February was another lazy month in terms of reviewing, but a pretty good reading month, with a perfect balance between review books and leisure reads.
I had a bit of trouble deciding exactly what I thought of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. The worldbuilding is well done, if a tad insistent and the story is fine, but I had some issues with Brennan’s creative decisions, particularly her decision to make her fantasy world exactly like ours during the Victorian period, but with dragons added. With the Victorian setting comes all the related sexism, classism, and insistence on propriety, all of which I found irritating to various degrees. I wished the narrator, Isabella, could just have been allowed to get on with the challenges of studying dragons without having to tell us, constantly, how unladylike her aspirations are.
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui is a novel about technology used for viewing and engaging with people’s dreams, and a ‘dream detective’ who goes into people’s dreams to sort out their mental troubles. Things go awry with the latest version of the dream technology is stolen and misused, causing dreams to invade reality. The novel reminded me a lot of anime, with the way it so easily conflates fantasy and reality, its absurd villains, exaggerated emotions, and ideas about gender. Some of this works, but most of it is troubling, particularly the gender issues.
The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian is a more thoughtful dystopian novel than most, featuring a post-apocalyptic society based on utilitarian philosophy and the idea that humanity has at least been unable to outgrow its need for natural impulses. The conflict in the novel comes from this society’s mercy-killing of the primitive tribes that live in the lush forests outside the settlement’s reinforced glass walls, and the ethical questions related to those killings and the vastly different lifestyles of the two groups of humans. It wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best books that I’ve read in the genre. I was really pleased by its absence of easy answers and its ability to surprise me. Review to follow soon.
I hadn’t planned to read The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke this month, but it came in very handy when I needed a quick read to finish a reading challenge, and writing the review was a rare pleasure in that it only took about 2-3 hours. The novel offers the standard commercial YA content: a feisty kick-ass heroine, a broody mysterious guy, a fantasy world that’s not too fantastical, and a bit of adventure. Nothing special, but luckily nothing infuriating either. That might be because I didn’t care enough about the characters or the story to be upset by the fact that the plot barely moves at all, and there’s an utterly pointless dearth of useful information about the curse, the world, and our mysterious brooding assassin. I won’t be reading the sequel.
It’s only when I did the pictures for this post that I realised I’d managed four leisure reads this month. The first was Carrie by Stephen King. I read this years ago, and I liked it even more this time around. I can’t wait to see the new movie starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as Margaret White.
Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera was another short book I read for a reading challenge, although this one took me much longer to finish than The Assassin’s Curse. It relates a bizarre story that begins when a young nurse calls a famous, married trumpeter to tell him that she’s pregnant with his child, and quickly expands to include a large cast of related characters. I like Kundera’s philosophical and political musings more than anything else, and it wasn’t a bad read.
I’ve been downloading Clarkesworld Magazine podcasts lately, and Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente is my favourite so far. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. It’s a story about machine intelligence that brings together sci fi, fantasy and folklore in a beautiful story that’s particularly magical when read by Kate Baker. I’ve listened to it twice in its entirety already (the podcast is broken up into 3 parts) and I will no doubt listen to it many more times. I was devastated to find that I currently can’t buy the limited edition hardcover of this novella.
I’ve had a copy of UFO In Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo for a few years. It’s set in a village in rural China, where a peasant sees a UFO (or thinks she does) and saves a foreigner who has been bitten by a snake. Investigators are sent to find out what happened, and the chief uses the incident as a means of getting money to modernise her village. The story is told entirely in interview transcripts and other documents, with the pages designed to look like they’ve been photocopied and filed. It’s partly hopeful, but mostly quite sad and critical of the crass attempts at progress that benefit very few while ruining the lives of most of the villagers. a very quick read, and nothing like I’d expected.
I had hoped I could list Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson among my leisure reads for this month, but alas, I am still struggling to finish it… Here’s hoping I’ll complete it by the end of March!