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April 12, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 11:50 pm

Been a couple months since I posted, but the upside of having a small (but elite) cadre of readers is most of them know what’s been up anyway. In short:

  • XYZZY Awards: See you next year! (hopefully more organized next time)
  • PAX East/IF Summit: An excess of awesome. I mean that literally, but if that is the only way to get my awesome I will take it.
  • New job: Here, starting in, oh, twenty minutes or so. I have done some quick calculations and determined that, based on graphing time started job vs distance between job and house, I will be operating out of my bedroom by 2016 or so.
  • Books: ok, that isn’t going to fit into this format.

So, yeah, books.

One Thousand White Women (Jim Fergus): This was recommended by my mom and sister and is slightly women’s-book-clubby but it is still pretty good. It’s one of those stories that is sort of alt-history but not exactly, because it starts off with an alternate premise but we end up in basically our own world so it bends back to the main timeline. The premise is pretty good, though — apparently there actually was a Cheyenne tribe that
requested the US government give them a bunch of American women for brides as part of, essentially, culturally-approved assimilation (in their culture children belong to their mother’s tribe). In the real world this was, unsurprisingly, rejected, but the book’s premise is some political calculation makes the government decide to go for it. So the book has a bunch of good stuff about life in a Cheyenne tribe and in US society in general at the time. Like the title suggests, it’s at least as interesting from a feminist perspective as a racial one, with plenty of stuff about the role of women in the various societies the book looks at. It’s not really a ground-breaking book — the plot is pretty conventional and there are enough characters that few really feel developed — but it’s a good read if you’re interested in the period.

Ink and Steel (Elizabeth Bear): I know it’s not the author’s fault but it is totally irritating to have the only hint that this is book one of two to be a note on the last page of the book (not the back cover, but the last page) saying “hey, you’d better read book two, this is only the first half of the story. I guess I can sort of judge how I felt about the book by the fact that I intend to pick up the second one, but I read it a month ago and haven’t actually done so yet.

So, er, the story. It’s about Shakespeare, which is cool, and Kit Marlowe, who is a little overused (theory: Kit Marlowe is the new Tesla), and faeries, which are extremely overused. But there’s also a certain amount of fighting and politics and subtle magic and stuff so I was reasonably willing to forgive the overused stuff. Not totally, though. Or, rather, I felt like the author was mostly interested in Shakespeare and Marlowe and everything else in the story, the other characters and the politics and the plot in general, were just there to give Shakespeare and Marlowe something to talk about. As is perhaps obvious, I was more interested in the background stuff, and there wasn’t much payoff — though since this is book one of two, perhaps conflicts set up here explode in the second book.

The other thing is I have a bunch of fragmentary questions about how it deals with gay characters. Like, one thing is the book’s treatment of female characters is pretty shallow, even of nominally important questions. And going along with that, the book has a really shallow treatment of male/female relationships (the closing scene with Shakespeare and his wife is just bizarre, though I would be more okay with it if book two opens up with her slapping him). On the other hand, the gay characters get an especially deep treatment, as do their relationships. I don’t know if this is on purpose — I mean, it seems like it must be but I don’t understand the reasoning. Was it just a purposeful attempt to do a book where gay characters and relationships get the same attention that heterosexual relationships tend to get in other books?

The other gay/female proxy thing about this book is it is striking to me how, well. You know how it used to be that if you had a tough female character she would have her backstory be that she was raped? And now if you do that people roll their eyes because it is cliche and an authorial crutch? (Now you will tell me that people still do it all the time, and I will get a pained look and say “but at least most readers agree it’s lame, right? Right?”) Anyway, it seems like it is still totally acceptable to give gay characters backstories full of getting raped and nobody rolls their eyes. Is this because there haven’t been meaningful gay characters around for as long so it hasn’t had time to become as much of a cliche? Or is it because some of this stuff, especially what Bear and some other authors write, comes out of the slashfic tradition at least as much as genre sf, and nursing-after-damage stuff is integral to the slashfic genre? I feel like there’s some interesting stuff here and I just don’t know enough to analyze it properly. I guess I’ll know more if/when I get around to the next book.

The Spirit Lens (Carol Berg): The full title here is “The Spirit Lens: A Novel of the Collegia Magica” but it’s not to be confused with A College of Magics, by Caroline Stevermer. Or maybe it is, and this is one of the skirmishes in the savage battle of genre fantasy.

Anyway, this is one of those fantasy books that is mostly about the setting, and the setting is a combination of good stuff and back stuff. Like, part of the premise is that magic used to be around in the past as a real and dramatic thing, and these days it’s mostly hokum and blarney and getting edged out by science. I can buy that. But I can’t also buy that there is a character in here who knows “real magic” and as far as I can tell it is totally scientific and demonstrable. Like, if that’s the case, why would magic die out? If there was a big dropoff in the mana content in the universe, that would make sense, but then how come this guy can do magic? If it was just gradual lack of knowledge, how would that happen if the magic is basically scientifically analyzable? (repeatable, provable, etc). Similarly, the setting also has a thing where wizards are so powerful and scary they need to be collared and branded. Again, I don’t get how this goes along with the magic-goes-away theme.

Since the book has a subtitle starting with “a novel of”, then possibly all these details are going to be covered in the upcoming sequels. But for it to be unanswered right now is kind of disappointing. Similarly, the ending answers the bare minimum necessary not to enrage me, but it’s got a lot of loose threads.

The other thing about this book, and possibly I was just sensitized by the previous book, but I was expecting a gay relationship to materialize and it never did. I wasn’t sure how it was going to line up, but when you have this savage-but-powerful collared wizard, this disappointed scholar the wizard is tutoring in magic, and this foppish noble who can’t seem to get along with the wizard on anything, it seems like the situation is crying out for makeouts. This in turn led me to think that the book would have better written by Sarah Monette, but that in turn made me think she basically wrote this already. Which made me like this book slightly less. So I dunno.

Coming up soon is a post on Echo Bazaar, wherein I confidently make pronouncements about the whole game even though I’ve only played up to stat 35 or so.

1 Comment

  1. If you want to be annoyed by the hints of awesome background in an Elizabeth Bear novel, try _All The Windwracked Stars_. It’s good, but boy howdy did I want some more background facts to gnaw on.

    Comment by katre — April 13, 2010 @ 6:42 am

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