spindizzy: Alice waving her arms with a love heart over her head. (Hug me!)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Okay, SLOWLY wrapping up my reading from 2018! This is the last of the short fiction I read, and I think I managed to luck out into finding some pretty good ones! (If you have any recs for short fiction that you love: PLEASE PLEASE SEND ME LINKS, I am always here for more!)

  1. The King in the Cathedral by Rich Larson [Jump]

  2. Stone Hunger by N. K. Jemisin [Jump]

  3. On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts by Richard Park [Jump]

  4. The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley [Jump]

  5. The Steadfast Tin Automaton by Alex Singer [Jump]

  6. What to Do When It's Nothing But Static by Cassandra Khaw [Jump]

  7. Valedictorian by N. K. Jemisin [Jump]

  8. The Trojan Girl by N. K. Jemisin [Jump]

1. The King in the Cathedral by Rich Larson [Top]
The King in the Cathedral follows the deposed heir to the throne, who is quite happy languishing in his exile playing all sorts of games with his robotic guard – much to the disgust of the young woman who has shown up to restore him to his rightful throne.

I'll be honest; my memories of this story are very vague. I remember that I really enjoyed the way that the games play out (THAT FINAL GAME THOUGH), and the way the protagonist manages to cover any hint of competence and sincerity with a brilliant shield of self-interest, the way that he is equally certain that he wouldn't be a good king, while also apparently bending his robot jailer to his whims, and that Eris, the female lead, is convinced that she's in a much more heroic story than she actually is! I have no idea if that constitutes an actual recommendation though, because the entire first half of the story apparently fell out of my head as soon as I finished it!

[Caution warnings: mentions of abuse]

2. Stone Hunger by N. K. Jemisin [Top]
Once there was a girl who used her orogene to crack open towns’ fortifications so that she could sneak inside and look for supplies and the person that killed her own town... Which goes great until she gets caught.

I picked this up yet again because I realised that Stone Hunger must have been set either during the last half of The Stone Sky or just after it, so I guess spoilers for the Broken Earth trilogy! (I have read it every time I finish a book in that trilogy, by the way, trying to fit it into the context I have, and I finally found where it goes!)

It’s really good. The description of orogeny as taste and texture and flavour makes a lot of sense for the character and reads synaesthetically, and it's REALLY different to the approach that N. K. Jemisin takes in the main series. (Plus: getting to see how other characters perceive their ability, rather than the way people are taught to see it!) The choice to never name the protagonist is seriously interesting (I assume it’s a reflection on how the character considers herself a parasite and instrument of vengeance before she considers herself a person, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise!), as is the fact that she does specifically do awful things in the lead up to the story, and the other characters get it. It’s fascinating and creepy (“the stone-eaters, aaaaaugh” was a super true and professional note that I wrote about this story), and definitely recommended if you haven’t read it yet.

3. On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts by Richard Park [Top]
On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts follows a family of exorcists as the ghost of a princess asks for help to lie quietly in her grave. I enjoyed this story (although I have reservations based on the fact that it seems to draw inspiration from Chinese narratives and the author appears to be a white dude); it's interesting and full of beautiful imagery, has smart actions, has a convoluted political backstory and a complicated family in the foreground, so it has a lot of things that I like! I’m just not sure I’m invested enough to go and look for the story that explains how someone ends up with a snake-demon for a sister.

[I read the version included in the Hugo packet for Beneath Ceaseless Skies' sample, but it can be read online here.]

4. The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley [Top]
The Fisherman and the Pig is set years after the events of Elephant and Corpses (which [personal profile] bookgazing reviewed here) and follows Nev — a former mercenary with the ability to transfer his consciousness to any corpse he's touched, now living as a fisherman — as he sets about investigating the murder of everyone living in his village, including himself.

I liked The Fisherman and the Pig more on a second reading than I did the first; the first time around I was distracted by it not being quite as solid as Elephants and Corpses. The second time around though, it was easier to relax into it and enjoy the world-building being layered over the original story, and to appreciate the storytelling. It’s got about as much gore as you’d expect from a Kameron Hurley story, and some really creepy imagery (“Who’s coming back?” is never a question you should have to ask about corpses), it just feels more resolved emotionally than plot-wise, which has left me wondering if this is set-up for a different story.

[I read the version included in the Hugo packet for Beneath Ceaseless Skies' sample, but it can be read online here.]

5. The Steadfast Tin Automaton by Alex Singer [Top]
The Steadfast Tin Automaton follows Steinhildr, a robot soldier brought back from the war by her squad, then sold to a theatre when they could no longer afford to maintain her. While there, she discovers an automaton who was built to dance, and is absolutely entranced.

I really enjoyed this – it has a fairy-tale tone, and such a measured voice for Hilde, and I was utterly sold on her confusion about Copellia. The way it works the war through her narration feels like excellent set-up for the end of the story, and just – I was consistently charmed! The world building is great, the imagery is fantastic, the story manages to be a queer riff on the Steadfast Tin Soldier with familiar beats, but still managed to be exactly what I wanted. I adored it.

6. What to Do When It's Nothing But Static by Cassandra Khaw [Top]
Man, I have been waiting for this story for SO LONG, because periodically my twitter feed would burst out with JAEGER AUNTIES!! and we would all collectively squee about this idea. And look! Look! Cassandra Khaw delivered!

What to do when it’s nothing but static is a story about grief and friendship, and taking chances and moving on, and it’s so good! It's about a slightly traumatised mech pilot in her sixties who has been set up on a blind date by her daughter! It’s got supportive friendships and grandmother (or grandmother-adjacent) aged women as active, badass ladies who fight kaiju for a living! It’s got supportive friendships and the repercussions of trauma and the cost of fighting! This is what I want from a jaeger aunties story!

… I would take a novel set in this world, is what I’m saying here. It’s great.

7. Valedictorian by N. K. Jemisin [Top]
Valedictorian is really good. It's about a girl determined to be the best, despite the indifference, surprise, or active opposition of the people around her, the fact that no one is willing to be her competition or encouragement, and the very real danger that being herself puts her in. It is blisteringly incisive in its commentary on expectations, principles, racism, and who is considered expendable; the way that it winds these things around Zinhle’s determination to keep being herself and keep being the best is excellent.

The reveal of what is actually going on and why it's happening is pretty great, because it simultaneously flipped my understanding of what was going on and explained so much about the world Zinhle was growing up in – why people refused to compete with her, why no one protected her, why this future felt so small and mean and confining. (There is one line that made me hiss at my phone and I guarantee you will know it when you see it.)

But yes, Valedictorian is great, and I definitely recommend it!

[Caution warning: racism, bullying]

8. The Trojan Girl by N. K. Jemisin [Top]
As far as I know, The Trojan Girl is set in the same world as Valedictorian, so this story and review will have spoilers for that! Maybe go read that one first!

Anyway, The Trojan Girl follows a group of patchwork sentient AIs attempting to hunt down a more advanced AI so they can take it apart and make its programming their own. This is the sort of story I think of when I think of cyberpunk, to be honest – sentient AIs chasing their own goals, learning and growing as they go. It's really cool for the world-building and the way that the AIs respond and use their nature to get around! I liked the ideas of it! I just think I preferred Valedictorian of the two stories in this setting though, as it had a more defined sense of place and character, which is fair enough because both of the stories are doing very different things.

Currently Reading

No. 6 Volume 7 by Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Kino -- We're heading towards the climax and the stoic character is realising that the bright sunshine optimist might be broken, so nothing is good right now, but everything is catnip.

Reading Goals

Reading goal: 174/180 (8 new this post) Prose: 96/90 (8 new this post, 60/97 short fiction) Nonfiction: 6/12 (0 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 24/50 (0 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 64/50 (2 new this post; The King in the Cathedral, The Steadfast Tin Automaton)


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