What I have been reading

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In no particular order, what I have been reading since Christmas (when I got another gift card from my awesome brother):

1. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett

A very cool combination of fantasy and classic literature. The idea is to take a heroine from Austen or the Bronte sisters, and put them in a society where magic is real, and the restrictions faced by women are based on this sort of real danger. I really enjoyed this book. Several other reviews mentioned that Beckett was perhaps a bit too constrained by imitation, and that the later books may be a bit more in his voice; I am looking forward to seeing if this is true.

2. The Unincorporated Man, by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin

There are a couple of interesting themes in this book. First, the idea that incorporation would spread to individuals and what that would do to the concepts of freedom and interpersonal relationships. And, more interestingly to me, the idea that a society can seem utopic, but really be setting the majority of people up for slavery. The way the incorporation of individuals is set up, everyone thinks that it is a great idea, and they defend it vigorously when the main character is found to have been cryogenically frozen from a previous time, and he refuses to incorporate. Most of the characters think incorporation is a great idea, and they articulate well-thought-out, humane reasons why it works better than previous social structures. They are so convincing, you almost start to think it really is a great idea. Of course, things turn out to be more complicated than that, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

3. Gateway, by Frederick Pohl

Great book about space exploration, artificial intelligence, and guilt. Plus, the thing I really love in a book, the last sentence is breath-taking.

4. Shadowman, by Melissa Scott

On a world where 20% of people are born with some characteristics of both males and females, but only male and female are recognized legal genders, there is bound to be unrest. Requiring a large minority of your population to deny who they are is never a stable social environment. Very interesting, well-written book.

5. Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

I heard of this author from William Gibson’s twitter feed, and I am so glad that I did. The near-future world in this book is pretty grim, with some sort of plague affecting many people in Africa, and the general populace controlled by their phones, which allow cops to send a powerful electric volt through someone’s phone to control their behavior right away. An even bigger punishment is to render their phone inoperative for a period of time determined by the crime, since all economic transactions are done through mobiles, as well as identification for things like entering your apartment. An interesting world and an interesting story.

6. The Gate to Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper

I love this book so much, and it gets better every time I read it.

7. Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carre
This was the first book I got from the library for my new Nook Color. Checking out books for the Nook is so much better than checking out real books, because you don’t have to make sure to get back to the library before they expire! The book was great, as expected (it is a Le Carre, after all.) I did not really like the end, but it was an interesting take on the spy novel, with two people on vacation, completely outside the spy game, being drawn in by a charismatic Russian criminal. This was a fairly dark vision of British government, I have to say, not least because there is no reason to think it isn’t realistic.

8.The God Engines, by John Scalzi

My reading this year has been a bit more grim than I might have expected, and nowhere is that more true than here. I just don’t expect dark and grim from Scalzi. Not that he doesn’t write about serious stuff, what with all the war and potential species annhilation, but the general tone of his books is a bit more positive. This was a very interesting take on religion, though.

9. I’d Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman

Lippman writes a detective series, which I will actually get to next, but up until recently, I had only read her standalone stories. These are still crime stories, but usually more in the aftermath. This one is like that–a woman who had been kidnapped by a serial killer when she was 15 is contacted by him again, from where he sits on Death Row. She is the only one of his victims that he did not kill, actually, and she is still afraid of his manipulation, not least because she has not told her children or any of her acquaintances about her past. I like the way these books look at the aftermath of crimes, and how keeping secrets harms people for a very long time.

10. Baltimore Blues, by Laura Lippman

This is the first book in Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. On my Nook homepage, they were selling this for $0.99 as the featured book of February, which is smart, because now I am thinking I will need to buy the rest of the series. Fun characters, interesting puzzles, nice setting. I like series like this, because you can feel safe picking out a book from the series. I look forward to seeing how she grows her characters.

11 and 12. Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April issue, Asimov’s Science Fiction, March issue

One of the reasons I love the Nook is that I can get this type of literary magazine and keep it around for future reference without having flimsy magazines cluttering up my house. I particularly like to read science fiction short story magazines for two reasons–science fiction has rich history with the short form, where ideas can be investigated that wouldn’t necessarily support a whole novel, or worlds can be tested and fleshed out for use in a larger work. Plus, I like that it makes it easier to find new authors. I am somewhat discouraged by the lack of women writing in this issue (only one story in each mag), but maybe this is unusual. I hope so. I don’t want to read only women writers, but I know that a lack of women writers means that the editors aren’t really choosing the best stories. So, if there are many missing stories, I need to find where they are. On the other hand, the stories themselves show a lot of interesting, strong female characters, and some investigation into gender issues, so that is good.

13. Venus Plus X, by Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon is a great, great writer, and definitely ahead of his time on gender issues. I;ve said it before, but I’ll say it again–I can’t believe he was writing at the same time as Alfred Bester, who was a brilliant but deeply misogynistic writer. This book, about a man who finds himself in a future society without gender, and the contrast between that society and the very gendered and commercial society of the 50’s, was quite an interesting though experiment and a very quick read. At least, it was fast and easy to read the actual words, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about what I read, which is what makes a really good book for me.

I have started a few other things, but this seems to sum up what I have been reading, unless I am forgetting something (definitely a possibility!). In the meantime, if anyone is still reading this despite my long absence from regular posting, does anyone have a recommendation for a good general interest science magazine? I want something that has good science, but not an academic journal. Thanks!

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