Thursday, July 13, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

Since I had revisions of my novel and am teaching two classes in Summer II, my reading rate has dropped off just a bit. Also my physician gave me some Valium for my anxiety, which has helped so much.

But! Not much Valium -- just enough to use when the anxiety is the worst. So I'm still self-medicating with excessive novel reading.

Here's what I've read over the past week or so:

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith.

You gotta love Sinclair Lewis. No, I'm serious, you gotta.

This isn't my very favorite of his books -- that's probably Ann Vickers or A Work of Art -- but I do like it. It's the story of a kid who wants to study medicine, and then do medical research. As in the best and most realistic of novels about scientists, this one shows the slow and fitful nature of research, how progress is often made through failure. Lewis also shows how the quest to find and do your own work can have many, many side trails and false starts.

If this novel has a problem, it's with the women characters. One is the Good Woman, Martin's first wife, who has no life of her own, but only exists as a mirror for Martin's life. Not too bright, and with no ambition, she serves as his cheerleader and basically his mommy. (His own mother dies when he's an infant, and his father is essentially absent.) She dies tragically, of course.

The only other woman who is a main character is Martin's second wife, rich and deeply involved with the social set (think Gatsby's parties). She's a Bad Woman, because she doesn't support Martin's research unconditionally.

The medicine and science are all out date -- this was written before antibiotics were even dreamed of -- but Lewis understands that most medicine in his era is either useless or actively harmful, and that comes through. One big part of the novel is its understanding and dramatization of the scientific method.

Recommended for those who like books about science.

Naomi Kritzer, Cat Pictures Please, and Other Stories

As with Sinclair Lewis, you gotta love Naomi Kritzer.  I discovered her writing quite by accident one day, following a link from some SF forum or the other to her story "Liberty's Daughter," one of what would turn out to be a series of stories about a Libertarian off-shore community. I love these stories to bits. She also wrote the Nebula-nominated and Hugo Award winning short story, "Cat Pictures Please," as well as another story I love, "Zombies in Winter."

Of these stories, only "Cat Pictures Please" is in this anthology, which contains 17 of Kritzer's short stories. These are all good stories -- no duds here -- but my favorites are probably "So Much Cooking," "In the Witch's Garden," and "Scrap Dragon."

Highly recommended.

Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit

This one is nominated for a Hugo Award this year. I read Chamber's first book, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, some time ago. This isn't exactly a sequel -- it has two characters who appear in the previous novel, and is in the same universe, but it's a very different book.

Here, the computer from the previous book, an AI, had downloaded herself into a body (a kit, she calls it). This is both illegal and (for her) unsettling. About half the novel deals with her attempt to adjust to life in a physical body (instead of being a network). The other half follows the childhood of Pepper, the other continuing character, who grew up as a cloned slave on a world that will likely remind you of our world.

The parts about Pepper were the most interesting parts, or rather the most plot-driven parts.The parts about Sidra, the AI, though fun, were episodic and kind of more like a tourist trip through the cultures of the planet than anything else. Nice aliens, interesting scenery, but not as compelling as the Pepper backstory.

Still, very readable. I see why it's been nominated.

Nancy Kress, Dogs

While this one is also compulsively readable, it's probably my least favorite of the books I read over the past eight to ten days. It's the story of a lunatic terrorist (he doesn't actually show up until the end of the novel) who had launched a bioweapon in a small town in Maryland. The bioweapon is a virus which attacks the amygdala of dogs, turning them savage.

This is nicely plotted, and as I said very readable; but the characters all felt like stock characters, and I didn't really get interested in any of them. This made it hard for me to care about the outcome of the plot.

Also, the story hinges on the premise that people love their dogs so abjectly they will resist an order to surrender into quarantine what may well be infected animals who are killing people, especially small children. And I get that people do love their dogs. But that much? I was dubious.

Still, a nice fun read. If you like plague books (I do) you'll like this one.

Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar

As you know, I like Tey. This is a book of hers that I read just once, a long time ago. It's better than I remembered it.

As with most books by Tey, a murder mystery propels the plot. We meet in the opening a family consisting of an Aunt, an oldest son (about to come into his money), and two young twin girls. Soon we learn that the oldest son also had a twin, a brother who vanished when they were both 13. Everyone believes that this twin committed suicide following the deaths of their parents.

But then Brat Farrar shows up, claiming to be the lost brother, and to have run away, not killed himself. To complicate things further, the boy that vanished is the older of the two sons -- so if this is the lost twin, he'll inherit the family fortune.

What happened to the lost twin, and who exactly Brat Farrar is, along with the truly disturbing character of the other surviving twin, make this a good read. Also recommended.

KJ Charles, The Magpie Lord, A Case of Possession, Flight of Magpie

These are sort of mystery novels, and sort of fantasy, and sort of Romance novels. The Romance is M/M, between a working class sorcerer named Stephen, and an English Lord, Lucien Vaudrey Lord Crane.

It's more the strong characters than the plot that compelled me though these. There is Stephen, who to Crane's bemusement turns out to be far more powerful than he (a Lord!) is -- Stephen's not just a sorcerer, he's a justicar, one of the team of sorcerers who handle legal problems of the magical kind.

There is Crane himself, and his best friend and companion Merrick, bonded through the disasters of Crane's late adolescence and young adulthood. (Crane's father, discovering his son preferred sex with other boys, cut him off without a penny and banished him to China. Merrick was sent along to arrange Crane's death, but that's not how it worked out.)

Merrick is a great character, as is Esther Gold, the chief justicar of London. She's smart and tough, and quietly calm in the most alarming of circumstances. (She doesn't panic; she gets the job done.) And there is also Saint, a young orphan who has grown up on the streets and is now one of Stephen's apprentices. In her late adolescence, she's nearly as powerful as Stephen, and a lot of fun to read.

This is a trilogy. It's nicely written, although I warn you there is some hot, hot, hot gay sex, on the page, between Stephen and Crane.

Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

I'd read this one once before as well. I liked it a lot on the first read, and slightly less this time.

The novel is told from the POV of Harry August, who is a "ouroboras," or a human being who keeps being reborn, again and again, into the same life, with perfect memories of the previous life. There are hundreds of these Ouroborases, and over the centuries they have banded together to help one another out -- mainly to rescue their fellows out of their dismal childhoods -- dismal because these are adults, with several lifetimes worth of experience, being forced to live again as children, as the same children they were in their first lives. Clearly, or clearly to everyone who has gone through childhood once, this is an agony not to be endured.

The plot involves one of the Ouroborases who goes rogue, and wants to change the future. He stops at nothing, even killed out his fellow Ouroborases. (You can "kill" one by making sure he's never conceived, or killing him in utero. This stops the rebirth cycle.)

This works well enough as a novel, but it felt much longer this read through, and not nearly as compelling.

Mary Renault, The King Must Die, A Bull from the Sea

These were among my favorite books when I was a young adolescent, and probably why I ended up doing classics as one leg of my Comp Lit Degree. Both books together tell the life story of Theseus, the mythical hero who defeated the Minotaur and came back to be King of Athens, and to create its laws.

I hadn't read the bookd in years. The King Must Die holds up well. It's still compelling and filled with great scenes. The section where Theseus and his fellow tributes are taken to Crete to be sacrifices to Poeseidon is especially good.

A Bull From the Sea, though readable, isn't nearly as good.

Both worth reading, though, if you like historical fiction or fiction about mythology.


Nicoleandmaggie said...

I love kj Charles so much!

delagar said...

I just discovered her. I can't remember who recommended her books -- was it your blog?

Anonymous said...

We have not only recommended her several times (starting with #2 recommending the one you just read when she discovered it), we dedicated an entire post to one of her books (in a different series). :)