Saturday, December 28, 2019

What I'm Reading Now

Margaret Atwood, The Testaments

Image result for The testamentsI'm not a big fan of Atwood, on the whole; but since this one was a co-winner of the Booker prize, and was right there on the library shelf, I gave it a read. It's all right. Good writing, and I like what she did with Aunt Lydia -- an excellent picture of how one adapts and works within an evil system. I also like that we get a picture of the world outside Gilead, and the ways that world deals with the evil of the country.

As Atwood has noted, nothing in these books is really fiction -- everything she uses is something actually being done to (and often by) women in our very time. That's useful to keep in mind as you read them.

The ending is a bit of a stretch, and nothing is in this book that hasn't been written (better, in my opinion) in actual science fiction novels. But it's worth reading if you're an Atwood fan, or just want to see what happens with the characters from a different point of view.

Seanan McGuire, Middlegame

Image result for middlegame book coverSeanan McGuire is probably the most prolific writer of YA SFF working right now. Her Wayward Children series is probably her most popular. It's a twist on portal stories, like C.S. Lewis's Narnia or Alice in Wonderland. Basically, McGuire writes about what happens when the children come back through the portal.

Middlegame is a different pile of fish entirely. Here, we have a secret cabal of alchemists, one of whom -- Reed, a Frankenstein-like creation -- is attempting to get the universe into his (magical) control. He and his Igor-character, another alchemist named Leigh, create a series of (cloned, I think?) twins. Through these twins they hope to take control of time and space, and thus the world.

The main twins are named Roger and Dodger. The previous sets of twins, all raised in the lab, have not worked out, so Reed and Leigh place this "run" (five sets of twins) out as foster children. Much of the book concerns Roger and Dodger, one of whom is being raised in California and the other in Boston. They are linked mentally, which is one of the signs, for Reed, that their magical nature is proving out. So far, so good.

On the other hand, since they're not being raised in the lab, under Reed and Leigh's warping influence, they're also developing into human children. When they begin to "manifest," to come into their power, this becomes a problem for Reed.

Lots of good stuff here, and very readable. Some gore and violence, too, though that's mostly off-stage.

Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here

This book I picked up from the library shelf and put down again three weeks in a row. The premise was just too ridiculous. A pair of twins that burst into fire when they're upset? Please. (Not a fan of magical realism, here, for the most part.)

But then I read the first few pages, and decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It does have the bizarre twins, but once you accept that as a metaphor (that's what I did, anyway), this is a very good book. The twins are not the main point, though the twins are also very engaging and well-done.

The focus of the book is the main character, Lillian Breaker, and her relationship with her erstwhile roommate, Madison Roberts. Their relationship is troubled, to say the least -- lovers in boarding school, and epistolary friends afterwards. Madison comes from the .01%, the billionaires who own and run the country. Lillian is the child of a junkie in Kentucky, who gets a scholarship to the boarding school and learns some hard home truths about the American meritocracy.

Most of the story takes places well after the boarding school section. Madison marries a senator, whose children from his previous marriage are these combustible twins. She begs Lillian to come be a governess for the twins, though really to keep them out of sight while the Senator is vetted for a powerful position on the current president's cabinet.

It's a fish-out-of-water story, but also a look at how the wealthy own and exploit the country. (Reed in Middlegame has nothing on these people.) Madison gets a redemption arc that I'm not sure I believe, but other than that, this is nice writing and very engaging. Wilson is on my read-more list.

Allen Eskers, Nothing More Dangerous

This was readable, but just barely. Eskers says, in the forward, that he wrote a draft of this book when he was younger, and wanted to write about racism. It reads like a first novel that should never have been revived, frankly. (Do we really need another novel whitesplaining racism to us?)

Basically, it's the story of a poor white kid who befriends a rich black kid in their racist town in the 1970s. The best part of the book is the relationship between the poor white kid and the owner of a local construction firm. This is a nice portrayal of how social structures in the small-town South function. The parts about how the local KKK (they have a different name) use and exploit these social structures is also good.

But the story itself is a little tedious. The good guys triumph, the racists are defeated, good white people are more powerful than racist white people -- comforting, I suppose, but not realistic.

Michael Francis Gilbert, The Country-House Burglar

I'm a big fan of British mystery novels written from about 1920 to 1940. This one is a little outside that range, being written in 1955, but I'd seen Gilbert recommended somewhere (Jo Walton's blog, maybe?) and this was one of the few Gilbert books my library has. So I gave it a look.

It's nice work, containing most of what I like in a British mystery from the 1930s (my sweet spot), which is to say details of British country life, well-done and fully developed characters, and a mystery that doesn't really intrude on my pleasure in those details. Since this is post-war England, there's also some good details about how soldiers from WWII were being re-integrated into village life.

Not Dorothy Sayers, but worth reading, if you're into this sort of thing.

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