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review 2020-03-29 06:35
Blackfish City
Blackfish City: A Novel - Sam J. Miller

This book is an interesting tapestry of a story. The city takes center stage early on, becoming a central focus for both the storytelling and the feel of the book. Usually I disengage when a book spends a lot of time on setting, but this time it worked for me. I think the reason this worked for me was that the world-building was less concerned with getting all the details perfect and more focused on evoking a mood and tone. And that mood? Very cyberpunky. The push and pull between humanity and technology, and the haves and have nots, was central to the world and the feel. The story, less so.


About the story. Weirdly the main plot landed with mixed results for me. Written in alternating POVs you get to see the city through different lenses. Eventually each individual storyline weaves together into a greater whole, and once that form began to emerge my enthusiasm waned somewhat. This is one of those reads where I liked the set-up more than the conclusion. The core story the plot ends up telling is one of family and blood, and with so much of the tension earlier in the book being found in other avenues I was a bit disappointed it went the direction it did. (I don't want to get into spoilers.) That said, I did like at least half of the characters and the world they walked through enough to buy in. The writing style also kept me turning pages even when I wasn't always engaged with a specific plot thread or character.


This one was a bit of a mixed bag, but in the end it came down to feel for me. It's been awhile since I read a book that pulled me into a setting quite the way this one did. If you're wanting something urban fantasy adjacent, chock full of an orcamancer kicking ass, you will disappointed. If you're looking for something set in a bleak decaying future, with a diverse cast of broken characters, and a slow build, this might be up your alley. I'm curious to see how this author grows in the future and I'm onboard for new adventures.

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review 2019-03-14 22:38
The Book of Etta
The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere 2) - Meg Elison

With as much as I loved The Book of the Unnamed Midwife I had high expectations coming into this book - some of them were met and some of them weren't.


I quite enjoyed getting to see this world 100 years farther down the timeline, and getting to see the town the Midwife helped establish. Seeing how the ripples of the first book shaped this new world, at least in a small corner of it. It was also interesting seeing how different towns evolved to face the new paradigm in different ways. The world building in this book is top notch.


Much like the first book, this story focuses a lot of attention on sex and gender, which is one of the things I enjoy about the series. Our hero is Etta/Eddy, an individual struggling to more fully understand themselves and their own gender. I appreciated seeing a gender fluid character walk through this world - it brings up a lot of interesting questions. There are also some trans people represented in the narrative, which was also interesting.


My one issue is that it is implied Etta/Eddy's fluidity is a result of trauma, and at times it even reads a bit like Dissociative Disorder, which is not an accurate representation if Elison was attempting to describe the experience of being genderqueer (at least for most folks). Gender identity isn't something born out of a trauma response, and I found it troubling the book kept pointing in that direction. I'd like o give Elison the benefit of the doubt, but it did put my hackles up.


All in all this book was an interesting addition to the series, and I plan to read the third book when it hit shelves next month. I appreciate Elison's world building, and her focus on issues of sex and gender in the apocalypse. (Especially after reading another book *cough cough The Power cough* which handled the subject so poorly.)

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review 2019-03-07 23:35
The Power
The Power - Naomi Alderman

A lot of people love this book. Hell, a lot of people whose opinions I trust love this book. And that's great. One of the cool things about art is that it's subjective. I, unfortunately, did not love this book. In fact, after an hour long rant to my husband that started with "I don't hate it but...," I have been informed that I lied: I do hate this book. If you don't want any general spoilers don't read on, because I can't talk about my issues with this book without really digging in.


Here's my main issue: either this book is about gender, or it is about power, and either way I think it fails.


If this book is about gender then why is this one of the most binary books I've read in recent times? That would be expected if this came out in the 80s, but it didn't. This book was released in 2018. And there is no mention of anyone in this book that falls outside the very strict, sex based binary of male/female. There is mention of the rare man that grows a skein, and the rare woman that doesn't, but as a concept that isn't explored. And if it's a book about gender that should be explored, at least a little. Where are the non-binary people? Trans people (I especially wanted to know how trans women walked through this world)? Intersex people? Either Alderman didn't consider this, or didn't have a good answer and decided not to address it. Which means that if this book is trying to take on the topic of gender it falls short. A book about the "clash between the two sexes" comes off as outdated and, if I'm being totally honest, mildly offensive to me.


Okay, but the book is really more about power than gender, right? Okay. I'll buy that. It is the name of the book after all. But then my question becomes: what are you trying to say by writing this narrative? I want to preface this by saying I don't think all books need or want to say something beyond telling a story, nor should they. Sometimes, however, a book very clearly presents itself as attempting to interject a stance/idea into the cultural dialogue. Alderman very obviously wrote this book to say something, not to be a fun popcorn book. So what is she saying?


As near as I can tell the thesis of this book is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That's an oldie but goodie, and I don't even entirely disagree with that premise. Here's the thing though, when you break it down more granularly this book seems to be saying, "if you give women more power than men they would be just as violent and cruel." Oh, and it would end the world. Not metaphorically. Literally. If women held the bulk of the power they would literally bomb us back to the stone age. If women held more power than men within a matter of a few years they would end civilization.


So here's the thing, I would not make the argument that women are inherently more gentle, level-headed, compassionate, blah blah blah, than men. I don't think that's true. At our core I don't think men and women are actually very different. However, releasing a book into the #metoo Trump era that essentially says if you give women power, they will use it to rape, murder, and destroy, is a pretty questionable thing to do. So I'm questioning it.


For example, there's this extremely uncomfortable section of the book from the perspective of Men's Rights Activists, and they are being their usual vitriolic terrible selves...except they aren't wrong. So we are supposed to empathize with them...I think? These horrible people describing all women as cunts that need to be put in their place are also totally correct about their fears and conspiracies. That's a hell of a thing to put into the world.


Side note: I also want to say that reading about sexual violence isn't any more palatable to me when the sexual roles are reversed. Reading numerous scenes where men are abused and raped, sometimes very graphically, wasn't something I particularly needed in my life. That's more of a personal taste thing than a general critique, but I felt I needed to include it as it absolutely effected the way I interacted with this book. Starting the story out with sexual violence against women, and basically ending it with sexual violence against men, made reading this book particularly grotesque for me, especially as a survivor.


Look, I think I see what Alderman was angling for when she wrote this book. However, when I really dig into it I don't think this is a message I wanted to ingest at this point in history. Given where we are now culturally this book comes off as exclusionary and misogynistic to me. Would that have been the case in the past? Probably not. But we've moved waaaaaaaay past 2nd wave feminism at this point. There will be a lot of people who disagree with my take on this, and that's totally fine. As always, your milage may vary. I for one, however, was left far more pissed off than empowered.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-02-14 23:33
An Excess Male
An Excess Male: A Novel - Maggie Shen King

I almost loved this book. In fact I did love it, until about halfway through when I realized where it was going. Then, not so much.


First of all this book is far more speculative fiction than it is strict sci-fi. That's actually fine with me, but since it was marketed as sci-fi (and published on a sci-fi imprint) that did throw me off a little bit. The focus in this book is on the characters, not the world-building nor plot. Thankfully King does a good job with her character development - each character was well drawn, distinct, and sympathetic even when I didn't care for them at times. (Except BeiBei - he may in fact be the most obnoxious child in literature to date.) I was invested in these people and their plights.


The core of this story, at least for me, is how these four individuals are failing to have their needs met. And this is where my feelings on this book become complicated.


Spoilers below!
What I wanted the book to be about is these four people coming together, learning how to better take care of and love one another, and forming a supportive cohesive nontraditional family unit. That is not what happens. Instead the book does something I was suspicious of from the beginning: it imperils the queer character, makes them suffer, and ultimately cuts them off from the family unit. For the last half of the book he is basically just there to suffer and drive the other characters to action. The character that was neurodivergent also has a less than satisfying ending in my opinion, failing to gain his freedom (or dogs) and spending his time trying to ward off surveillance. The only real winners are the straight couple. And while I see what King was doing, and I think the narrative was functioning correctly, this is simply a story I'm very very tired of reading. I am, in fact, exhausted.


So where does that leave me? I feel bad criticizing a book for being something other than what I wanted it to be. The book was well written, and effectively told the story King set out to tell. Unfortunately it wasn't a story I wanted to hear right now. Quite frankly it bummed me out. I would happily give King another try, as I think she's a good author, but this book left me sad and craving a story with better outcomes for its more diverse characters.

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review 2018-12-28 02:39
Sea of Rust
Sea of Rust - C. Robert Cargill

This is a perfectly serviceable popcorn book. Take a robot apocalypse novel, stir in a good dose of western, and just a dash of <i>Mad Max</i>, and this is what you get. It's an adventure, and to a lesser degree an examination of what makes us human. The robots in this book, for better or worse, all feel very human. I'm fairly certain that was a deliberate choice by the author, and part of the point in some cases, but to me it also felt like a missed opportunity. Then again, that might be me just wishing this was a different type of book altogether. As is it hits all the adventure beats and keeps pages turning at a good clip. Brittle makes for good company as the story barrels forward. This book has a strong sense of fun about it, and will make for good light reading for sci-fi fans. If, however, you find AI terrifying you might want to give this one a pass. It's hard to enjoy a fun romp when you can't stop thinking about how all the robots murdered humanity and poisoned the world. It rather puts a damper on things. Your milage may vary.

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