Monthly Wrap-Up: October 2013

This is strange… I had more time for reading in October yet I’ve read fewer books. Overall, I am very happy with my October books. They were all excellent reads and I didn’t get the feeling that I had in September, of not having time to read because work was so stressful. I did have time to read and I enjoyed every page.

Books read: 4
Pages read: 1324
Series started: Imperial Radch
Series continued:
Series finished:

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THE BEST

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice   9/10

ancillary justiceThe internet has exploded with praise for Ann Leckie and it is all justified. This amazing debut does so many things that should not work and makes them awesome. Breq – the last remnant of a formerly great AI spaceship named Justice of Toren – is looking for answers and revenge. She is joined by Seivarden – a character I fell madly in love with over the course of the novel – and shows us cultures that feel original and somehow familiar at the same time.
And don’t even get me started on what Ann Leckie does with language. She uses almost exclusively female pronouns, regardles of a character’s gender. This book makes you think, it makes you question your prejudices, and it’s a gripping story with great characters. Just read it!

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two   9/10

fairyland 3You’re not surprised about this, are you? Cat Valente is one of my current top two authors (the other one being Terry Pratchett) and I expected nothing less than perfection in  this third Fairyland volume. The beginning was a bit tough to read, mainly because it takes so long for September to reunite with her friends, Ell and Saturday. Once they are together again and have a plan to save Fairyland, everything comes together beautifully and Valente managed to rip my heart out again. Stopping a Moon Yeti from breaking the moon is not so easy, especially if time travelling friends are involved… A wonderful book, full of magic and love and beautiful language.

China Miéville – Railsea  8,5/10

railseaWhat a fun book. Miéville returns to YA fiction in this riff off Moby Dick. But it only starts that way. Sham travels the Railsea on the moler trail Medes, whose Captain obsessively hunts the great ivory mole that took her arm many years ago. But Sham stumbles into an adventure much bigger than a mere mole hunt.
Miéville plays with language in many ways. The omniscient narrator teases his readers, jumps between viewpoints, and generally adds to the pure fun of the story. I loved this book, particularly the ending. It could have gone terribly wrong but Miéville makes it work. Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for a Miéville book to start with.

Nnedi Okorafor – Kabu Kabu 7/10

kabu kabuA short story collection by the author of the amazing Who Fears Death. I didn’t love all the stories, but I found enjoyment in most of them. My favorite was the science fiction story “Spider the Artist” about a Nigerian woman who makes friends with a robotic spider-creature that protects the pipelines from oil robbers.
Okorafor’s style has impressive range, her stories come in all shapes and sizes. There are those that read like folktales, fairytales, historical fiction, epic fantasy and science fiction. Her characters are equally diverse. Most protagonists are Nigerian (to some extent) women, and mos stories are set directly in Nigeria. It was just beautiful how the author showed the richness of a culture and a place that is rarely shown at all in speculative fiction. Recommended.

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No THE WORST and no THE REST this month. Like I said, all my books were pretty fantastic

Plans for November:

Jeff Vandermeer – Wonderbook
I’m almost done with this massive, beautiful, inspiring work of art. It is a guide on how to write speculative fiction but it is also so much more. Articles by many established authors and gorgeous (!) artwork on every page make it a book worth having, even if you just look at the pictures.

Stephen King – The Shining
Something creepy for Halloween. I only made it halfway through when November caught up with me but it reminds me again why I like Stephen King. He paints characters that feel so real you wouldn’t be surprised if they lived next door – although if I met Jack Torrance (or worse, Danny), I would probably run and hide. Can’t wait to finish this and then, finally, watch the movie. (Yes, I am one of those people who have never seen it. But I do know key scenes, including spoilers.)

Robin Hobb – Fool’s Fate
Now that a new Fitz and Fool trilogy is planned, I need to finish the existing books. At 800 pages, I feel a little daunted, but then again, I have yet to read a Hobb book  I don’t like.

Gail Carriger – Curtsies & Conspiracies
Sophronia strikes again. Gail Carriger returned to her quick-witted, funny self with the Finishing School series and I can’t wait to read this one.

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice

This debut novel is making waves on the internet like none I’ve ever seen before. It’s difficult to find a single negative review of this title, and – if you ask me – Ann Leckie is doing that whole promotion thing rather well. I came across her on many of my favorite online hangouts, doing interviews, guest blogs, tweeting and giving away signed books. But she always has interesting things to say, so buying the book was a no-brainer.
Boring as it may seem, I join the legions of new Ann Leckie fans. What a remarkable, memorable, thought-provoking novel.

ancillary justiceANCILLARY JUSTICE
by Ann Leckie

Published by: Orbit, October 2013
ISBN: 0356502406
Paperback: 432 pages
Series: Imperial Radch #1
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it.

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

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Ancillary Justice
is a fantastic book for many reasons, and these reasons change throughout the reading experience. I can only tell you how it was for me, although what I’ve seen on the internet so far, other people are intrigued by the same ideas.

The first thing that baffled and excited me was not the idea of an artificial intelligence whose bodies include one spaceship, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of bodies, and a handful of bodies who really enjoy singing together. That came later. No, the first thing was Ann Leckie’s use of pronouns. There are books that intentionally leave a character’s gender unclear by never assigning them any pronouns. Leckie goes a different route. In Justice of Toren‘s language, gender is not an issue so this first-person narrative uses almost exclusively female pronouns, regardless of the character’s gender. Even a “he” would be called “she”.

This is not just a gimmick! I was incredibly surprised by the need I felt to know who was male and who was female (or intersex, or transgender) although it really didn’t matter. Still, I caught myself trying to guess, by the few descriptions given of a person’s physique or mannerism, whether I was reading about a man or a woman. Most of the time, it’s impossible to guess. Some characters that I was sure were female turned out to be male – and, again, it wouldn’t have made any difference had their gender been swapped. The story works either way, but Ann Leckie has succeeded in one wonderful, amazing thing – making her readers think. Making us question our own expectations and prejudices and our desperate need to put things – and people – in boxes. I loved the book for that reason alone.

ancillary justice cover

But fear not, there is more greatness to come. Apart from the pronouns and ambiguous gender of pretty much every character, the protagonist (whom I will call a “she” in this review, even though I really don’t know) is interesting enough to carry an entire story. So she is a spaceship and its troops. One of those troops, One Esk, has a fondness for music and collects songs over the centuries. Come to think of it, what would I do if I had 20 bodies? Singing together is pretty neat idea. Justice of Toren (the spaceship) is one mind, yet only one of her troops sings. That alone gives plenty of food for thought. How can, if the AI that is Justice of Toren and all her human bodies, only a few of these bodies have this particular hobby? Who, exactly, is this “I” who is telling us her story? Whatever the answer may be, just thinking about it is exciting.

Okay, that is two gigantic reasons why you should read this book. But – you guessed it – as the story progressed, and I got used to the pronouns, stopped thinking about who was male or female, still pondered Justice of Toren‘s idea of “I”, the plot took center stage. We follow two story lines, one in the present with the Breq (that’s what she now calls herself) on a deadly mission, one 20 years in the past, explaining what lead her to pursue said mission. Once everything that happened 20 years ago is told, it really kicks off. Ann Leckie didn’t take a single wrong step. Her pacing was fantastic, I read way too long into the night and found myself hoping it wouldn’t be over too soon.

Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean lass than nothing.

I thought about things to critique but there really isn’t much. The only thing I noticed was the somewhat excessive use of people, especially Breq, “raising one eyebrow”. That happened about five times in one chapter. But, come on! Compared to all the things this book does right, that is absolutely ridiculous. For completeness’ sake, I have now mentioned it and you are “warned”. The other thing I could think of is that the worldbuilding could have been cleaner, but I got an intense feeling that Leckie knows a lot more about the world then she lets us see in this first novel. And I knew everything I needed to know for the story to work.

My ebook had a little bonus after the book – an author interview. It included little information that isn’t already on the internet (Ann Leckie has done her share of promotion for the title, after all) but I was very pleased to read that this is book one of a loose trilogy. If this means more Breq and Seivarden (holy shit, I forgot to mention Seivarden but I totally love her and am still stunned by her character development and my keyboard is already in pain because I’ve lost all sense of punctuation and am just hammering on the keys but Seivarden is all sorts of awesome and you should read this book now)… yes. That.

The Good: A gripping story told with almost all-female pronouns, featuring a unique protagonist, incredibly interesting culture and character development. All the love!
The Bad: Does “I wanted there to be more of the book” count?
The Verdict: Seeing as this is one of the most talked-about books in the SF community right now, I don’t think I need to tell you to read it. But go read it anyway. I’m already jotting the title down for next year’s Hugo ballot.

RATING: 9/10 –  Close to perfection
I need to leave room open for the next instalment, after all…

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Do Want! – Upcoming Books on my Radar

The Booksmugglers strike again. I don’t know what it is about Ana and Thea, but whenever they get really enthusiastic about a book, I find it enormously contagious. Even when they squee about books that normally wouldn’t catch my eye. It is largely due to these two and their consistent love for certain books on Twitter that I needed to create another wishlist.

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Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice

This is the culprit. If you follow The Booksmugglers on Twitter, tumblr, or their blog, you can’t have missed their excitement about this novel. And the rest of the interwebs pretty much agrees. Justin Landon wrote a glowing review about it. So yes… I need this. Because REASONS!

ancillary justiceOn a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

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Bill Campbell (ed.) – Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond

I already have an ebook copy of this because I supported the IndieGoGo campaign, but what with my busy schedule, I haven’t even read the first story yet. From the moment I saw the cover I knew I wanted this book. And the line-up is pretty impressive as well. Lauren Beukes, Tobias Buckell, Junot Diaz, and N.K. Jemisin are just a few of them.

mothershipMothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond sets a bold new course for anthologies by showcasing the work from some of the most talented writers inside and outside speculative fiction. The authors in this anthology have earned such literary honors as the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Bram Stoker, among others. They have garnered numerous accolades and have sold millions of books around the world. Many of their names are likely to be new to you; Mothership is your invitation to get acquainted with them and their writing.

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Ytasha L. Womack (ed.) – Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture

Talking about Afrofuturism (and gorgeous covers!), I also discovered this book here (while googling Mothership) and had to put it on my wishlist.

afrofuturism coverIn this hip, accessible primer to the music, literature, and art of Afrofuturism, author Ytasha Womack introduces readers to the burgeoning community of artists creating Afrofuturist works, the innovators from the past, and the wide range of subjects they explore. From the sci-fi literature of Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and N. K. Jemisin to the musical cosmos of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, to the visual and multimedia artists inspired by African Dogon myths and Egyptian deities, the book’s topics range from the “alien” experience of blacks in America to the “wake up” cry that peppers sci-fi literature, sermons, and activism. With a twofold aim to entertain and enlighten, Afrofuturists strive to break down racial, ethnic, and social limitations to empower and free individuals to be themselves.

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Jeff Vandermeer – Wonderbook

Another one I pre-ordered (and it arrived early, it should only be published today) but haven’t had time to read yet. Flipping through the pages, it looks absolutely stunning. Almost every pages is full of illustrations (full color) and things that make it hard to take your eyes off it. I admit I bought this mostly because it has pieces by Cat Valente and Lauren Beukes in it, but I’ll probably end up reading it front to back.

wonderbookThis all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

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Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

I am crazy and pre-ordered this in June. It all depends on quick delivery from the book seller and the people at my post office how fast I can hold it in my greedy, little hands. It has been way too long since my last excursion to Fairyland, I miss Ell and Saturday, and I want to know what September is up to.
(Dear gods of bookish things! Please make this one arrive just before the weekend so I can curl up in bed with it and won’t have to speak to or interact with anyone until I’m finished. Thank you!)fairyland 3

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

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Gail Carriger – Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2)

After the gradually more repetitive and boring Parasol Protectorate, I felt that Gail Carriger’s new YA series was exactly the kind of fresh breath I needed. The first book wasn’t perfect and it riffed off the first series in a lot of ways. But overall, it was enjoyable and fun and made me want more.

curtsies and conspiraciesDoes one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?
Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.
Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a school trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.
In this sequel to bestselling author Gail Carriger’s YA debut Etiquette & Espionage, class is back in session with more petticoats and poison, tea trays and treason. Gail’s distinctive voice, signature humor, and lush steampunk setting are sure to be the height of fashion this season.

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