Saturday, April 07, 2018

What I'm Reading Now

A sudden cold snap brought snow (not much, and it's gone now) to our area this morning. The past two days have been filled with a relentless wet rain, along with occasional thunder.

So I've been reading a lot, is what I'm saying.

This are the ones I liked enough to finish:

Carrie Vaughn, Bannerless

Carrie Vaughn's Bannerless won the Philip K. Dick award this year, which is always (for me) an indication that this book will be worth reading. And indeed it is!

Set in a post-apocalyptic California, the novel is part whodunit and part utopian fiction. Our main character, Enid, is a member of this utopian society, the Coast Road. She's also an enforcer for the society.

The main ethos of this society is not to take more or use more than you need, and to earn what you have. This applies to everything from food to the bed you sleep in at night, but it also applies to children. Women -- girls and women -- are given a contraceptive implant when they reach menarche, and it is only removed when the woman and her household has earned a banner. The banner is a permit to have a child. You earn them by working within the rules of the Coast Road culture and being successful enough to demonstrate that you can support a child without overtaxing your land and your household.

Enid and the other Investigators enforce the culture ethos. The main punishment is shunning -- which means no one on the Coast Road will trade with you -- though they can also break up households where there's a violation. In practice, this means removing children from abusive households, or breaking up households in which someone has intentionally violated a serious rule.

The plot of the book concerns an investigation Enid and her mentor Tomas have gone up the Coast Road to deal with -- an unexpected death, which might be murder. Enid and Tomas spend a week investigating this death, uncovering secrets along the way.

There are also flashbacks to Enid's childhood and young adult life.

This is a very readable book, and though I describe it as utopian, it's really more of a thoughtful examination of this utopia-like culture. Highly recommended!

Georgette Heyer, Venetia, Fredrica, Arabella, The Devil's Cub, The Unknown Ajax, Cousin Kate

I've been reading a ton of Heyer's books. These are just the ones I liked enough to finish. (I started two or three others, but didn't go on with them.)

The best among these are Arabella, Fredrica, and The Unknown Ajax, all of which I enjoyed immensely. Heyer's books remind me of Jane Austen's books -- maybe a combination between Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope?

When I was a kid, the only romance novels I had contact with were the formulaic Harlequins that my grandmother read. Like most people do, I judged all romance novels by these. But that's like judging science fiction by the worst examples of the genre. These books by Heyer, like Austen's novels, are what romance fiction can be when it is done right.

Not all of her novels are this good. I don't exactly recommend Cousin Kate, for instance, in which Heyer seems to be trying to do something darker, and not quite pulling it off. But try Arabella! Try Fredrica! You'll love them.

Penelope Bagieu, Brazen

This one I read about in the NYTimes book pages. Bagieu has given us a collection of short comics about outstanding and interesting women -- "Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World," as the subtitle puts it.

Mae Jemison is here, and Nellie Bly; Margaret Hamilton and Wu Zetian. Also many others new to me. I like that the collection covers the entire world, and many cultures.

The drawings are good, and the writing very well done. Recommended.

No comments: