Books! Books! Books!

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
A short, powerful love story. A master class in subtle world-building. Set in what seems like a loose Phoenician-style city, with other characters that seem like Greek (or possibly Roman-style) soldiers. Throw in aliens/gods and parallel universes. There’s a lot going on, but it all sort of comes together in this short novel.

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
A collection of stories by one of my favorite science fiction writers. Read for “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, and “The Great Silence”. LeVar Burton read “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” on his podcast, which you can listen to here.

300 Arguments: Essays by Sarah Manguso
As Sarah Manguso says, this is “a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” Describes it perfectly. A delightful book.

Normal by Warren Ellis
Sort of a mystery story. Futurists and other big picture thinkers have nervous breakdowns and go to a sort of asylum in the Oregon coastal mountains. It’s pretty funny and weird. I don’t really remember how it ended, but the body made of bugs was pretty memorable!

Shaolin Cowboy: Start Trek by Geof Darrow
Extremely violent, nonsensical, and borderline unfathomable martial arts comic. That’s some crab!

Rise of Empire (Riyria Revelations, v2) by Michael J. Sullivan
Epic fantasy. I’ve read a bunch of these now. Very readable and the relationship between the honorable ex-soldier and the mostly amoral thief/assassin is what keeps these books cooking.

Killing Gravity (The Voidwitch Saga, v1) by Corey J. White
Yeah, telekinesis would be pretty handy in space for wrecking things.

Grandville Force Majeure by Bryan Talbot
An alternate reality 1930s (?) London peopled entirely by anthropomorphized animals. (I kept thinking: What would this book be like if they were human people instead?) I realized upon finishing this that it was the finale of a series. Pretty good detective yarn, although probably it’s worth starting with the first in the series, in retrospect.

Tentacle by Rita Indiana
A deeply strange time-traveling, body(and gender)-swapping story about environmental catastrophe and oceanic ecological collapse. The writing is extremely raw and there’s much (justified) rage over the despoiling of the natural world.

The New World by Ales Kot
A Romeo and Juliet story, basically, in a near future authoritarian dystopia. It’s pretty fun.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
OK, what if Harry Potter’s Dudley Dursley were vaguely sympathetic and grew up having to wrestle with being non-magical and having a wizard brother? In this, the non-magical sister has to investigate a possible murder at the magical school where her sister teaches. I always want to figure out the twist, but I never do. This book explores some complicated family dynamics in a fastinating way. Also, really gets into how annoying dealing with magical teenagers would be.

Dead Lions by Mick Herron
I liked Slow Horses enough that I didn’t wait very long to pick up the sequel. I’m a sucker for spy stories and this one doesn’t disappoint. File it under: intelligence agencies are their own worst enemy.

Empty Space by M. John Harrison
The third in a gonzo sf trilogy. Capitalism will wreck the future, just like it’s messing up now. Definitely read the first one first, Light. It was so long since I’d read the first two that I’d basically forgotten what happened completely beforehand. I think these books pretty much stand on their own there.

Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories by Angela Carter
Angela Carter sure can write! I had already read a bunch of these stories in another collection, but Carter’s always worth a read.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (v1) by Fuse
Incredibly silly. Exactly what it says on the tin. I have no idea where this strange story is going to go.

Lolly Willowes; or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner
A charming book in which not much happens and also everything happens. Also, the Devil’s in it. I’ll definitely be reading other books by her.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
Kind of a kitchen sink sci fi yarn. There’s psychic abilities and weird mind and body altering drugs and ancient gods. Ambitious! Probably the most charming character, for me, was the politician/drag queen.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki
I wish there had been books like this, about adolescence and relationships, when I was one. Maybe there were and I just missed them? This comic’s got some important lessons in it, told in an entertaining style.

High Crimes by Christopher Sebela
A spy story told through a trek to the top of Everest. Pretty dark. I still can’t say I understand why people want to climb to the tops of mountains, but at least this protagonist had the threat of death to motivate her.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
A friend said that this book kicked his butt. That was very much my experience. There was much in it that hit a little bit too close to home. Extremely good, nevertheless.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Reminded me very much of Tim Powers’ books, especially Earthquake Weather and Last Call. A sort of time travel story. I enjoyed this one very much.

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
There’s a Japanese mystery genre called “shin honkaku” that roughly translates to “new orthodox”. Puzzle box, locked room mysteries. Detective in the drawing room style. This one’s very stripped down with the characters almost like puzzle pieces. I did not solve the mystery, but it’s very clever, and I didn’t feel bad for not piecing it together. (I first read about the book on Robin Sloan’s blog/newsletter here.)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
It’s so strange reading a novel with characters as children and teenagers in the early 2000s. Thanks, novel, for making me feel old. A beautifully written book. I could tell it was written by a poet.

Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly
A comic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet told as a non-linear modern gang war. I never really got the Montague/Capulet feud until I read it here. R&J is so raw because it’s all teenagers.

Paper Girls (v6) by Brian K Vaughan
The conclusion to this series. I used to think that Saga was my favorite of Vaughan’s books, but I’ve gotta go with Paper Girls. I mean, it has time travel, which is a winner for me every time. Definitely start this series at the beginning.

Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker (v1) by Kieron Gillen
That RPG game turned real! Some good stuff here. I’ll definitely read more.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Based on the title, I was always going to read this book. It did not disappoint. It’s a book that seemed completely written for me. I only wished it was a little longer, but in a way, it was the perfect length. After I read it, I ran across this nice, brief write up of it on the Letters and Sodas blog here.

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
Another book that would’ve been extremely helpful to have read in my late teens and early 20s. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while. Holds up well for a book written in the 1950s, a decade that I don’t have much fondness for, generally, fictionwise.

Problems for Mr. Null

Mr. Null had a problem. Everywhere he went, computers gave up the ghost. They just stopped working. No one could figure out why. His good friend Drop Tables had similar problems. Mr. Null hadn’t yet figured out how to buy airplane tickets and good luck signing up for Amazon Prime! It was funny, but he never could find his friend And Not’s webpage. Mr. Null did like backgammon, though, which worked just fine and the birds of the air and the beasts of the field were pretty chummy with him.

Moral: Sometimes you need to change your name to take advantage of all the information age has to offer.

The Fable-Teller Temp Agency

When you sign up with the fable-teller temp agency, they issue you a toga and a pair of sandals (you get the honor of paying for them, natch). Also, an assortment of three to five animals to “listen” to you while you tell your fables. (The dirty little secret is that the animal trainers make easily double, on average, what the contract fable-tellers make.) Unfortunately, most of the time, there’s a real glut of fable-tellers. Just look around. If you see a score of bedraggled folks in togas followed around by weird assortments of animals (sometimes dressed in cute hats and/or vests), chances are good that your town is oversaturated with fable-tellers.

Moral: With so many fable-tellers, you’re better off going to the Sonneteers Agency across the street.

Fiber is Good for You

People were enraged. They’d been eating these tacos for years. The taco guy, Gustav, made some pretty terrible tacos. I mean, they were pretty tasty. But they were overpriced, slow, and sometimes they were missing ingredients. And if you wanted to complain, he made you talk to his terrifying children, Ulf and Gerta. They sometimes made you talk to them for hours before you could get another taco and sometimes they wouldn’t talk to you at all. Then one day, this cart swooped into town. This guy was all about fiber. People jumped at the chance. Anything to get away from Gustav!

Moral: Sometimes any alternative is a good alternative.

Looking Like a Bug

One time there was this bug who got stuck inside a machine causing it to work incorrectly. This smart woman found the bug and taped it to a piece of paper as a joke. (Ha ha!) That bug was infamous! Soon, whenever a machine would stop working, people would be all, there must be a bug in it! (Ha ha!) Gremlins were right out. All the gremlins packed up their infernal make-it-break tools and trudged sadly home (which was inside a tree). They retooled and soon they were making not-very-delicious cookies that were insanely popular due to a pretty catchy ad campaign. Go figure. The bugs were not pleased with their ascension to metaphorical scapegoat and soon they lost all meaning at all, in the original sense of bug, that is. “Why couldn’t they have used buggy in its original sense (a small, two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage–in Great Britain–four in the U.S.),” all the bugs cried, uniformly, because if you’d seen one bug you’d seen them all. “Speaking of, we don’t even look like bugs anymore! Where’s our six legs? Where’s our exoskeleton? Where’s our antennae? Where’s our (sometimes) wings? Our compound eyes, our segmented bodies, and our thorax?”

Moral: It’s not easy being a metaphor.

The Out-of-Town Coati

One day, this coati came to town. (Don’t know what a coati is? They’re weird looking!) Everyone was perturbed, but not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the long, slightly too-pointed snout. Nor was it the vaguely ringed, lemur-like tail. Nope, all the townsfolk were slightly bothered by the fact that the coati wasn’t from around there, from out of town, you might say. The townsfolk liked things the way they were (even though they’d only been that way for about five years or so) and they didn’t want to see that coati waltz in there and change things all around. How the coati might achieve these changes was something of a mystery, but the townsfolk weren’t strong on reasoning when it came to hot button topics like The State of My Town. The coati just sort of wandered around, eating bugs or jello or whatever it is they eat. Some time passed. The town was still there. Everyone was still kind of doing their own thing. A few things had changed, but it had happened so gradually, no one really even noticed. One day, this tarsier came to town. All the townsfolk were perturbed, but not by its big eyes and anglo-saxon sensibilities (it loved meat-heavy breakfasts and tea). No, they were bothered by the fact that the tarsier wasn’t from around there…

Moral: Change is tough to deal with if you assume it’s unusual.

The Gnomes and the Elves

The gnomes were in love with clockwork. They just loved them some gears and wigwams and sprockets. Also, gewgaws. They were always making machines. They loved making machines so much they wanted other people to see them. Especially the elves. Boy, those gnomes loved sending their machines to the elves. The elves were somewhat bemused by all these machines that kept arriving all the time. (By flying clockwork delivery monkeys, natch.) Still, the elves were good sports and started casting effervescent, but strictly-tested, spells upon those machines to make them do other stuff. “Hey gnomes,” they’d say (via magical speakamaphone, obvs), “check out what we’ve magically done to your funky gizmoes! Now they spit out bananas/entice hummingbirds into houses/make everyone just feel groovy/etc/etc/etc!” The gnomes were all, “That’s great, elves. Only hey, we found something slightly off with JoklaryopterKlonk 17a37JuiceMonkeyX7892.xv5! Here’s our new version: JoklaryopterKlonk 17a37JuiceMonkeyX7892.xv6!” The elves were like, “Oh great! Now our hummingbird enticer thingy brings all the hummingbirds to the yard instead of our houses. Geeze.” It basically went on like that forever. But still, it was pretty great to be an elf and gnome, all things being equal.

Moral: Pretty sure the elves are always gonna have a hard time understanding the gnomes and vice versa.

Hansel and Gretel’s Other Witch

So, you know, Hansel and Gretel were lost in the woods and stuff. They had thrown these breadcrumbs everywhere, but the birds at them all. Kids, amirite? I bet you didn’t know that there was another witch. She lived in a house made of vegetables. Carrots, beets, celery, spinach. You name it, if it was a vegetable, it was in that freaking house. It was all held together with vegemite. Hansel and Gretel took one look at it and ran screaming (further) into the forest.

Moral: No one ever got fat being a vegetable witch.

The Bacon-Eating Robot

People were super bummed out, because, turns out, everything except for beets and arugula caused cancer. In order to enjoy stuff vicariously, everyone started watching robots eat stuff. The most popular by far was the bacon-eating robot. People just loved that bacon-eating robot. They couldn’t get enough of the (robot eating the) stuff. There were YouTube channels set up for different camera angles on the robot just chewing and chewing and chewing that bacon. Now, it couldn’t be said that the robot was enjoying the bacon, per se, but its programmers had added some audio tracks to simulate enjoyment. MMmmmms and lipsticks and ohmygods and whatnot. There were even localized voice packs so you could hear the robot “enjoying” bacon in your particular dialect of whatever language. Not to mention male and female voice packs. Also kids. One day there was a massive solar flare and it just fried everyone on the planet. That bacon-eating robot kept on eating that bacon, though. A couple millennia later some aliens sure were mystified by that robot, because it seemed to serve no purpose. (It’s science fiction, all right, I don’t know how it ate bacon for so long!)

Moral: If something brings you delight, maybe it’s worth a slightly higher risk of cancer?

The Forgetful Elephant

All the other elephants made fun of Stanley, because he kept forgetting stuff. Boy, that sure got him steamed up. It seemed like every 10,000 memories or so, he’d just start losing the older ones. Good luck remembering what he had for breakfast last solstice. The other elephants didn’t seem to have any trouble remembering. So Stanley broke down and paid a bunch of peanuts to the Memorizer (a mystical guru from a small suburb in Cleveland) so that he too could Never Forget Stuff. OK, so that happened, after a lot of mumbo jumbo and hoodoo-type stuff. For a while, it was pretty sweet. But then Stanley realized that there were maybe some things he didn’t really want to remember, like that embarrassing thing he’d said to his cousin Henrietta. Oof. Stanley got so busy rememberin’ that he forgot to do too much other stuff.

Moral: Remembering everything sounds nice, but is it really?