) tries to blame his own shitty behaviour on ensuring Raven's happiness. These scenes with Vincent pretty much bookend Break's! It's an explicit contrast! Okay, it's not subtle, but I am entertained and really enjoying them learning.

Oh, I worked out why Echo looks so much younger than the rest of the cast! It's because her boots completely skip over her ankles, which makes her look like she has stubby child legs. Still weird, but understandably visually. Her scene with Oz is mostly predictable, I found, although I will accept arguments otherwise; I don't know about anyone else, but I am deeply reassured that Echo's aware that Vincent's fucked up and she hates him, because if she was accepting everything going on as passively as the series had suggested up to now, I would be pissed.

Apart from that: Break is great throughout this volume (He's so blasé about his own backstory, which I find chilling, especially because of the repercussions of his deal with Alice; Oz tries to be considerate of him and Break essentially tells him to stop trying to pretend he's not an obnoxious twelve year old; his friendship with Reim kills me dead.), and his being adopted into the found family that's building pretty much just wrecks me ("He's so surprised by his friends caring for him!" I wail, sobbing weakly on the floor.). Sheryl destroying Duke Barma's day gives me life, and I would absolutely read a side manga that was nothing but that. The war of influence that Oz and Barma threaten is pretty great.

As a random point, though – the backmatter in this manga is kinda interesting, because it's the initial comic that Jun Mochizuki made that would later become Pandora Hearts. It's definitely rough, but it's really cool to see what the characters developed out of. (Although fair warning that it's more gory and has more explicitly dead naked women, so best to be aware of that before you start.)

7. You Will Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong [Top]
I really liked this one when I was reading it for Hugo nominations! It’s a Weird Western about a boy in a dried out town where the town's dead roam the desert and the mines it was built around have been long-closed, and he is recruited by people who want to buy the mine to help them find a way to it.

The texture of this story is really great, and the way that the magic is woven into the setting is really cool. I liked the characters, I liked the relationship between Ellis and Marisol and the way that Ellis learns to control his powers, and the imagery. It's so good. Plus, I really love second person POV, like, completely and unironically, so I'm really happy to see it used to such good effect here!

Also the implication is that Ellis is heteroromantic asexual, which I believe has been confirmed by Word Of Author. I have seen some asexual reviewers talk about this in the context of the popular trope of having asexual characters associated with death; [twitter.com profile] mikaylamic talked about it here (warning for many spoilers), and [twitter.com profile] leoconnacht has done essays and threads on it that I will link to when they go live publicly (It's currently only available on her patreon..). It might be a thing to be aware of!

I really liked this story. It wasn't quite as much my thing thing as A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers, but I thought it was really good! I would have been as happy if this had won Best Novelette as I was about The Tomato Thief.

8. Everyone From Themis Sends Letters Home by Genevieve Valentine [Top]
I am really fond of this story; I found it on the 2017 Hugo Spreadsheet Of Doom in nomination season, and it actually made it onto my ballot! I'm not sure how much I can say about it without going too deeply into spoilers, which (despite the sections on Pluto), I don't want to do, because it's short-ish but so affecting.

The story builds so well with its use of media and letters and conversations; Benjamina is such a good character in terms of her emotions and her point of view (the way the story shows her eye for detail and her awareness of how she is perceived in her role is great and felt very true to life; I respect the way that she story showed her culpability and her attempts to make things right), and the ways everyone reacts to Themis is well done. I really liked this story and I'm sad that it didn't make it onto the ballot.

9. The Book of How to Live by Rose Lemberg [Top]
Efronia and Zilpit-nai-Rinah are a non-magical inventors in a city run on and ruled by magic; Efronia works at the university, hoping to become the first non-magical student based on the quality of her work, while Zilpit-nai-Rinah is rebelling against both her family and the government!

Guys, what I'm learning from this story is that academic politics are bullshit! Which I knew anyway, but watching a woman nearly get destroyed by a man with more power than her because someone else embarrassed him is infuriating. And watching a family come together expressly to shame and scold a member of it who isn't doing ~what's expected~ was also infuriating. I can absolutely believe that revolution is preferable to dealing with either of those!

As you can guess, the behaviour of the secondary characters in this story is absolutely maddening. I can absolutely believe in their behaviour.

But yes, the recurring themes of this story are cool – realising that sometimes you need a group to do the work that you want, rather than doing it alone; the importance of claiming identities for yourself; and sometimes that asking politely and waiting for acknowledgement does not work. It's an interesting look at the intersection of oppressions, and the way institutions often value people's work without valuing them.

And there is a very sweet relationship building; Efronia is both asexual and autistic (which is implied in text and confirmed by the author) and somewhat confused by her feelings for Zilpit-nai-Rinah!

I think I liked this one. I reread it again just to check and I came away with a nod and a smile, so it's fine!

Reading Goals

Reading goal: 59/150 (9 new this post) Prose: 24/50 (5 new this post)
New-to-me female authors: 10/50 (1 new this post: Genevieve Valentine)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 27/80 (4 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerasfuckbookclub: 18/59 (2 new this post: You Will Surely Drown Here If You Stay and The Book of How to Live)

Date: 2017-11-22 11:35 am (UTC)
subsequent: (-thumbs up)
From: [personal profile] subsequent
Thanks for all the reviews of books including Ace characters... imma have to expand my reading list! (Also holy moly, I didn't know that so many existed)
Edited Date: 2017-11-22 11:36 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-12-09 06:23 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
FIFTH SEASON! SO GOOD! Also, do you know there's a short story set in this world too for when you finish the trilogy? I can't wait for it to be a TV show (and am terrified about that at the same time).

I totally get where you're coming from on the Kameron Hurley essay. I really wish it wasn't in there tbh even while I am having an extreme emotional reaction to that collection existing.


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