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text 2018-01-20 19:19
2017 Year in Review: Stats
Shadowhouse Fall - Daniel José Older
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee
A Conspiracy in Belgravia (The Lady Sherlock Series) - Sherry Thomas
Food of the Gods: A Rupert Wong Novel - Cassandra Khaw
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle
The Stars Are Legion - Kameron Hurley
The Heiress Effect - Courtney Milan
An Extraordinary Union - Alyssa Cole
The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth) - N.K. Jemisin
Clean Room Vol. 3: Waiting for the Stars to Fall - Gail Simone,Jon Davis-Hunt
Did anyone else end up with a broken counter on the Goodreads stats page? I know they had an issue with the date read field earlier in the year. While that eventually worked itself out, my total for 2017 is way off. The states page claims over 100, but the list is really only 79.
My breakdown of the 79 "books" I finished in 2017:

anthologies: 0
collections: 0
Adult novels: 50
YA novels: 8
MG novels: 0
graphic novels: 1
art book: 0
comic omnibus: 15
magazine issues: 0
children's books: 2
nonfiction: 3
I make a demographics list every year as a way of giving myself the opportunity to think about who I've read and how I can do better.
Across all categories:
  Written by Women: 53 (67%, down from 72% in 2016)
  Written by POC: 29 (37%, up from 17% in 2016)
  Written by Transgender authors: 5 (6%, up from 1% in 2016) 
  Written by Non-binary authors: 2 (3%, up from 1% in 2016)
While this looks like a large improvement from last year, I should note that this is not unique authors, but total across all my reading. I went on Cassandra Khaw and Daniel José Older benders this fall that account for a lot of my non-white reading. I also went on a Courtney Milan bender in January that is helping inflate the written by women category. 
My favorite book from 2017 were really hard to select! It was a great reading year, but I narrowed it down to 10. Please don't ask me to order them as that's clearly an impossible task. They should all appear in the banner at the top, but here's a list, alphabetically:
I reviewed all 79 titles read in 2017, which is really more than I expected. Not all those reviews are great, but in terms of quantity, I beat my expectations. 
My favorite new-to-me author of 2017 is Cassandra Khaw. She's talented and her range includes (nay, celebrates!) splatterpunk. 
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text 2017-08-07 19:20
Light Space Opera Marred by Sexual Violence
Star Nomad - Lindsay Buroker

Lots of shitty sff tropes hitched to the specific kind of ugly sexual politics one finds in romance novels overwhelm what should (and occassionally is) a quipping romp through the universe. Rape threats and straight up sexual assault continue regularly from the first scenes to,the end of the novel. Before I get the "but that's realistic" chorus, I would like us to all take a minute and consider that this is clearly supposed to be a comic space fantasy with romantic elements, and the introduction of "rape as realism" is unnecessary, thematically jarring, and fucking stupid. And that's not even getting into a 45 minute diatribe about the very equation of rape with realism. 


Which is disappointing because there are some nice comic moments and a gift for the absurd in Star Nomad, hidden in under bad world building and rape threats. Sure, a lot of it was derivative -- Firefly has its fingerprints everywhere, from setup to character types -- but I'm not looking to some romp through a pirate-infested asteroid belt to blow my mind or anything. (Unless it's Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit, and that shit was amazing.) The Paradox series by Rachel Bach, starting with Fortune's Pawn, contains many of the same elements found here, but is much more expertly done. Start there for your lighter space opera. 

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text 2017-07-13 18:43
Readercon updates
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee
Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret - Tui T. Sutherland
Grave Matters: A Night Owls Novel - Lauren M. Roy

I'm going to lounge a little before going to Quincy.   Eat.   Relax.   Shower.   Nap.   Gather books I want signed. 


I have to say this is just annoying me though.   Look what conflicts with the Okarafor signing!





Of course, I think I can view it online eventually.   Because I'm going to that signing.  I might be able to sneak in mid-talk, but, damn it.   Damn it all.   


I did sneak in four more book purchases after seeing that Yoon Ha Lee and Tui Sutherland were going to be there.  I knew about Lauren Roy but was shy of spending more money before Readercon, but since I was determined to buy a new copy of Tongues of Serpants - I can't find my read copy, blargh - I ended up splurging on this, too.   You only live once and this and Inhumans are my last hurrahs before I bury myself in grad school!


PS: I don't want to annoy myself.  Unlikely I'll read or talk about SE until Readercon finishes, maybe a week or so after that, too. 

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text 2017-07-10 16:49
Review: Ninefox Gambit
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee

I was reminded by the recent announcement of a sequel that I never really processed my thoughts and reactions about Ninefox Gambit, one of the strangest reading experiences I’ve ever had. Since it was generally out of my usual wheelhouse—I am not regular reader of hard sci-fi—and it was genuinely disorienting, I found it difficult to put my experience into words that would reflect it in any meaningful way.


Initially, my response was rather cliché. It throws you in the deep end. It leaves you to sink or swim. This is some weak sauce, not just for me as a writer, but for the reading experience as a whole. Nearly a year later, let’s see if I can do better.


For this, let us turn to a scene straight out of science fiction (and, admittedly, not entirely free of cliché, but hey, sometimes you have to work with the tools you’re given).


You are enclosed in a glass tube. Or maybe it’s a large tank. Whichever. The tube/tank/space is being slowly filled with a murky, slightly viscous fluid. Now, you have been fully briefed on whatever this stuff is, so you have no rational reason to be afraid of it. Maybe it’s medicinal, or maybe you are being put into some scientifically impenetrable form of hyper-sleep. Again, your choice.


Anyway, the liquid is slowly rising. Your conscious mind knows it will be fine. You don’t know why, specifically; you’ve seen other people experience it, even heard some people rave about the experience. But as the levels increase—it’s at your chest, approaching your neck—your much less rational unconscious is starting to fight back. Your heart rate increases, you feel frustrated by a feeling of entrapment, you struggle. As the mysterious-space-metaphor liquid touches your mouth, you clench up, and when it enters your lungs you start to thrash, and maybe even try to scream. Cue the dramatic bubbles and stifled sound.


Then, suddenly, you’re immersed. And you find that, while it doesn’t feel entirely natural, you are doing just fine. You still don’t understand the stuff any better than you did at the start, but you know the experience has been something worthwhile, even enjoyable, in the way novelty that has an edge of fear can be.


The funny part is that if I reduced the plot to its absolute essentials, you would assume this much overextended metaphor is just a symptom of having too much weird space liquid on the brain. Basically, the“hero” is required to prove her loyalty to a shadowy empire/religious overlord organization by helping them defeat a dangerous rebel splinter group (in the religious terminology often used in the book, heretics). She must work with a genius partner with questionable loyalty and a dangerous past, all while only being fed partial information. Space battles and espionage ensue. Will these mismatched allies save the day? Who are the “good guys”? Are there any good guys at all?


Boiled down so far, it sounds like another rote future-politik space adventure. You would be supremely wrong, but this is not the kind of book that can be boiled down to an easy summary and still maintain what makes it so astonishing. (And perhaps some of this perspective arises from my limited experience with the more techno-babble heavy strains of hard sci-fi. Given what I’ve heard from others regarding their experience, I’m inclined to think not).


The technology, the politics and social structures, the terminology of the universe itself is presented almost entirely without context or explanation. I don’t think any story of this size and scope could be 100% exposition-free; in the case of Ninefox, I’m willing to say it’s presence is so minimal as to be statistically insignificant. As such, you are constantly confronted with technology you don’t understand (and may find impossible to visualize), social cues without structure, and strings of words that may result in a serious case of eye-glaze.




If I could tell you exactly why, I would be rich because every techno-babble-loving hard sci-fi writer would pay me in unpronounceable space currency for the formula.


However, I have a half-baked hypothesis (and it’s nothing new, so you can have it for free). Initially, the hope that the brain-scrambling world building will all make sense with time—and the undeniable appeal for a certain kind of reader to understand something that seems so complex—grabs you and pulls you along. Then, just as you are starting to realize the answers you have been hoping for will never come, the plot has insidiously taken hold of your brain and you suddenly feel invested in a world that somehow never stops being slightly (and sometimes very) disorienting. By taking readers through the most basic of sci-fi adventure plots using the least predictable (or sometimes decipherable) methods, there is a synthesis that is nothing short of masterful—and profoundly difficult to replicate.


If you made it through this completely non-explanatory explanation without wanting to jump out of an airlock, congratulations, you have a tiny taste of what it is like to survive Ninefox Gambit.


Oh, and did I mention the hero is a mathematician?

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review 2017-06-25 14:05
Review: Ninefox Gambit
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee

Superb, high intensity plot with wildly interesting world building and compelling characters. This audiobook is great. I bought the sequel as soon as I finished it. 


Based on reviews I had read, I expected to be lost for a few chapters, but this was not the case. I was hooked from page one. Maybe I'm just that one odd reader who is totally up for consensus based physics regulated by the government through a standardized calendar and locally alterable. That's a big idea for world-building if I even saw one, and damn if it isn't brilliantly executed. 


Dear reader, do not worry. While there are occasional lines about regression and numerical methods, this is more math as poetry than reading proofs. This book is plot and character driven. A captain who's recent campaign involved questionable, if not heretical, action proposes the use of a brilliant tactician to put down an uprising, and her proposal is accepted. The tactician was a general who never lost, but turned on his own hundreds of years ago. 


What follows is a harrowing campaign, largely from the perspective of the captain, who values every life lost under her command. Strategy and gore testing her sanity. 


I legit spent 20 minutes raving about how great this was to my spouse. He eventually asked me not to ruin the whole book for him. I WAS IN CHAPTER 4. I rearranged furniture and caught up on cardio to invent time to listen, I was that enthralled.

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