The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie

https://i2.wp.com/www.tor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Ancillary-trilogy.jpg?fit=740%2C+9999&crop=0%2C0%2C100%2C370px&ssl=1

The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie made a lot of waves when the books were first released. Ancillary Justice was the first book to win all three of the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clark Awards (along with numerous other awards), and every book in the trilogy won a Locus award along with piles of nominations. They are well deserved for the writing which uses the unique point of view of a thousand-plus year old AI looking for revenge, and for the story which follows the complex political maneuverings throughout a massive space Empire ruled by the many clones of a single leader. At the outset, Ancillary Justice in particular received attention for the way it handled artificial consciousness and gender awareness.

I first read Ancillary Justice about 6 years ago and initially found it challenging. At the time, I was out of practice of reading science fiction, so being plunged into a world with new rules (and no hand-holding from the author*) was confusing. However, after the first 3 chapters or so I was hooked and by the end I was completely blown away. I was very eager to read the next book, but unfortunately it took me until now to do so. While being quarantined at home waiting for the results of a COVID test, I had the pleasure of re-reading the first book and then reading the next two back to back.

Continue reading “The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie”

Forbidden Knowledge and a Love of Books: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

rose2

Growing up, my parents’ home was always full of books. Most of the volumes on my dad’s shelf held a mystical fascination for me – they promised to be full of new and interesting facts and stories that I was excited to one day be able to read myself. The spines of The Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, Dune, D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, and more promised great things. (It’s partly why I tried to read Moby Dick when I was about six. I failed that time, but I did love it when I finally read it in its entirety at 27.) One of the books that tantalized me from the bookshelf was The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I knew very little about it aside from: 1) it takes place in a medieval monastery, 2) there is gruesome murder, 3) I wasn’t allowed to watch the movie. Years later, I was in Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore in Minneapolis and wandered through the back into Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore where I saw The Name of the Rose sitting inconspicuously on a bookshelf. Because I can’t walk into a bookstore without buying something, I picked it up. I’m not sure what made me pull it from my large pile of to-read books a month ago, but I was delighted when I found that much of the story centers around a labyrinthian library and the quest for forbidden knowledge.

Continue reading “Forbidden Knowledge and a Love of Books: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco”

Halloween Reads: IT by Stephen King

IT

I have never been a fan of scary movies or books. The one and only time I read a Goosebumps book while growing up, I was too scared to move from the couch where I sat to read it and couldn’t sleep all night. My poor tolerance for horror and suspense has been a source of distress for me over the years since Joe is a huge horror buff. When we were first dating, he convinced me to watch “Insidious” with him – although I was 21 years old and living with roommates, I slept with the light on in my bedroom for a full week. Because I was a poor graduate student, the next year for his birthday my gift was five “coupons” to watch a scary movie with him. Over the following months, I was tortured by what seemed to be an unending string of suspense and horror films. Eight years later, I am *slightly* more tolerant of horror films, although it still requires cajoling on Joe’s part to get me to agree to watch one.

Joe is a fan of Stephen King – especially IT, which he read in middle school – and even had a group of friends affectionately called the Losers’ Club, after the characters in IT. This past summer, he asked me to read IT in preparation for going to see the film with him for his birthday. Although I was hesitant to jump right into another thousand-plus page book right after Les Miserables, I sat down on my porch one evening and cracked the book open to read. Continue reading “Halloween Reads: IT by Stephen King”

Worth the Wait: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

les mis

Back in April, I went to see Les Miserables on stage with my sister and our friend, Morgan. My sister cried throughout a significant amount of the time and I teared up a bit, as well. Although this is the second time I have seen the musical performed on stage, I have never read the book on which it was based. Watching the musical was the push I needed to pick up Victor Hugo’s huge novel. Because it is so very long, I have interspersed reading chapters with other short stories, comic books, and novellas, which lengthened the reading process even more, so ultimately it took me several months to finish.

Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean (formerly imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and now a released convict who has difficulty re-integrating into society) and his adopted daughter, Cosette. With notorious historical detail, Victor Hugo shows the underbelly of Parisian life in the 1800s: the criminals, prostitutes, street orphans, the starving poor, and the young students scraping by. He thoroughly examines their lives and backstories, their beliefs and desires, even their street slang to create a meticulous picture of the most wretched poor in Paris leading up to the June 1832 Rebellion. All of these characters and their interconnected lives support Hugo’s meditations on politics, religion, and justice throughout the novel. Continue reading “Worth the Wait: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo”

Even a Master Has to Start Somewhere: A Book Review of The Summer Tree

https://ecs7.tokopedia.net/img/product-1/2017/9/30/1671407/1671407_27a6e679-5077-457c-b4d3-f91d9e45d3c5.jpg

Guy Gavriel Kay is an author I admire. Most of his books are historical-fantasy adjacent. That is, the stories take place in another, more magical world, but these other places are analogous of a real time and place in our world, often with characters who are 1:1 representations of their real counterparts. (For example, Under Heaven is a fictionalized version of the An Lushan Rebellion, except full of ghosts and wolf spirits.) Kay has a skill for creating compelling characters and for writing moments that take your breath away.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to read Kay’s first trilogy of published books, The Fionavar Tapestry which is comprised of The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road. The Fionavar Tapestry is different from Kay’s other novels in that it is a high fantasy that takes place in a completely fictional world – “the first of all worlds” – that is connected to our own. There are no historical counterparts, but the Tapestry draws deeply on mythology and folklore. It is also heavily inspired by Tolkien’s works, particularly The Silmarillion; this is not at all surprising as Kay had only recently finished helping Christopher Tolkien compile the Silmarillion when he sat down to write Fionavar.

Unfortunately, this is clearly Kay’s first novel. Continue reading “Even a Master Has to Start Somewhere: A Book Review of The Summer Tree”

Publish and Perish: A Book Review of The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

silkworm

I picked up The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a couple weeks ago as a bit of light reading to break up the chapters of Les Miserables, which I have been slowly working through for quite a while, now. The Silkworm is the second of the Cormoran Strike novels – the series of private detective books written by J.K. Rowling under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. I wanted to read something quick, something I knew I would devour in a weekend, and The Silkworm delivered. By the time I reached the halfway point, I didn’t put the book down and continued to read until the very end.

The Silkworm begins with Cormoran agreeing to find an author named Owen Quine who’s gone missing. There’s nothing unusual in this, his wife insists, he does this all the time. She just needs help taking care of their disabled daughter and he’s been gone long enough this time. Before long, though, Cormoran finds Quine gruesomely murdered in the same manner as one of his own characters from his unpublished book. Cormoran must discover which people have read the manuscript in order to find the killer. Continue reading “Publish and Perish: A Book Review of The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith”

Africanfuturism: The Raw Beauty of the Binti Stories by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti

It has been a very busy couple months, which has delayed me from sitting down to write up my thoughts on Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy. Work, more work, having sleepovers with my niece and nephews, visiting family out of state, hosting parties with friends, and going camping have slowed down my writing considerably. All good things, of course! (Well, except the amount of overtime, maybe.) I actually finished reading the Binti: The Complete Trilogy in May and scribbled down a few thoughts at the time, but it has taken me this long to get them in blog form.

You may have heard of Nnedi Okorafor already because her World Fantasy Award-Winning novel Who Fears Death is in development for an HBO show with George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) serving as executive producer. Okorafor is also known for her trilogy of novellas: Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masquerade. Binti was the winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards and The Night Masquerade is currently a nominee for the Hugo, as well. The single volume Binti: The Complete Trilogy also includes a short story that takes place in between the first and second novellas called Binti: Sacred Fire.

Binti is a young woman who lives on the edge of the desert with her family. She is Himba – a member of the African people who live in Namib. (It’s worth noting that although this is a science fiction story, the Himba are an actual indigenous people who live (according to Wikipedia) mostly in northern Namibia.) Himba women wear otjize paste to protect their skin and hair from the harsh weather, which is very important to Binti although it sometimes causes her difficulty when interacting with people who are unfamiliar with the practice. Later in the tale, Okorafor gives otjize certain mystical properties as well. In Binti’s story, the Himba people have a tense and sometimes violent relationship with the Khoush, the dominant people in the area where she lives; according to Okorafor, the Khoush were written as Arab. The Khoush have an even more violent and warring relationship with the Medusae (a jellyfish-like alien species) and Binti’s people may be trampled when that conflict gets closer. Continue reading “Africanfuturism: The Raw Beauty of the Binti Stories by Nnedi Okorafor”

The Gravity of a Single Moment in Time: A Book Review of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

91d5pPbJj-L

River of Stars is the third book I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay. I first saw this book on a store shelf in 2013 when it was released and I was enchanted by the beautiful cover, but passed it by and did not think of it again for several years. I later heard of Guy Gavriel Kay in connection with his work with Christopher Tolkien on The Silmarillion. (The Silmarillion is JRR Tolkien’s unfinished masterpiece; his son and Kay compiled a narrative from the professor’s notes and drafts and published it posthumously in 1977.) After learning this, I felt compelled to pick up some of Kay’s original work and see how I felt he compared to my favorite author. I first read The Lions of Al-Rassan. What struck me about the book was how the characters grew on me so slowly I hardly realized that I cared for them – until I found myself gripping the corners of the book in anticipation and crying at the heartbreaking finale.

In many of his books, Guy Gavriel Kay takes a significant historical event and recasts it in a fictional world to explore those characters and events with the freedom of fantasy. In River of Stars, he uses Song dynasty China, as seen through his fictional nation of Kitai. This is actually the second book Kay wrote that takes place in Kitai, although the first book, Under Heaven, occurs approximately 500 years prior to the events of this one. Initially, I felt River of Stars didn’t focus enough on consistently developing a main character and instead spent too much time on details of culture and history in a way that felt dull, but ultimately Kay swept me away with his ability to richly present deep, powerful emotion and human doubt better than any other writer I know. Continue reading “The Gravity of a Single Moment in Time: A Book Review of River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay”