Summer Reading

Once again, I learn that it’s really best for everyone (or at least the quality all spheres of my life) if I take off the day after DragonCon, which I again did not.

What I did do was a lot of reading, which is a great way to recharge.

(How “after DragonCon” has stretched to the last 19 days is a tale of stress management and preplanned events and trying to do things with my life like “actually buy groceries, cook, and keep up with dishes.” It still seems like a mythical goal.)

Technically, I finished rereading the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie (starting with Ancillary Justice) at 3 AM the day I flew down to DragonCon. Confirmed as an absolutely brilliant trilogy. I reconfirm my growing love for sentient spacecraft. (Not technically true, but I count Ei’Brai in Jennifer Foehner Wells’s Confluence series in this category, too.)

According to my book pile, I finished Jennifer Blackstream’s urban fantasy book Sacrifice next. She’s doing interesting things with FBI Agent Bradford, and I’ll be glad to keep going in this series.

Still in the mood for rereading recent SF, I reread the second half of the Murderbot series, starting with Exit Strategy. (There’s one after Fugitive Telemetry coming out in November?) This was my first time reading through in order and after the MFA program, now that I have a better grasp on plot. I saw Murderbot’s progression more clearly and enjoyed them coming out of their shell and connecting to others more and more. (Thank you, 2.0.)

It was particularly interesting to note that both Leckie’s trilogy and Murderbot justify first-person omniscient POV through a ton of cameras, microphones, and sensors. Also interesting that Murderbot claims it/its pronouns, though the issue is largely avoided by the use of first person. Meanwhile, Justice of Toren, the POV ship in the Imperial Radch trilogy, claims the more validating she/her pronouns (the only set available beside it/its in Radchaii). Maybe Murderbot has room to grow its personhood identity in several books by claiming pronouns?

After Network Effect, the only Murderbot novel and currently the penultimate book in the series, I took a quick detour through Dog Warrior by Wen Spencer, the last book in the Ukiah Oregon series. Ukiah has been one of my favorite series for decades. Contemporary science fiction with a cinnamon puff private investigator as its main character, the series tells coming of age/discovering identity stories. The secret alien war Ukiah discovers has a small, plucky alien rebellion defending Earth from an overwhelming invasion force. The series didn’t age well, as there are some representation/cultural appropriations conversations to be had. I don’t think Spencer did any worse with her Native American characters than Patricia Briggs, for what it’s worth.

However, I never recommend the third Ukiah book because of the rape. The fourth always seemed like an unplanned happy romp with gay DEA agents, one of whom doesn’t realize he’s related to all the alien shenanigans. It didn’t strike me right this time, though. This time, it hit me as darker and entirely too caught up in the religious cult plot thread I never liked. If you want wolf-themed gay romps within Wen Spencer’s repertoire, I’m now going to have to instead recommend The Black Wolves of Boston, in which recently changed werewolf puppy runs away from home and gets adopted by a vampire recluse who might have to start engaging with the world again if it’s going to be this interesting.

But the first two Ukiah books, Alien Taste and Tainted Trail are still magnificent if you’re looking for really dense (but not densely written) worldbuilding and books in which the characters are grounded in a network of loving relationships while facing personal and world-destroying stakes.

After finishing up Murderbot, I still craved more SF, so I again picked up Marie Vibbert’s Galactic Hellcats, and it finally hit me just right. This tale starts with a thief who gets her first space motorcycle (solo-flyer) and then collects her own biker gang, because the real score is the friends you make along the way. And maybe a bag of expensive rocks. The story is a primal scream of rage at social injustice that shifts into a scream of joy, because that’s what life needs to be about anyway, and if you have to go about it a little unconventionally, you do. Marie has a gift with words, and this book is probably going on my comfort reads list.

What is probably not going on my comfort reads list but was 1000% worth reading was N.K. Jemison’s duology The City We Became and The World We Make. While I read The City We Became for class last year, I didn’t get/make a chance to read the sequel until now. Likewise, it hit me at the right time, but also… In her acknowledgements, Jemison discusses having to revise her outline to account for the weird path of reality these last few years, and it shows. This duology is extremely topical, especially the second book, and unexpectedly hopeful. (Here’s hoping reality follows suit.) Also, I was not expecting to ship the city of New York with a “Don’t make me burn this place down” kind of passion.

Next up… We’ll see. Blood Witch Woods by Rose Montero wasn’t hitting me right, despite a strong voice that makes me feel like I’m sitting down to a cup of tea with an entertaining friend. It looks like magical school fantasy. I’m still in a scifi mood. Since Galactic Hellcats hit me right, I’m going to give Mars Girls by Mary Turzillo another try. I’m hoping my interest flows along, and the near-future in-Sol-system world doesn’t bug me anymore the way it can when my engineering brain kicks in too hard.