Books in brief: McGuire, Andrews, Gellis, Vali

Seanan McGuire, Ashes of Honor. DAW, 2012. Copy courtesy of DAW.

It’s a fun series, but HELL PEOPLE. I’m getting really really tired of “Irish” being shorthand for “sensitive to weird-ass made-up mythological shit.” (Also, I have never in my life heard of “Bess” being a nickname for Bridget. Really? ‘Cause I’ve always thought of Bess as a peculiarly English shorthand for Elizabeth.) Seriously. Any more of this “Irish” – ahem – bullshit is really going to ruin my generally happy feelings about this series.

Ilona Andrews, Magic Rises. Ace, 2013. ARC via

Review to appear on Perfectly cromulent series installment, no real surprises.

Roberta Gellis, The English Heiress, The Cornish Heiress and Siren Song. Ebooks.

Historic romance from an elder generation – although one would probably be more correct to call them romantic family sagas. Entertaining.

Ali Vali, The Devil Inside, The Devil Unleashed, and Deal With the Devil. Ebooks.

Lesbian mobsters. Yes, I will read almost anything. review: The Gist. Written by Michael Marshall Smith, Translated by Benoît Domis, Re-Translated by Nicholas Royle

And you all can read it here.

The Gist, a novelette by Michael Marshall Smith, is the latest offering from Subterranean Press’s limited but honourable catalogue. To say it is by Marshall Smith—or at least, by Marshall Smith alone—is, however, something of a misnomer. Between The Gist’s covers are three novelettes and one novelette: Marshall Smith’s original, translated once into the French by Benoît Domis, translated again (without access to the original text) back into the English by Nicholas Royle. Two further recensions of the first text: three recensions of a single work.

Sleeps With Monsters: Recent(ish) Hard SF By Women

A new column up at

So, discarding definitions, I’m just going to talk about the science fiction that impressed me with its science, its weirdness, or its ideas. But I’m going to begin with a book I haven’t read, simply because discussions about it make me want to read it while at the same time make me think it might really not be my thing.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Exiled Blade: a confession of unprofessional shirking

I was supposed to review this book. I wanted to review this book. (I really enjoyed the previous volume in the series.) JCG’s Orbit US publicist, a very personable person, sent me a review copy of The Exiled Blade

And, well.

There are some books that come along at the worst possible time for you to read them. Some books, regardless of their talent and ability – sometimes because of the directions in which talent and ability is bent – you can’t read then. Or sometimes ever.

I lasted eight chapters. I didn’t stop because Jon Courtenay Grimwood is a bad writer. I stopped because This should have been when we were happy [p50]; because JCG is in fact very good, and the level of pain and grief and despair he managed to evoke, the cold sense of lowering doom, heartbreak, incipient dread, made my teeth hurt. I stopped because this is a Hamlet, isn’t it? Nobody comes out intact, everyone comes out broken…

…And right now I need sweet little hopeful happy-ending lies in my life. I need stories that focus on joy as well as pain. Because I need to escape from hurting for a while, me, not face the world’s cruelty condensed and intensified in JCG’s viscerally-rendered courtly shadows, his dark and glittering Renaissance Venice.

One day I’ll be able to read this book without bile backing up in my throat. One day I’ll want a dash of bleak horror in my literary cocktail again. But not this month. Maybe not this year.

Until then, cheers. I’ll drink something sweet and sticky, and leave dry bitters to other folks.

Books in brief

Reading has been decidedly difficult for me lately: I lack some level of emotional energy necessary to involve myself in demanding texts at the same rate as heretofore.


Melissa Scott, Star Trek DS9: Proud Helios. Ebook.

Jean Lorrah, Star Trek Next Generation: Survivors. Ebook.

Diane Duane, Star Trek: Sand and Stars. Ebook.

So, these are all actually pretty good light entertainment, although Lorrah’s is a bit squicky and problematic.

Katherine V. Forrest, Amateur City & Murder at the Nightwood Bar. Ebooks.

Murder mysteries from the 1980s, starring a lesbian detective with the LAPD. Pretty excellent stuff, actually: I’d really like to get my hands on the other books in the series. I MEAN IT. THESE BOOKS ARE AWESOME. ACE. GIVE THEM TO ME I NEED THEM.

(I know their names, even if I don’t know what order they go in or WHERE TO GET HOLD OF THEM. Liberty Square. The Beverly Malibu. Apparition Alley. Sleeping Bones. Hancock Park. Murder By Tradition. GIVE ME THEM! LET ME FIND EBOOK (non-Amazon) EDITIONS OR SOMETHING.)

Ahem. This is because of a certain someone Who Knows Who She Is. Who sent me a box of delightful books (which I am slowly working my way through), but among them was Daughters of a Coral Dawn, which reminded me that Forrest had written murder mysteries, which led me to the discovery I could get the first two as ebooks.


Claire McNab, Death by Death & Murder at Random. Gifts.

Lesbians. Spies. Whee? Whee!

(Everything’s better with lesbians.)

Ali Vali, Blues Skies. Ebook.

Lesbian fighter pilots. Rah military is boring. But everything is better with lesbians.

Sara Marx, Decoded. Ebook.

Serial killer thrillers are usually boring. But everything is better with lesbians.

Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou, The Gemini Deception. Ebook.

Lesbian romance with espionage/thriller entanglements. Unbelievable setup! But – sing it with me now – EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH LESBIANS.

Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls. ARC.

Reviewed for I did not like it.

China Miéville, Railsea. Review copy.

Reviewed for Vector. I LOVED IT.

New review up at – The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I review The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes:

This is a novel about a time-travelling serial killer from the 1930s, his victims, the girl who survived him, and a burned-out murder-beat journalist. It’s competently, even excellently, written, makes brilliant use of a non-linear narrative to create and build tension, wears its American Literature influences proudly on its sleeve—

And for me, despite its technical competence, The Shining Girls is ultimately a frustrating mess of a novel, one whose climax falls apart under the weight of nested paradoxes.

Sleeps With Monsters: Martha Wells Answers Eight Questions

Over at

MW: As for characters, when I was growing up it was very hard to find adventure stories geared toward children or young readers with female main characters, or even with female characters who were active participants in the adventure and not just there to be rescued or to act as an antagonistic babysitter to the intrepid male characters. One of the reasons I was drawn to adult SF/F was because it was possible to find female characters who actually got to do things, though again there were a lot of women rescuees who didn’t see much actual action. I read Zelde M’tana by F.M. Busby at way too young an age, because the paperback cover showed a woman with a ray gun in her hand who clearly was not a victim and was not there to be rescued.

Sleeps With Monsters: Martha Wells’ Emilie and the Hollow World

A new column up at Sleeps With Monsters: Martha Wells’ Emilie and the Hollow World:

Emilie and the Hollow World is Martha Wells’ thirteenth and latest novel, hot off the presses from Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry. It’s also Wells’ first novel marketed to the YA demographic, and speaking personally, I was interested to see how Wells would approach a different audience.

Things haven’t been going so smooth, so blogging may be more erratic than usual.

Ebooks & physical books: reading processes & experiences

It may or may not surprise you, fair or foul reader (but where’s the difference?) to learn that I’m not exactly an early adopter when it comes to technology. You’re reading the words of someone who’s never owned an mp3 player, and isn’t likely to get a smartphone anytime soon, or a fancy tablet. Although I’ve been reading ebooks for years, I still don’t have an actual e-reader: all my electronic reading takes place on the screen of my laptop (and quite a nice screen it is too, even if I ought to get some of that cleaning stuff and clean it sooner or later).

But lately it’s come to my attention that I approach the process, and find the experience, of reading differently as I move between electronic and physical modes, and I thought I’d spend a little time considering the differences. Particularly, I’ve noticed it’s harder – in some cases, all but impossible – to read a book for review in electronic form, and this reasons behind this little quirk are something I’d like to explore.

Note, please, that I’m not denigrating ebooks or ereaders. There’s much to be said for ease of access, portability, and ease of storage, among other things. What follows is merely my exploration of my processes.

The experience of reading electronically

On my laptop is a folder called “ebooks” into which are bundled all DRM-free epubs, PDFs, and the occasional .rtf that’ve come my way from purchase, review, or rarely, shamefully, torrenting. DRM’d ebooks, which I object to on principle but in practice sometimes can’t avoid, show up in my Kobo desktop application. (Kobo is my preferred platform, so far. a)It’s not Amazon, and b)it believes me when I tell it lies about my location in order to access US/CAN books.)

These are difficult to arrange by read/unread, topic, subgenre, or indeed along any axis other than author and/or title. It’s impossible to take them all in at a glance. It thus becomes easy, unless you read the damn thing immediately, to forget you have a copy of a specific title.

So much for the organisation of files. What about the physical and mental experience of reading itself?

To be honest, it’s not always comfortable. For one thing, it can be hard to sit back and relax while reading on a screen. For another, without the physical guide of the shape in my hands, I find it easy to lose my place in a window of text. And without the shape and heft of the pages in my hand telling me Ooo, we’re getting to the middle, oo it;s nearly the end where’s the climax is this the climax wait there’re too many pages left WOW BOOM REVERSAL, I find it difficult to judge pacing. Leaving quite aside the fact that my laptop’s desktop is an environment replete with distractions…

And when I’m reading for review, it’s not as though I can mark up the pages of an epub with stickynotes and scribbling, can I? It’s not exactly intuitive to my process…

Experience is beginning to show that I read fluff as ebook much more readily that anything which requires thought. Romance. Tie-in fiction. (I recently mainlined the non-Romulan Star Trek novels of Diane Duane.) The odd short-story collection.

But epic fantasy, or science fiction more complex than SHIT BLOWS UP, or anything else that requires on my part some modicum of thought or emotional investment, fast becomes extremely hard to track.

The hardcopy experience

Paper, I’m native to. I can walk about the house with a book before my nose and hardly even trip on the cats. At least, as long as the typeface is decent – the UK paperback of Miéville’s Railsea seems to be grey type on shoddy paper, for example, and that’s not fun. It’s simplicity itself to mark a spot with a colourful bookmark for later reference, or take the volume down to the beach to read in full sunlight and blustery wind. And paper stacks, glaring at you accusingly from its mounting piles: impossible to forget about, easy to group by type and kind. And you can see what you have in a couple of glances – the rough outline of what you’ve stacked in any one room. You can underline, leave stickynotes, deface, spindle, and mutilate as the spirit moves you, including writing notes in the margin.

The physical experience of reading conditions my response to a text, apparently. At least in part. It’ll be interesting, in future, to keep track of this and see if, and how, it changes.

Linky feels bad about not being more interesting

I promise, I’ll try to be original again soon.

Malinda Lo, On Space Opera: Why so many brothels in space?

So what’s with all the brothels? Because whenever I think of brothels, I think of one question: Who are the women working there? There was no indication in Leviathan Wakes that there were male prostitutes, even though one of the (male) main characters worked as a cop and seemed to have a lot (a lot!) of contact on the job with prostitutes. I’m gonna guess that sure, there might be male prostitutes, but the majority are probably female.

So who are these prostitutes? What kind of a future world is it that permits so much prostitution? Are the prostitutes regulated? Do they have health insurance? Are they part of worker-owned collectives so they don’t have to deal with pimps?

Foz Meadows, A Rule of Thumb for Escapism:

All of which is a way of saying that the big schism in SFF no more between leftwingers and rightwingers than it is between realists and escapists: rather, it’s between those for whom escapism is an extension of privilege, and those for whom escapism is a means of furthering representation. But even then, that’s far from being a binary position: there are many different kinds of privilege, after all, and in accordance with the principles of intersectionality, possessing one type of privilege doesn’t prevent one from lacking another. It’s simply a question of escapism: from what, into what, and above all, why.

Foz Meadows (is on fire lately), Sexism At Fantasy Book Café:

Let me get this straight: the way to get rid of sexism is to stop talking about gender? That’s like saying that the way to prevent STDs is to stop talking about sex: in both instances, the latter concept is integral to any meaningful discussion of the former problem, such that omitting it would render the entire exercise moot. And don’t even get me started on the pervasive cissexism of constantly defining gender in terms of plumbing and underwear: the issue at hand is concerns brains, not bodies, and trying to boil it all down to descriptions of bits is both childish and incredibly problematic.

Natalie at Radish Reviews, Over the Borderline: More on Genre, Gender, and Reviews:

This conversation about review coverage and gender parity isn’t about discrimination against specific authors–it’s about systemic discrimination. In short: the game is rigged and it needs to be un-rigged.

Linky will never catch up

Madeleine E. Robins, “How Feminism Killed Cooking”:

Valorization of a better, simpler, more wholesome time drives me nuts. Because it’s fantasy. I love the gorgeous, candy-colored rendition of small-town turn of the last century Iowa in The Music Man, but I don’t confuse that with real life, which included diptheria, weevil-ly flour, bedbugs, and food that often teetered on the edge of spoiled. Taking on some of the tasks of yesterday, while using some of the tools of today to avoid the nastier work, and disdaining people who cannot or don’t want to do the same, is a mug’s game. It makes it all about aesthetics, when what most people 100 years ago, and many people today, are worrying about is survival.

At Strange Horizons, Abigail Nussbaum begins the first in a two-part review of The 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, looking at The Dog Stars, NOD and Dark Eden:

What’s been missing in all this is any discussion of the shortlist itself. Which is particularly unfortunate since—and I’m indebted to Niall Harrison for first calling my attention to this fact—lost in the shuffle of the consternation over the absence of female authors from the shortlist is the parlous state of its female characters, and the fact that in most of the nominated novels, these characters are sidelined, viewed from the outside, treated as the male protagonist’s reward, or made subservient to his heroic journey. This strikes me as a more cogent, more urgent criticism of the shortlist than the outrage surrounding the absence of female authors from it—though there is, presumably, a correlation between these two problems—and it is a shame that that outrage is obscuring, and perhaps making it difficult to have, a conversation about this second issue.

All that having been said, we’re still left with one crucial question: is the shortlist any good? As might perhaps have been predicted from the old school tenor of the selected books, the 2013 shortlist is solid. Not very exciting, and with no small amount of room for improvement—lost in the shuffle of the outrage over the shortlist’s gender imbalance are two other books by men that oddsmakers were expecting to see here, M. John Harrison’s Empty Space and Adam Roberts’s Jack Glass, either one of which might have raised the tone considerably if brought in to replace any of three or perhaps even four of the current nominees—but on the whole, not a bad bunch of books. There’s much to be said for, and often against, each of these nominees, and with that we should perhaps close this preamble and begin.