Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl

Books of '09 - It Begins!

I really ought to have made a resolution to do these book updates more frequently. They seem to get more absurdly long every time I do them.

1. The Gone-Away World (Nick Harkaway)
This is a really good book. It's funny, and bizarre, and has a great twist that I'm absolutely not going to give away. The narrator is engaging, and sympathetic. The premise is both impossible and completely logical. The love interests are a bit disappointing -- fantasies of super-competent women who barely have to be wooed before falling for Our Heroes, but that's such a common failing that it hardly bears mention (sad in and of itself, but that's another rant). I was actually surprised by how much I liked this book. *****

2. Old Man's War (John Scalzi)
I'm a touch skeptical about the superior experience and intelligence older people supposedly bring to this future war -- we don't see huge amounts of evidence of it, in my opinion. That aside, it's a ripping great yarn, with everything implied by that description. I'm not going to say there's a lot of depth here -- there isn't, but then, it isn't really trying for depth. It's just trying to be a good story, and it achieves that in spades. ****

3. Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Walter M. Miller)
Now this was a disappointment. It's just not a very good book, and not just in comparison to its more famous predecessor. It's just not very good in absolute terms. It's obsessed with physicality, and not in either a satirical or a useful way -- it's just obsessed with the physical body for the sake of the physical body (and all associated unpleasantness). Its treatment of women is problematic at best -- and that's if you give it far more benefit of the doubt than it's really earned. The supposedly complex and detailed world doesn't really fit together, and the political machinations don't make a lot of sense. And the book is more a series of things that happen rather than a cohesive plot. Oh, and none of the characters are remotely appealing. *

4. Sprit Gate (Kate Elliott)
I picked up a big fat fantasy novel to read on my vacation. I was actually quite surprised by how good it was. Now I'm going to be waiting eagerly for the rest of the books in the series...! The world is complex, well-realized, and not just another version of medieval Europe. There are multiple cultures, with limited (but credible) interaction. There are protagonists of a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and there is a lot going on. This is a huge book, both in terms of its actual size, and in terms of the scope of the world it imagines. I'm impressed. *****

5. Sunshine (Robin McKinley)
It's a vampire novel in which a plucky young heroine meets a virtuous, non-murderous vampire and they develop a deep bond as they work together to defeat the evil vampire who wants to destroy them both. But it's much better than that synopsis makes it sound. The good vampire isn't a hunky Angel -- he's convincingly Other, and convincingly dangerous. The plucky young heroine is a baker with a biker boyfriend and a slightly overprotective mother. And it all takes place in an alternate world, where magic is common, demons and were-creatures are even more common (and not -- usually -- hostile), and people with nonhuman blood struggle for acceptance. It turns the vampire-romance genre on its head, while embracing almost every one of its tropes. *****

6. Capacity (Tony Ballantyne)
Weird, weird, weird. You certainly can't accuse Ballantyne of neglecting the implications of a future where people can upload "personality constructs" of themselves into computing space. This book is all about what makes a person "real" -- and it's also about whether or not the all-powerful AI who runs this imagined world can be trusted. Nothing and nobody is what it seems, which is actually rather dislocating for the reader. It's hard to develop empathy and relationships with the characters when there are so many copies of them all. It's an intellectual read, in a lot of ways, not an emotional one. Ballantyne is all about making you think. I think I like my sf just a little warmer, personally. But that's not to say it's not a thoroughly thought-provoking book -- it is certainly that. ***

7. Knitting Rules (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee)
Stephanie (the "Yarn Harlot") is an entertaining writer. This book didn't really teach me much that I didn't already know, but it was still a lot of fun to read. Stephanie's perspective on all things knitting is fun and engaging, and she's very good at making one feel capable and empowered. It certainly doesn't hurt to be reminded periodically that there really are no knitting police. ****

8. Rite (Tad Williams)
This is a collection of Williams' shorter work. It's all very smooth and enjoyable, but I think I'm growing out of Williams. The stories were readable, but they didn't really hook me the way I would have expected them to. And there were some problematic bits -- like the Muslims who spend all their time drinking because, as Williams admits, he originally wrote them as Crusaders, and (apparently) just didn't bother to rewrite those bits. Also, I wouldn't have recommended including the television scripts -- they're a bit embarassing. ***

9, 10. Astonishing X-Men 1, 2 (Joss Whedon, John Cassaday et al)
(Had to re-read the first volume before reading the second!)
The second set of arcs of Whedon's run on X-Men gets... well, strange and complicated. I kept having to re-read bits to try and figure out what happened, and it didn't always make sense (I know, I know, it's a comic book, I should expect that!). I was a little frustrated that the "cure" issue raised 'way back in the first volume seemed to have been dropped completely. I was also more than a little disappointed at the ending, for reasons I can't really explain without going into spoilers. That said, the writing is still snappy and the art is still lovely. ***

11. Tigerheart (Peter David)
This is a sequel/companion/re-imagining of Peter Pan. It seems to have been updated for the modern world, and yet the Anyplace (Never-Never Land) is just the same as always -- still full of boys and "Indians", and with a token visiting girl. I don't know if it's unreasonable of me to have expected a modern Peter Pan to be more, well, modern -- but it was something that bothered me as I read. Yes, there's a female pirate. That doesn't really make things better. But, if I set all of that aside, it is a good and captivating story. I feel something of a grinch for objecting to its politics, or its lack thereof. ***

12, 13, 14. The Serrano Legacy: Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, Winning Colours (Elizabeth Moon)
(I had an omnibus picked up in London, but it's not showing up on
This is excellent space-opera. Heris Serrano, brilliant space captain, has been unjustly forced out of the Fleet. She takes a job as the captain of a rich woman's yacht. Adventures ensue. It's a great series of books for competent women (and competent in a variety of fields, which is even better), female relationships, especially friendships, and for featuring not-young women, too. It's also a ripping good yarn. Okay, it gets a little incredible in the third volume, when there are probably a few too many threads being tied together a touch too neatly. But it makes for a good story. I also appreciated that politics were beginning to be addressed -- it is treated as problematic that there are all these incredibly rich people gallivanting about with little connection to the majority of the population, and although the rich people are our heroes, they're not perfect, either. Verdict: a good read. ****

15. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Bryan Lee O'Malley)
There's a major showdown inside Honest Ed's! I love this series so much. *****

16. Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb)
Our heroine is a white Muslim woman living in London, after having left Ethiopia. The story is about her search for the love of her life, and, even more importantly, her search for closure and for a life of her own. It's a fascinating book, with a great and powerful example of female friendship (always nice to see). Recommended. *****

17. Serenity vol. 2: Better Days (Joss Whedon et. al.)
Like the previous volume, this story doesn't quite hold together. But if you take it as a chance to re-visit some beloved characters, it's a treat. It is what it is, basically. River's fantasy is hilarious, though. ***

Tags: books

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