June 27, 2014

Three Awesome Reads

These three books have nothing in common except that I read them all recently and I think they're all great. Maybe there's something in here that appeals to you?

ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie has been earning many awards, and that's no surprise. The world of the novel is built on an epic scale, with a story that spans planets, an empire that rules much of the universe, and huge armies and spaceships for conquering and occupying planets that aren't yet part of the dominant civilization. Like all the best science fiction, the book adds new elements to these familiar tropes, most notably the form taken by our narrator, an artificial intelligence embodied simultaneously as a spaceship and as the soldiers of a conquering army. It's a strange and clever concept, and Leckie executes it with skill. What really makes the whole book work is that despite the epicness, this is one character's very personal story of loss and vengeance.

As you might guess from that description, there's a huge amount of complexity to the world and the story. I appreciated how carefully information was doled out. The plot never became bogged down with exposition, and sometimes by design I didn't yet have quite enough information and had to keep reading to piece together the puzzle, which is something I enjoy. This is the start of a series, but the first book does come to a satisfying conclusion, so it's possible to read it as a standalone. I'll definitely be continuing on, though.

Leckie has written a couple of thoughtful essays in which she discusses the multiple identity of her protagonist and the choice of gendered pronouns in the novel. Both of these contain some information that you might prefer to encounter first in the course of the story unfolding, but you could also safely read them in advance.

EVERYBODY'S BABY by Lydia Netzer is a novella about a couple trying to conceive who raise the money for their expensive fertility treatment by using Kickstarter. To attract publicity, they offer donor perks like cutting the cord and naming the baby, but they never imagine strangers will donate at the levels required for these absurd gifts. Naturally, though, the campaign is successful beyond their wildest dreams, and the results bring chaos to their lives.

This story is the perfect mix of lighthearted and emotional. While the events are hilarious and often over-the-top, I was frequently struck by just how plausible it all seemed. Netzer has done a great job of imagining the consequences that might arise if someone went through with this scheme. The main couple is lovable, and their relationship is sweet but not always easy. The book left me sobbing happy tears, which is always a plus for me.

Netzer's debut novel, SHINE SHINE SHINE, came out two years ago, and I loved it. I'm eager to read her next novel, HOW TO TELL TOLEDO FROM THE NIGHT SKY, which will be released on July 1. This novella served as an excellent appetizer.

VALOUR AND VANITY is the fourth book of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories, and it's another excellent read. I'm always happy to be back in the Regency-era-with-magic setting, spending time with these great characters.

This time, the plot involves swindles and heists, which are movie genres I love but that seem difficult to pull off in novel form. Kowal does an impressive job, constructing a twisty plot that kept surprising me. And while that's going on, another equally engrossing story is unfolding, about the toll that difficult circumstances take on even a very loving marriage. Kowal wrote an interesting essay about combining these plots.

You can read this book without having read the earlier ones. Or if you're interested in the series but Austenesque plots doesn't appeal to you, read the second one and then this fourth one for the maximum amount of adventure and magic and the minimum time spent in drawing rooms.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At The Airship, George Dobbs explores The Origins of Literary Cliches: "The phrase 'little did she/he/they know' has plenty of history. The question is, when did it start being used for cheap suspense? The inversion of subject and verb sounds stilted and melodramatic, so the obvious culprit would be 19th century fiction. But perhaps not everything is as it seems." (Thanks, The Millions!)

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