Reading Wednesday 27 July 2016

What I just finished reading

The things I’ve just reviewed, and also–

Queer Wars by Dennis Altman and Jonathan Symons (library book) – Basic overview of where diverse SOGI rights stand at the current time, with a little bit of historical context. I liked how they showed the unlikelihood of international pressure changing a country’s stance on gay rights and trans* rights, showing the example of how international pressure hasn’t stopped human rights violations in treatment of refugees in Australia to show how little international pressure tends to make a difference in human rights issues.

What I’m reading now

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull – As promised.

Music Business for Dummies – Skim reading for research. Crappy cody-editing.

What I’m reading next

I put down Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep for some reason but I should get back to that ASAP.

Book: Dying for a Living

Dying for a Living by Kory M Shrum
Own copy

I picked this one up because it was free on Kindle and looked interesting. Unlike most times I do that, this book was actually enjoyable.

The premise is thus: Jesse is a ‘death replacement agent’ which means she has a superpower that allows her to take somebody’s death and die in their stead, then awaken hours or days later. What a cool idea! Jesse wants to get out of the business, eventually – the more often she dies, the more likely she is to lose her mind – but she’s stuck in the job by the fear her boss will report her dark past to the cops. And then somebody starts killing off death replacement agents.

This was a reasonably fun ride. Not without flaw, though. Because the POV is tightly locked on Jesse, several important parts of the climax of the story happened off page and were recounted as exposition later. That kind of fizzled things for me. I also sometimes had trouble remember which of the supporting characters was which before reorienting myself, but that may be down to only reading the book on my commute in short spurts.

Still, the main character was interesting, as was the world-building (even if some of it was utter nonsense), and I’m interested to read more from this series.

Reading Wednesday 20 July 2016

What I just finished reading

The things I’ve just reviewed, and also–

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg (library book) – I liked this. People expecting a comedy memoir along the lines of Bossypants or Yes Please will be disappointed because this is actually a sociological look at dating and romance in the current time and how it is mediated by technology. That was pretty interesting to me. The effect of modern tech on human relationships is a pretty fascinating thing to look into but some sociology books confuse or bore me. Because Ansari is such a great writer, capable of breaking down sociological research into easy to understand information, while retaining a human, personal element that makes it engaging, this book does not have that problem.  Teaming up with sociologist Klinenberg for the experiments he recounts was wise. The book has legitimate scientific research underlying its conclusions but Ansari’s interjections about how certain things (like texting dates) have impacted his own life added that entertaining touch. Recommended!

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz – Fair disclosure, Meredith is a long time friend of mine. Cute asexual f/f romance between an AI and a robot tech, the end of which I liked very much.

What I’m reading now

Queer Wars by Dennis Altman and Jonathan Symons (library book) – A bit dry so far and mostly stuff I already knew but we’ll see how I feel by the end.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick – Part of my ongoing quest to read all those sf/f classics I hadn’t got around to yet.

What I’m reading next

Probably War for the Oaks, as that has to go back to the library. I should also get on the ten unfinished romance novels in my kindle app.

Book: Neuromancer

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Own copy

And now, having finally read this book, I understand so many more nerdy in-jokes and references I’d missed over the years, and also know what Straylight Run are named after.

I should have read this book when I was a teenager. Not that I didn’t enjoy it now but I would have enjoyed it exponentially more as a teen, in the 90s. Partly because this kind of writing and plotting style was like catnip to me when I was a teen. Partly because the internet was weird and mysterious to me then (the internet didn’t come to Australia until 1997 and my family didn’t have a dial-up connection until 2000), so the way Gibson creates his vision of cyberspace would have excited me more. That’s not to say you can’t accept a vision of a future-internet that’s accessed neurologically, instead of via a fixed or satellite connection to a device (and I’m pretty sure plenty of cyberpunk goes with brain-internet connection, because it’s fun to imagine).

Another reason I should have read it before is because I’ve watched so much of the cyberpunk that comes later, and can’t help but think Ghost in the Shell, in its various iterations, does some of the themes better.

Nonetheless: Neuromancer is high-octane science fiction nonsense. It’s so 80s in a way I find highly nostalgic, because like all 30-somethings I find myself becoming nostalgic for the feeling of pop culture and fashion from my youth. I think some of it I would have understood better if I’d read Gibson’s previous short stories (which I do plan to track down, eventually) but some of it is just Gibson’s writing style. He doesn’t go in for setting you up with long exposition, just plops you in the story and lets you figure a lot of it out on your own. For some things that worked well, and it certainly helped in creating the social milieu. For some things I found that less effective.

The main character, Case, is the kind of mildly pathetic and occasionally well-meaning scumbag you don’t see as much of in fiction these days, but that I really enjoy. As a person he’s a bit crap. When it comes to coolness stakes, he’s vastly overshadowed by Molly, a misfit action woman with a painful past, who strides through scenes with the kind of swagger it’s usually hard to capture in prose. But compared to Armitage, the batshit new boss who coerces him into joining the team, and Riviera the gigantic psycho, he looks like a pretty swell guy.

Neuromancer is part noirish cyberpunk story and part heist adventure. For my moment, the best parts of the book are the most sfnal – Linda Lee’s face projected in the fireworks, the other AI’s secret world, the way Riviera uses his projected illusions to reveal people’s secrets. Sf/f marries pretty well with stories about dark and grungy underworlds and the moments of horror, beauty and redemption those stories can bring: Neuromancer is no exception. It’s also a bit of a mess, but then, it was a debut novel. I can definitely see why it struck such a chord in people and it has been enormously influential. It grapples with questions about artificial intelligences and the self, what constructs the self, and what gritty horror the future might be like – all that good stuff you would expect from the genre.

And this is honestly a very long pile of words for a review that has barely talked about the story at all.

Book: A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Library book

I was always going to like this book. Bitter, resentful Gene and his charismatic, mercurial friend Finny, the year that changed their lives and ended Finny’s, and the war that rages outside their little world. I love that Gene can’t reconcile for himself how much he cared about Finny with how he ruined Finny’s life. I love how all the characters are so unstable and angry, how Gene’s envy takes over his life, Brinker’s ambivalence, Leper’s inability to handle the war.

And of course, it’s not just their secret summer at Devon. The threat of the war outside, that they alternately long for and deny existence of, hangs over the story. You can’t get away from the mid 1940s setting and how that means for these boys in a remote boarding school in America the war is both omnipresent and too distant to be believed. So much is shaped by the war pressing in on them (Leper’s breakdown, Gene’s underwhelming memories of his time after enlisting). And yet so much of the dark heart of the story is caused by the trauma and ennui of youth, of a time when everything awful is so much more intense than it will every be again.

Mid-week Reading 14 July 2016

What I Just Finished Reading

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: the science of hedonism and the hedonism of science by Zoe Cormier – Interesting. There were some places I wanted more information and sometimes I felt things were dumbed down a little (as you’d expect from a popular science book) though from what I see on goodreads some people felt the opposite. I loved reading about how all three things in the title affect the brain and I think what I need to find next is some popular science books about hormones and neuroscience because that is interesting stuff. One of the best bits was Cormier musing on what music is, a thing you don’t realise is difficult to define until you try. Beautiful math is a charming way of putting it, not that I’d necessarily agree.

Liberator (Flights of Love book one) by Shelley B Mcpherson – I picked this up because it was free on Amazon and it sounded interesting. And, look, the basic plot line is interesting, it’s just that the book itself felt very infodump-y and took a long time to get to the point. Once it got there I was excited (and the sex scene was all the more swoon worthy to read for having had to wait so long for it) but then it ends abruptly. Which is probably what I should have expected for a part one sold on Amazon. It feels a bit like a pilot episode. I might pick up the next book at some point because I am intrigued to see where the story goes.

What I’m reading now

Idol by Kristen Callihan – This might just be a DNF. I suffered through the male lead’s sexism early on (why again is there something wrong with the groupies when he’s the one who goes through women like kleenex?) but I’ve gotten as far as the first sex scene and his dirty talk is cringeworthy.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz – My friend wrote this!

Neuromancer by William Gibson – I should have read this when I was a teenager in the 90s. I would have loved it because I was well into that sort of writing style back then. I’m only up to about page 58 right now so we’ll see how I like it. It’s interesting to look at the different conceptualisations of what cyberspace would be like that came about back in ye olde cyberpunk days, before we were all expected to be on the internet. Yeah, we don’t talk about jacking in any more. But that thing where Case finds it difficult to find people that accept cash because most financial transactions are electronic? We’re definitely going that way. And it perfectly forecasts current meme and youth culture:

Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light: entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly.
– p58

I feel like subcultures on Tumblr rise up and vanish almost overnight and memes spread so quickly that they become old news within a few days. That’s often the interesting thing about reading older science fiction (and by older I just mean, not super recent): seeing the ways in which things did or didn’t come true.

What I’m reading next

I have a to-read list several shelves deep and at least 30 unread ebooks waiting for me, and that’s on top of everything waiting for me at the library. So your guess is as good as mine.

Short reviews 3 July 2016

Roller Girl by Vanessa North – (ebook ARC via Netgalley) I didn’t really connect with this one. It was okay – the writing is competent, the characters are pleasant, and it had the obligatory break-up-and-make-up romance arc. I’d call it a three star read but I put my feeling of being under-whelmed down to (a) it turns out I am the only queer woman on the plant with absolutely no interest in roller derby; (b) there were several references to Tina’s friends who were the main characters of previous books and yet these references were sketchy enough that even I was confused, and there were so many new characters with the roller derby stuff; and (c) everyone was too nice and several scenes didn’t really have interesting tension. I certainly didn’t want to read a book about shitty things happening to trans people but on the other hand this often felt like an after school special full of teaching moments. But other people may love it, so give it a go, anyway.

This Tender Melody by Kianna Alexander – (bought ebook) DNF at 30%. Again the problem of everyone too nice so several scenes didn’t have that kind of tension I look for in a book.

I also recently returned a library book for being too tense all the time, so it’s a delicate balance.

June 2016 recap and links

In June I reviewed:

Some interesting links:

Malinda Lo on the film of Carol which I’ve also seen and loved. I love what she says about how the film teaches the viewer to notice lesbian desire and looked beyond the surface and society’s heteronormative assumptions.

Mishell Baker at i09 feels Audiences Are Finally Ready To Root For a Damaged, Violent Anti-Hero (Who Happens To Be Female). I think perhaps in some genres people are but I know in romance it’s a much harder sell. Nonetheless, a lot of people love Gone Girl and everyone I’ve forced to read Black Iris in the last year has loved it.

The Romance Writers of Australia blog has a new feature, talking to members about their writing life. I liked this entry talking to Anna Hackett.

@ NY Times J K Rowling Just Can’t Let Harry Potter Go, about writers who just can’t seem to let go of popular properties. Whatever you think about Rowling’s constant returning to her wizarding world, I know there have been several writers who’ve kept returning to properties I’ve loved (not just books) until they’ve ruined everything I liked about it in the first place. On the other hand, some successful book series seem to go on forever and keep evolving with their audience.

I liked the SBTB podcast with Sara Brady about copy editing.

Yoon Ha Lee discusses Kameron Hurley’s post on how relationships matter in publishing.

What romance teaches us about being heroines.

Loose Leaf Links #22 about cuts to cultural arts funding in Australia (under the For Writers heading) I found interesting (and sometimes infuriating).

All About Romance on Harlequin.

The Truth: A Three-Star Review Is Not a Bad Review by Brenna Clarke Gray @ BookRiot. I have to agree. Three stars is a passing grade. Not every book I enjoy has to be the greatest and best thing I’ve ever read.