Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

Reading Wednesday 13/07

Recently acquired I went on a bit of an ebook-buying spree because I was travelling and wasn't sure how much time I'd have with no internet, but also didn't want to take a big pile of heavy p-books with me. So:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik, as it's been getting a lot of buzz lately. And I like Novik's pacey, id-heavy writing, but I'm not massively fond of the Temeraire series.

  • Abaddon's gate by James SA Corey. The third in the Expanse space opera series of which I've enjoyed the first two.

  • Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel. I really enjoyed Wolf Hall when I was on holiday with more uninterrupted reading time than usual, so I was keen on the sequel.

  • I failed to buy Too like the lightning by Ada Palmer, the astonishingly brilliant blogger from Ex Urbe. Unfortunately it's region locked and I couldn't be bothered going through the palaver of pretending to be American and then breaking the DRM to be able to read the book, so. If the publishers are going to make it deliberately difficult for me to give them money, well, I'm not jumping through hoops, I'll spend the money on something else.

Recently read: Ghost spin, by Chris Moriarty. (c) Chris Moriarty 2013, Pub Ballantine Books Spectra 2013, ISBN 978-0-553-38494-9. I really, really enjoyed the first two volumes of this Spin cycle trilogy, Spin state and Spin control (though I never got round to reviewing them). And I think I maybe waited too long for Ghost spin; partly I've forgotten some of the details of the earlier books, and partly I'm just a bit in the wrong headspace for it. It's taken me about half a year to read, and my overall impression is that it has some great moments but doesn't quite hang together as a whole.

I liked the protagonist's plot arc, where she's chasing across the galaxy on a quest to resurrect her dead AI husband (while not being sure whether this is possible or what it means philosophically for a trans-human AI to be either dead or restored). She ends up duplicating herself and gets captured by two rival factions of space pirates, both of whom have some of the relevant data. But unlike with the earlier two books, I didn't really care about the broader scale issues of the fate of humanity which form the backdrop to this quest. And I found the ending really unsatisfying, it has Catherine making a choice between saving humanity and promoting the ascension of the machines into the trans-human future, which didn't seem to provide any new take on what feels by now like a rather old-fashioned dilemma.

As ever, Moriarty's characterization is excellent, but between my favourite, Cohen, starting out dead, and the protag not being quite the person I'd got used to in the earlier part of the trilogy, I felt a bit let down. She seems to have remembered belatedly that Cohen (the AI character) is supposed to be in some sense Jewish, but this felt rather shoe-horned in compared to just being a minor note in his character in the earlier books. And equally to have forgotten that Catherine is supposed to be mostly a lesbian who makes occasional exceptions, particularly in the case of Cohen who isn't exactly male given that he isn't human. I have no objection to bi characters, but Catherine in Ghost spin seemed to have a very het viewpoint, repeatedly mentioning her attraction to or sleeping with various male characters and ignoring the physicality of female bodies, and this felt as if it didn't really gel with how she's portrayed in earlier books.

She's also magically undisabled, and again, it's barely mentioned in an aside that she chose to restore her missing arm in order to blend in better, but there's basically no exploration of what it means to change from someone with a very visibly different body (albeit with futuristic prosthetics giving her better than unmodified human function) to someone with a normative body. Of course, the book is substantially about identity and how far you count as the same person if you travel by creating a quantum-level copy of yourself and destroying the original, if your memories get wiped or engineered and so on, but the choice to make her more like the generic Strong Female Character protag is still a choice, and isn't really explored.

In some ways the book is intensely Romantic, it's at least partly about how true love conquers death, and there's some really heart-wrenching stuff about Catherine's experience of widowhood. For me, the best thing about it was the portrayal of people trying their best to live with their choices made in terrible circumstances. But I liked the earlier two books because they have a near-perfect balance between quite hard SF, with detailed world-building and some explanation of the underlying physics and informatics, and space opera. Whereas Ghost spin is nearly all space opera, the world-building seems thin and the science is just whatever is needed for the plot.

Currently reading: Hild by Nicola Griffith. I'd seen a lot of buzz about this as a historical novel for SF readers, and yes, yes it is. It's about the English Dark Ages, just at the start of Christianity reaching England, and it has absolutely masses of worldbuilding and exploration of the impact of technological changes on society, and just lets you pick it up from context. I know basically nothing about the seventh century, so I have absolutely no idea about historical accuracy, but the level of detail makes the setting seem extremely real and vivid. It's just amazingly weird compared to almost any made-up fantasy world; the characters seem like people, but their values and priorities are amazingly different from those of the modern reader.

In general I'm enjoying Hild really a lot. I love being immersed in the to me alien world, and I like and am invested in the characters, and care about all the political intrigue. I like the choice to tell the story from the point of view of Hild and her mostly female circle, so that warriors and kings and priests and so on are mentioned but always seen from the outside, in terms of their effects on female life. I'm just getting to the bit where people are starting to convert to Christianity, and knowing that Hild is in fact based on the historical St Hilda of Whitby, I can't not know that she is going to end up Christian. In some ways I'm a little disappointed by this, not because I mind reading about Christian characters, but because what will eventually become Mediaeval Christianity is so much more familiar to me than the pre-Christian cultures from between the Roman era and about the time of the book.

Up next: Don't know, I'm a bit less than halfway through Hild so it'll probably be a while before I pick up anything new. I've been hankering to read Ancillary Sword but I think in some ways the style is perhaps too similar to Hild for this to be the best choice to delve into next.

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Tags: reading wednesday

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