This is from The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson. Maybe no one’s checked it out in almost 30 years.
This is from The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson. Maybe no one’s checked it out in almost 30 years.
but I think you know it’s not
there’s no moon about, it’s already slid past
still, it’s pretty quiet
nowhere but the cold collapse of night
these slow building blocks of sleep
feeling that sleep creep up the cheekbones
toward my eyes
still for some reason
the slow crinkle in the neck
the ache around the corners of the eyes
the cold toes
the distant murmur of rockets
finding this dark quiet so charming, or alarming,
that I can’t quite let it go
But though there were no formal parties, it is true that there were now two broadly opposing worldviews floating in the political ether waiting to be tapped as needed. As the crisis over the Lex Agraria revealed, it was no longer a specific issue that mattered so much as the urgent necessity to triumph over rivals. Reflecting on the recurrent civil wars of the Late Republic, Sallust said, “It is this spirit which has commonly ruined great nations, when one party desires to triumph over another by any and every means and to avenge itself on the vanquished with excessive cruelty.” Accepting defeat was no longer an option.
The Storm Before the Storm
If you’d told me that Helen DeWitt would follow up her exquisite The Last Samurai with a novel about a guy who solves America’s workplace sexual harassment issue by starting a company to provide anonymous sexual encounters as a workplace perk, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. For a novel primarily about sex, it’s not very erotic or salacious, but it is funny. Doesn’t hold a candle to her other novel or her collection of short stories, to my mind, but for what it sets out to do–satirical take on American gender relationships in the workplace–it does it pretty well. The best thing this book does is present sex as really not that big a deal, because it’s just something that everyone does, so why not be pragmatic about it? Why treat it as something separate and unusual? It’s a refreshing take on it.
Unlike The Last Samurai, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but it’s a quick, smart, funny read.
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette De Bodard is a novella-length science fiction story in what might be some future Earth where a race of aliens have come and gone–the Vanishers–leaving disease and desolation in their wake. It’s an intimate story of a human (?) woman living on a Vanisher spaceship–maybe? everything is very vague–with two abandoned Vanisher children. She trades her healing service for the servitude of a young woman to teach her children. It’s described as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and that’s certainly accurate. This story shines in its portrayal of the weird alien technology as a kind of bizarre magic based, I think, in some kind of super-tech genetic engineering. A quick, charming read.
The weirder the better a la science fiction, as far as I’m concerned. The stories in this collection, Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis, are weird. I think I probably checked this book out from the library based on its title. Read it for: the title story, “Moonkids”, “Teacher”, “Sweetheart”, and “Ultimate Housekeeping Megathrill 4”, but all of the stories are worthwhile. The language in these stories is often casually bizarre, as though they’re being written by people used to writing and speaking and English from a couple parallel universe away.
The Explorer by James Smythe: This book dances on a kind of knife’s edge for the first third of it or so. The book captures the protagonist’s tedium and dread at being the sole remaining survivor of a doomed space expedition almost too well. Thankfully the book swerves into true weirdness after that first third and becomes a fascinating meditation on the inability to see ourselves as others see us. I’ve been pretty down on first-person narratives lately, because of how limiting and constrained they are, but this book uses first person point of view particularly effectively. I dug it.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu: Two of the stories in this collection made me cry and I’d say that almost all of them are worth reading. I especially liked: “The Paper Menagerie”, “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, “State Change”, “All the Flavors”, “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”. I expect many of these stories can be found online. Go digging!
Doom Patrol: Nada by Gerard Way: It’s impossible to read this without seeing Grant Morrison’s influence. Which is fitting, I suppose, given Morrison’s long run on Doom Patrol. I found the issue with Niles “The Chief” Caulder–their former leader–especially satisfying. The story’s pretty gonzo and surreal but manages to keep a slight hold on the reins so that things don’t devolve into pure nonsense. Also, the art is quite lovely.
A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh: Describes burglars and their relationship to architecture and cities and those who try to foil them (cops, safe makers, architects, etc). I especially liked the chapter in which the author met with members of various lock picking societies. A quick and enlightening read chockablock full of fantastic detail.
Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker: They just don’t write science fiction like this anymore (or I’m looking in the wrong places). There’s almost too much creativity crammed into this book about an alien world divided into hexagons, each one of which has a completely different environment and set of alien creatures. I suppose that’s why Chalker wrote several more books. I enjoyed this crazy romp through this bizarro alien world and will probably read one or two more of these.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: A book that’s probably a lot more interesting than it sounds. The story of the interpersonal dynamic among a crew of alien races on a long distance space journey. The characters are charming, the alien races are unique and strange, and (in what was something of a relief, I realized) the characters solve their problems without the use of violence. This is one of those science fiction books that you could easily hand to both fans of science fiction and not and still find a receptive audience. I intend to read the sequels.
Neverworld Wake by Misha Pessl: I really enjoyed her first book a lot (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) and was delighted when I realized that she had written a couple new books. This is a YA novel with a time travel/Groundhog Day motif. I liked it a lot and I did not see the twist coming (to be fair, I usually don’t). A quick, enjoyable read (what I’m usually looking for when I pick up a YA novel).
The Doll’s Alphabet by Camilla Grudova: Do you like sewing machines? Because there are a lot of them in this book of short stories. These stories have a real Grimm’s fairy tale sort of vibe to them with an often pretty harsh (but fair) take on contemporary gender relationships. Bordering on the grotesque, Grudova has a real unique voice. I’ll be looking for more of her writing in the future.
Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin: If you like Le Guin’s other Earthsea books, you’d be missing out if you didn’t read this collection of Earthsea stories. Fills in some gaps in the novels in real interesting ways.
The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin: The final Earthsea novel doesn’t disappoint. I think this was the only one (apart from the stories) that I hadn’t read before. Heartbreaking at times, this quiet novel was so deeply satisfying as a conclusion to the Earthsea story. Le Guin writes about the nature of power and the role of gender like no one else. I’m glad I read it when I did, because I think I would have got much less of it if I’d read it at a younger age.
Hellboy (Library Edition, v4): The Crooked Man and the Troll Witch by Mike Mignola: I liked the Troll Witch part of this one best, because Mignola’s still doing the art. The rest of it is fine, but Hellboy definitely loses something without Mignola doing the art. Funny thing about the Hellboy comics, I have a very hard time remembering details of the stories, even as the art remains vivid in my mind.
Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition 2) by Yukito Kishiro: I still like this comic, but I don’t remember being as bothered by the grotesquerie of it when I read these the first time about 10 years ago.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman: If you’re feeling real down about where the world is at, this history of 14th century Europe could be useful cure. It probably really was one of the worst times to be alive. Plague and violence and famine and daft kings were all the rage. Also, they wore really stupid looking shoes. There are incredible, just flabbergasting details in this book.
The Wicked & the Divine: Mothering Invention by Kieron Gillen: Really effective use of wordless panels, repeating almost identical actions over thousands of years really drive the point home about how much of a drag it would be to be immortal (or to experience reincarnation with the full memory of all that had happened before). I like this comic, but all the characters are such tools, I have a hard time loving it. (But then they are all gods/rock stars, so it kind of makes sense.) The art’s fantastic.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson: Science fiction novels about psi powers were all the rage in the 70s and 80s. I haven’t seen any for a while, but this book reminded me of them. Set in a town in Nigeria that’s been infested/visited by some alien thing, this novel’s brimming with ideas. In a fitting touch, the United States has completely cut off all ties and communication with the rest of the world, so much so that no one knows anything about what’s happening there, except for strange rumors from the occasional refugee. The story’s told non-chronologically, which works pretty well in this case.
Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci: This novel uses Venn (and other) diagrams to show the status of characters’ relationships. I never suspected that a couple circles could be so moving, but it turns out that with the right context, they can be. I picked this one up on a lark at the library and I’m glad I did.
John Dee and the Empire of Angels: Enochian Magicking and the Occult Roots of the Modern World by Jason Louv: Fascinating and weird. You don’t need to believe in magic to get a lot out of this book, because it’s clear that many of the people who rule the world do. It’s a weird (wyrd?), oblique take on how and why the world is where it’s at today. Sometimes I find it useful to get a curveball perspective on things.
Restart by Gordon Korman: My kid recommended this one to me, so I read it. The protagonist bonks his head and gets amnesia. Upon returning to school, he slowly learns that he was the school bully terrorizing almost everyone. It’s a kid’s book, but it’s exploring real interesting ideas around memory and identity. Who are we? The memories that we have about ourselves or the memories that other people have about us? Pretty heady stuff disguised as a pretty goofy a kid’s book.
The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar by Terry Cheney: Pretty intense stuff. I’m still thinking about this one.
Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash: It’s about a wrestler who really wants to win at wrestling. I mean REALLY. Another book that suffers from a plot description, because it’s really all about the execution. I like how this guy uses his words.
Fallen Words by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Charming fables set in medieval Japan. Light and funny.
Black Hammer (v1): Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire: Another round of alternate DC/Marvel heroes complete with decades worth of fictional comics continuity to draw from. These heroes have been forced to retire a farm that seems to be a pocket dimension they can’t escape from and their interpersonal relationships sure do suffer as a result! I’m interested to see where Lemire takes it.
A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl: Speaking of fictional comics continuity, Proehl created an entire fictional comic book industry (complete with characters) to provide the backdrop for this story about this mother and her kid traveling across the country doing comic book conventions. The professional cosplayers form a sort of Greek chorus. The mother’s relationship and concern for her kid I found pretty touching.
The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell: Four barely interconnected short stories set in a world of environmental catastrophe caused by unbridled use of magic. Dark and grim. I wanted the stories to be more interconnected than they were.
Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders: A short (basically novella-length) post-apocalyptic story about a guy who survives for a while by being unconcerned with what happens to his body a la Youtube-style antics. The characters just sort of keep trying to live their lives as the world goes farther and farther down the tubes. Reminded me quite a bit of A Distant Mirror in that way.
Harrow County (Library Edition v1) by Cullen Bunn: She’s a witch! And the whole town’s not what it seems. I sure wasn’t expecting the curveball this book threw. The art’s exactly what this story needs. I’ll check out future collections.
Vita Nostra by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko: What if Hogwarts totally sucked and studying magic was a real drag? That’s basically the premise of this novel. I’m being super reductionist here and maybe unfairly so. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book, but I did find it compelling.
The Wild Storm: Michael Cray (v1) by Bryan Hill: I wanted to like this book more than I did, but I feel like it was kind of a rehash of stuff I’ve seen before. Michael Cray fights evil versions of classic DC heroes (Green Arrow, Aquaman, etc).
Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition 3) by Yukito Kishiro: This is where Battle Angel Alita really starts to get weird. This is also where I started enjoying it a lot more when I read it the first time. The same is true this second time.
Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell: The story of one woman’s life. Shows, in harrowing detail, the emptiness and soul-crushing boredom at the heart of the “American dream”. Funny and deeply sad.
Milk Wars: A crossover comic with DC’s biggest characters and Young Animal’s. Almost worth it just for the Milkman Man gag. Deeply surreal and weird. Riffing on stuff that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have been doing for decades. It’s great to see someone finally pick up those toys and play with them.
Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? by Geof Darrow: Astoundingly intricate and ultraviolent martial arts comic. No one does comic action like Darrow does. The mind-controlling crab is pretty great as a villain.
Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames: The sequel to Kings of the Wyld, which I liked a lot. These two are probably the best D&Desque novels I’ve ever read, for sheer enjoyment value. The band names are pure delight.
The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin: I thought this was my favorite Earthsea book until I (possibly?) re-read Tehanu shortly after. Reading these books again has been an experience in realizing how little I understood when I read them the first time. Maybe when I read them again in 20 years, I’ll realize how little I understand now. They’re those kinds of books. There’s something about these books that tries to get at what it means to be a man. What it means to be a good man.
Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin: The strangest thing to me is that I think I read this book when I was a kid, but I have almost no memory of having read it. I think I read it, but it was so outside of my frame of reference that I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get it so much, that I remembered almost nothing from it. It’s really, really good. I haven’t read them all yet, but I think this ranks up there as one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Hellboy (Library Edition v2): The Chained Coffin, The Right Hand of Doom, and others by Mike Mignola: Re-reading these Hellboy comics in a larger size really pays off. The art is so great. I can only think of one or two other comic artists whose styles have stuck with me so much. The story is a lot of fun too.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: How is it possible to be a good person? I almost read this book in a single sitting. I found it deeply compelling. Nothing much happens in it, except that a young woman tries to figure out what’s important in life. Moshfegh can write. I didn’t like this as much as her book of short stories, Homesick for Another World, which I can recommend unreservedly. In her writing, I think Moshfegh is really trying to get at how pernicious and destructive the lack of meaning in modern American life is.
Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja: A goofy military SF story. Good for a quick light-hearted read. I’ll probably read the sequel.
Beren and Lúthien by JRR Tolkien: I didn’t realize how much I missed reading Tolkien’s writing until I read this one again. Worth it just for Tevildo, Prince of Cats.
The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich: My book club wanted to read it. There’s something super weird about those cattle mutilations, y’all.