Thursday, July 18, 2019

What I'm Reading Now

Ted Chiang, Exhalation

I'd never heard of Ted Chiang before his short story, "The Story of Your Life," was made into that movie, Arrival. I liked the movie, and so I got the story collection that story was in, and liked it very much. This is his new story collection, and I like it even better.

His story are out-of-the-box in the best way, the best sort of science fiction. My favorite in this collection is probably "The Life Cycle of Software Objects," which is about raising AI babies, sort of, and also the ethical implications of owned intelligences. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," which is (kind of) about time travel, is also excellent.

Highly recommended.

Mary Beth Keane, Ask Again, Yes

Not science fiction! This is the story of two families. The fathers are NYPD officers, who move their families out to the suburbs in the late 70s, and live next door to each other. The women have jobs, but also raise their kids, who go to Catholic school. That makes it sound like it's a nostalgic novel about life in the suburbs in the 80s and 90s, and honestly I probably would have liked it better if it had been that book.

Instead, one of the women has some sort of untreated mental illness -- it sounds like it's supposed to be schizophrenia -- and acts out violently, causing great harm to both families. Given these are police officers with guns in the house, you probably can guess what sort of harm.

This is a well-written book, which I read straight through. But I can't say I exactly like it.

Katherine Howe, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs

I love stories about academics, so I liked this one. Apparently it's a kind of sequel to another book Howe wrote? Anyway, we have an historian writing a book about a text she found, one owned by one of her ancestors who was executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. The big twist is that both the professor and her mom are actually witches. Also there is a curse on the men they love.

This one is also well written. I liked it better than Keane's book. The witchcraft stuff is pretty well handled, also, and the academic details are legit.

Conrad Richter, The Awakening Land

I found this one on the shelves of our local library. It's a trilogy, and apparently Richter won the Pulitzer for the last volume. The three volumes are The Trees, The Fields, and The Town, and it follows a woman, Sayward Luckett (later Wheeler) from the age of 15 until her death. Her father traipses the family out to Ohio, in the days when the state was solid with old-growth forest. Her mother dies almost at once, her little sister is captured by the Indians, her father runs off and leaves them. That's just the first half of the first book.

This is a Brave-Little-Tailor story, a kind of a soap opera. Richter does a really good job of creating characters and a community. It was written in the 1940s, and there's some depressing racism, involving the Indians, mostly. Richter got his material from listening to family stories, apparently, and he was probably just a little too gullible about believing those stories, not to mention a little too willing to forgive bigotry.

The white characters are pretty good. The Indians, not so much. It's a nice big fat book, though, so if you're always desperate for something to read, as I am, this will keep you happy for a day or two.

Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words

Another American-settlers soap opera. I think I like this one better than Richter's, though the two main characters are a lot alike, and the narrative is basically the same. Young woman moves to the frontier, starts from poverty, ends up (through hard work and gumption) very wealthy. Again, the community here is well done, and the story rockets along.

The main character, Sarah Prine, has a nicely done romance with a captain in the Army. There's a minor sexual-assault-as-hotness, and of course Captain Elliot fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side, because of course he did. But other than that, this was a lot of fun, if a little unbelievable in spots.

Also much less racism and much less erasure of American Indians / Latino people.

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