hawkwing_lb: (CM JJ What you had to do)
2012-01-05 12:11 am

Best books of 2011

I hear on the interwebs that Hugo nominations have opened. I'm not a voter, but I guess this is as good a time as any to recap the books I found best in 2011?*


1. Jo Walton, Among Others.

2. Elizabeth Bear, The Sea Thy Mistress.

3. Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze.

4. Chris Wooding, The Iron Jackal - Reviewed at Tor.

5. Elizabeth Bear, Grail - Reviwed at Tor.

6. Daniel Fox, Hidden Cities - Reviewed at Ideo.

7. Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho - Reviewed at Ideo.


While the fiction was all published in 2011, the nonfiction - well, wasn't.

1. Tim Macintosh-Smith, Travels With A Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah.

2. Tim Macintosh-Smith, Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land.

3. David Brewer, The Greek War of Independence.

4. Jean Froissart, Chronicles. Translated by Geoffrey Brereton.

5. Ciarán Carson, The Táin: A New Translation of the Táin Bó Cuailgne.

6. Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades.

7. Tim Macintosh-Smith, Landfalls.

Today I have written much of a Funding Application of DOOM. And a review. Eleven or twelve hours of consistent work, with only a couple of short breaks. My brain, it is scraped quite clean.

And tomorrow, I must finish the FAoD. Onwards! Death or glory!

*I meant to do it before the New Year. But I got... distracted.
hawkwing_lb: (No dumping dead bodies)
2011-12-23 11:27 pm

Books 2011: what these people really need is a Boy Scout

Books 2011: 201

201. K.D. Wentworth and Eric Flint, The Crucible of Empire.

I remember enjoying Course of Empire. Course of Empire is still entertaining. But I am become a Cranky Humourless Feminist who's not so hot on "What These People Aliens Need Is A Honky Fine Upstanding American" stories, in my advancing old age.

(Truth! Justice! The American Way! - have you ever noticed how the future is populated by Americans? Because I'm damned tired of that, too.)

I'm also really really tired with Eric Flint's hillbilly obsession.

hawkwing_lb: (It can't get any worse... today)
2011-12-20 02:53 am

Books 2011: I know that odour. It is the open grave.

Books 2011: 200


200. Aeschylus, The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides. Penguin Classics, London, 1979. First edition 1966. Translated by Robert Fagles, with an introduction and notes in collaboration with W.B. Stanford.

The introduction is in love with its own clever enthusiasm and lit'rary analysis. (And not long on basic historical detail.) But the translation is clear and lyric, reaching to the poetic, and Fagle does a strong chorus line.

Agamemnon is the strongest of the plays, and certainly the strongest of the translations. If you're only reading one, read it. After it follow in order of decreasing power The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, though I suspect The Eumenides would have meant much more to an Athenien audience.

200 books the year, not including re-reads. This is a record. And the year's not over yet.
hawkwing_lb: (Bear CM beyond limit the of their bond a)
2011-12-18 04:32 pm

Books 2011: she generally thought of herself as a species not dissimilar to humanity

Books 2011: 195-198

195-198. David Drake, When the Tide Rises, In the Stormy Red Sky, What Distant Deeps and The Road of Danger (eARC).

All read as ebooks from Baen's Webscriptions. I'd been saving the recent space-battle adventures of Daniel Leary, a talented officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy, and Adele Mundy, librarian and intelligence agent extraordinaire, of whom it may be said,

It would no doubt do her good to interact socially with strangers. It was the sort of thing that human beings did regularly. She needed the practice, because she generally thought of herself as a species not dissimilar to humanity but certainly not the same.

What Distant Deeps, 2010.

I have an ongoing argument with much of Drake's work, but whatever I may think of his ethical pessimism and civilisation/barbarism oppositions, he writes very entertaining space opera.
hawkwing_lb: (Bear CM weep for the entire world)
2011-12-14 07:32 pm

The sexism fairy and Pern, or: Didn't this used to be kinda awesome?

After I heard of Anne McCaffrey's death, I decided to go back and read again the Pern stories. Dragonflight (1968), Dragonquest (1971), Dragonsong (1976), Dragonsinger (1977), The White Dragon (1978), and Dragondrums (1979) have been on my shelves since round about 1997/1998.*

In 1998, I was twelve, allegedly the golden age of science fiction. I fell upon Lessa and the dragonriders of Pern with all the enthusiasm of a thirsty woman in a desert. Dragons! Fighting! Female characters - Lessa, Menolly, even Brekke - who were allowed to be competent, and angry, and active.** I remember them as being awesome, O friends.

But I last reread these when I was sixteen, and at sixteen I still thought Robert Jordan was pretty brilliant. So it was with trepidation that I opened the first pages of Dragonflight... and you know, the first pages are still pretty brilliant. The fail doesn't really start until we get back to Benden Weyr.

There are many, many things that strike me as problematic here (although I still enjoyed reading the books, and not entirely from nostalgia). To save time and ranting space, I'm only going to mention two: class, and sex. And these things remain problematic throughout all six books.

Class is something that was completely invisible to me when I was twelve, and even, to a certain extent, as a teenager. Now, reading the Pern books, it struck me very strongly. This is a class-based society in which, while we may sometimes get the perspective of the privileged cast down (Lessa, in the first pages of Dragonflight) or the unprivileged raised up (Piemur, in Dragondrums) we are never exposed to the point of view of anyone who stands outside the ruling classes. For the dragonriders, wherever they once came from, are part of the elite, and dragon Impression provides its own special version of divine right.

Closely tied to class, and the medieval assumption that might makes right, vae victis and δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν [Thuc. V.89], is the question of leadership within the weyr. The strongest bronze dragon mates with the queen: the bronze's rider fucks the queen's rider, and becomes leader of the weyr.

Strength alone is a stupid way to choose a leader. It works out well for Benden Weyr because authorial fiat. Just because. F'lar is a dick. He is an asshole, a Nice Guy, convinced of his own rightness - and again, it only works out because authorial fiat.

And his relationship with Lessa - the bare facts, as opposed to the portrayal of How It All Ended - is deeply disturbing. Dragon mating, in all its dubiously consensual - all right, downright non-consensual - glory squicked me the hell out. Whatever the logic of humans being affected by the sexual urges of their dragon partners, there's no question of the fact that rape, however thinly diguised, is still rape.

And it isn't all that thinly disguised. After the first dragon-involved encounter, F'lar and Lessa remain bedmates, but Lessa is explicitly reluctant. "He [F'lar] had not thought to control his dragon-incited emotions, and Lessa's first sexual experience had been violent... He had been a gentle and considerate bedmate ever since, but, unless Ramoth and Mnementh were involved, he might as well call it rape." [Dragonflight 192-193, Corgi, London, 1973]

So, you get married by dragon, and then there's no recourse for marital rape? Yay, not. Especially since Lessa and F'lar are a loving couple by Dragonquest.

Sexual violence is unmarked - assumed - invisible throughout McCaffrey's early work in Pern. The sexual violence of the weyr, both explicit and implied - between bronze and gold riders, between green riders and everyone else, between riders and the women of the 'Lower Caverns,' where a clear power differential exists - which is normalised; the violence implied in the relations of the Lord Holders to their servants, which is made quite clear, thank you, in The White Dragon, which focuses on young Lord Jaxom of Ruatha - who is evidently quite a pleasant young man, but there's nothing unproblematic about having a sexual relationship with someone who is under your protection and to any degree in your power.

The small things oppressed me most. Jaxom's and the narrative's attitude towards his lover. F'nor and Brekke, in Dragonquest, where it is first made explicit that actually yeah, this is marriage by dragon, and not even afterwards do human preferences come into play. The absence of identifiable friendships between women. How every woman, bar Lessa and Menolly, is portrayed as either a caretaker or a manipulator, sometimes both at once, and even Lessa's greatest strength is her ability to manipulate. Men are allowed to be straightforward, but women? Almost never. The absence of anyone who isn't a dragonrider, Lord Holder or relative, harper, or mastercraftsman - and it is, always, man - from the narrative.

I know the world's changed since the 1970s. And I'm not saying there's nothing cool or valuable about the dragonriders of Pern and their books - unity in the face of ecological disaster, reluctance to kill other human beings, dragons! But reading these books now, I am possessed of an ineffable sadness. Because the argument I'm having with them in my head is an argument that is still happening in the world.

I still love Lessa, as a character. But now I think she, and the other women of Pern, were wronged by the world from which she came in a manner much greater than the narrative ever acknowledged.

*Judging by the edition dates and the prices, IR£6.60, that seems about right. I have these things noted in my catalogue, despite the fact the catalogue happened much later - the books still had some price stickers on.

**1997 was the year I was reading Eddings and Feist. I was rather in need of an antidote, O friends.
hawkwing_lb: (DA 2 scaring the piss)
2011-12-14 05:46 pm

Books 2011: forebear to strike the fallen...

Books 2011: 193-194


193. Jean Froissart, Chronicles. Penguin Classics, Penguin, London and New York, 1978. Translated with an introduction by Geoffrey Brereton.

This translation here represents a selection of approximately a sixth of the Chronicles of Froissart, a medieval historian born in Valenciennes c. 1337 who spent time in the entourage of Phillipa of Hainault, Queen to Edward III of England, and after her death enjoyed the patronage of several noblemen in the Netherlands. In 1388 he spent time in the court of Gaston Phébas, Count of Foix, and visited the court of Richard II in 1395. He died c. 1410, leaving behind four books of his Chronicles.

This is vivid and immediate medieval history, told with much sharp dialogue and a novellist's eye for telling detail. And Froissart is very much a product of his time, with its worldview of the "gentry" and the "meaner sort". But there is much interesting detail here about medieval life among the knightly classes, and the kind of behaviour in which knights and squires, kings and nobles, engaged. Which is not what the propaganda would have you believe.

An interesting and lively read, if occasionally unreliable in specifics and chronology. Recommended.

194. Sophocles, Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Electra. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008. First edition of this translation 1962. Translated by H.D.F. Kitto, with an introduction and notes by Edith Hall.

A translation of the aforementioned plays done with vigour, verve, and an ear to lyricism, if not complete precision. These plays are so well-known they hardly need explanation, but they are worth reading.
hawkwing_lb: (DA2  title screen)
2011-12-12 11:10 pm

Books 2011: ze sexism fairy, it strikes again

Books 2011: 191-192

191. Courtney Schafer, The Whitefire Crossing.

Magic, mages, smuggling, mountain-climbing. It's been a long time since I read a book which revolved so utterly around the relationship between two men, both of whom were straight. A interesting book, but it could have done with a little more closure to its conclusion.

192. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsdawn.

A lot of things have changed since I was twelve. My ability to love this book is one of them. I remembered it as one of the better Pern books, which is why I resolved to purchase it and reread it in honour of the author.

Has the world really changed that much since I was twelve, or is it just me? Or has the world really changed that much since 1988 that all the little assumptions which really get my goat leap up in all their discommoding obviousness to clobber me over the head?

O hai thar, Sexism Fairy! So not nice to see you again.
hawkwing_lb: (DA2  title screen)
2011-12-10 08:33 pm

Books 2011: we are not now that strength which in former days

Books 2011: 184-190

184. Susan R. Matthews, Angel of Destruction.

One of the books in Matthews' Jurisdiction universe that does not focus on Andrej Kosciusko. Instead, this book focuses on Bench specialist Garol Vogel and his attempt to preserve the amnesty offered to the Langsarik pirates despite all the many pressures against him, and them. An excellent book.

185. Elizabeth C. Bunce, Liar's Moon.

YA. Second book about Digger, sixteen-year-old sneakthief and forger. In this outing, she's pressured into trying to save a nobleman from the block - Lord Durrel Decath is accused to murdering his wife, and not even his own family seem to be able to help. Excellent book, pacey and tight, whose protagonist has a sense of humour. Can stand alone reasonably well, but small cliffhanger at the very, very last page. Otherwise, entirely excellent.

186. Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze.

I have [livejournal.com profile] britmandelo's review at Tor.com to thank for getting me to go out in search of this book. And I do thank her extremely, because The Freedom Maze is one of the best books I have read all year - well up in the top ten, second only after Range of Ghosts.

Sophie Fairchild is sent back in time from the 1950s to the antebellum south of her family's plantation, where she is taken for a slave bastard and set to work for her ancestors. "A fascinating rendition of the archetypal Hero's Journey, complete with the part at the end where the hero returns home with new knowledge that renders them out of joint," [livejournal.com profile] fadethecat called it when I mentioned having read it, and I have to agree. It's a very domestic bildungsroman - [livejournal.com profile] leahbobet, I think you might like it - not domestic in any perjorative sense, or meaning tame, but quiet and contained, and doing much by implication.

It's a perfectly decent YA time travel novel - very good, even excellent, but not especially outstanding - until the last few chapters. Sophie's return to the 1950s, where she is once more seen as white, when she has spent the last months seeing herself as a black person - indeed, a black slave - who can pass for white. She doesn't really think of herself as white anymore. And how Sherman puts that across is masterful, in Sophie's new wariness with her aunt, and in how she thinks.

"There was no arguing with a Fairchild. Not even a nice one."

The closing chapters raise the book to fresh levels of brilliance. It is excellent. Go forth and read it now.


187. Greek Fiction: Callirhoe, Daphnis and Chloe, Letters of Chion. Penguin Classics, London and New York, 2011. Translated by Rosanna Omitowoju, Phiroze Vasunia, and John Penwill. Edited by Helen Morales.

A collection of three of the early Greek novels, dating from the Second Sophistic. Approximately. The first is a travelogue/romance, the second a pastoral romance, and the third, a series of letters, once thought forgeries and now believed to be intended as fiction from the outset, in which Chion, pupil of Plato, writes of his growning conviction to do something about the tyrant in his home city.

Interesting, if very Greek.

188. Henry of Huntingdon, The History of the English People 1000-1154. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009. Translated by Diana Greenway.

A very interesting chronicle covering about a century and a half and treating a little of the wars between Stephen and Mathilda. Short, well-translated, and occasionally lively: recommended as interesting history.

189. David Brewer, The Greek War of Independence: The Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression. Gerald Duckworth Press, London, 2001. This edition 2011.

A very readable general history of - as it says on the tin - the Greek War of Independence, which kicked off in 1821. There are not many general - ie., non-academic - histories of this particular war available in English, and it is a very interesting war indeed.

Brewer writes perfectly acceptable interesting history on the level of the Movers and Shakers. His interest in social history is, alas, sadly lacking - but I suppose asking for a perfect general history would be a bit much.

190. David Brewer, Greece: The Hidden Centuries. Turkish Rule from the Fall of Constantinople to Greek Independence. I.B. Tauris, London, 2010.

This is not a bad history of several centuries, but suffers from being too general. Here, Brewer's lack of rigor in his social history is a much more glaring flaw. It is mostly an interesting, engaging popular history. But. There is a paragraph on page 73 that is crammed full of fail.

Speaking of Barbary coast piracy and the slave trade, Brewer writes, "When considering sexual exploitation, we should not be too much influenced by the fact that youth and beauty in a female slave commanded a higher price; a young servant would be a better worker, and a pretty one a more impressive adornment of the household." [Brewer, 2010, 73] Later in that same paragraph, he suggests that things might not have been so bad, because some women achieved honour or freedom or marriage within a Barbary household, and because legally men were not permitted to have intercourse with their wives' female slaves.

I parsed this as Let's not overestimate the amount of sexual coercion in the master-slave relationship - which... Hell, people. Help me out here. Even today, between people who are technically free and legally protected, the employer-employee relationship (particularly in the category of domestic service) is open to abuse, sexual and otherwise. Sexual violence is endemic, sexual exploitation more so even today.

So maybe not every woman taken in slavery suffered repeated violent rape. But let's not kid ourselves, Brewer, mate. No one whose life and physical integrity depends on another's good will can ever give or withhold their consent freely. A slave lived surrounded by potential violence, sexual or otherwise, and the possibility of sale to a worse master.

That paragraph rather ruined the whole book for me. Alas.

Tor.com posts:

Rod Rees, The Demi-Monde: Winter

Chris Wooding, The Iron Jackal

Tamora Pierce, Mastiff
hawkwing_lb: (DA2  title screen)
2011-11-28 08:04 pm

Books 2011: "Success without effort is honoured neither among men nor in the hollow ships..."

Books 2011: 180-183

180. Tamora Pierce, Mastiff.

The third and final Beka Cooper book. A little darker and more treacherous than the others, but a great read. I hope my review will eventually appear at Tor.com.

181. Elizabeth C. Bunce, Star Crossed.

A sixteen-year-old thief disguised as a lady's maid in a snowbound castle. Heresy. Politics. Magic. Betrayal. An engaging first-person voice with a sense of humour. Recommended.

182. David Weber, A Rising Thunder (eARC).

Acquired from Baen's Webscriptions through the generosity of a friend. Weber no longer even attempts to tell an engaging story or mini-plot-arc in a single volume. He's got the worst case of epic POV bloat I've seen short of Robert Jordan, and I'm not sure if we actually have any protagonists protagging around here somewhere. Disappointing: feels a lot like a volume trying to set up for the next book, and not really doing any of its own thing.


183. Pindar, The Complete Odes. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007. Translated by Anthony Verity, with an introduction and notes by Stephen Instone.

Pindar came from Boeotia, from the city of Thebes. Born c.518 BC, he lived during the Persian Wars, dying prior to the Peleponnesian Wars in the fifth century. He is famous for his victory odes for athletes - an art form which is exactly contemporary with his life, as it seems to have gone out of vogue in the mid to late fifth century. (cf. Currie 2005, Hamilton 2003.)

This book comprises Verity's translation of Pindar's odes for the victors in the Panhellenic games at Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea. The odes themselves are an interesting look at the culture of praise and the culture of elite athletics - the athletes themselves were members of the elite: your average free stonemason in the street couldn't expect to send his sons off to compete - and how this relates to the portrayal of civic praiseworthiness in the Classical period. The translation is reasonably lucid, as a translation of Greek poetry: it's not itself particularly poetic, but it's clear and fairly literal, which is all to the good.

If you have an interest in Classical panhellenic elite culture, Pindar is worth the read. If you don't, it'll probably be all Greek to you.
hawkwing_lb: (It can't get any worse... today)
2011-11-23 11:26 pm

Books 2011: I'm trying to keep up...

Books 2011: 172-179

172. Elizabeth Bear, Range of Ghosts (ARC).

This? This may well be the epic fantasy I have spent my whole life needing to read without knowing what it was I needed.

I'm supposed to review it next spring for Ideomancer. So, in a nutshell: epic vastness. Coming of age (in more than one sense). Excellent characters. It could have been made to hit my "epic fantasy with cool shit and strong women" kink. It seems you can't really get much "epic fantasy with cool shit" without hypermasculinity... and you can't get much "cool shit and strong women" with that coming-of-age expansive epic feel. And "epic fantasy with strong women" doesn't bring the cool shit that often but this one does.

It's the best damn thing I've read since Paladin of Souls hit me over the head with its wonderfulness. And unlike Paladin of Souls, it's epic.

Yes, I have a thing for BFF with maps. It rarely finds worthy satisfaction. Here, it did.

Go now and make sure you will be able to read it ASAP. Trust me. Go.

173. Richard K. Morgan, The Cold Commands.

Morgan is doing something very interesting in this, the sequel to The Steel Remains. Not only is he subverting the normalisation of hypermasculinity and violence common to such writers as Abercrombie and Martin - and doing so very cunningly indeed - he's also chosen, in The Cold Commands, to interrogate the idea of the hero itself.

Meanwhile, he tells a story which is gripping in its own right. Where The Steel Remains stood alone, The Cold Commands appears to set up the first arc of a longer narrative. And I'm interested to see what happens next.

174. Kate Elliott, Traitors' Gate.

Third and last in series. Suffers from typical epic problems: too many point of view characters, too little time, a curious diffusion of focus.

175. Kate Elliott, Cold Fire.

The start of a new series. Elliott is a much more focused, controlled writer in a first person point of view, and the world of Cold Fire seems vastly more immediate - and as a result, interesting - than that of the "Gate" series. It's also much more fascinating in terms of setting, background, worldbuilding, and detail.

And the plot and characters aren't half bad, either. It has radicals and revolution. Recommended.

176. Kate Elliott, Cold Magic.

Sequel to Cold Fire, which I am supposed to review. It's also good - better, in fact, than its predecessor.

177. Ilona Andrews, Magic Slays.

Fifth in the Kate Daniels series, which is a decent blend of urban fantasy fluff with Things What Go Messily Boom. Daniels is less annoying than many other urban fantasy protags: she has a reason for being mouthy and a loner, has gradually become less of a loner, and the Werewolf Jerk Boyfriend is turning into a decent, almost sensible, longterm relationship.

Good boom. Recommended for when one needs fluff with killing things in.


178. Cicero, Defence Speeches. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000. Translated with an introduction and notes by D.H. Berry.

Like it says on the cover, a selection of speeches for the defence by Cicero. Interesting and occasionally entertaining, but, I imagine, only of real interest to Classics geeks.

179. Gunnel Ekroth, The Sacrificial Rituals of Greek Hero-Cults in the Archaic to the early Hellenistic periods. Kernos Supplément, 12. Liège: Centre International d'Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique, 2002.

Mostly read - read enough that I will call it read - for my thesis. It contains much fascinating detailed discussion of the technical nomenclature of sacrifice and whether by calling sacrifices different names, different actions are meant, and what this means for the interpretation of heroic and chthonic cult.

Dry, but worthwhile.
hawkwing_lb: (Bear CM weep for the entire world)
2011-11-07 11:13 pm

Books 2011: "Can we talk about this later? I'm trying not to die."

Books 2011: 169-171

169. Chris Wooding, The Iron Jackal.

Absolutely brilliant. Look for a review from Tor.com soonish. In the meantime, go out and read it.


170. Procopius, The Secret History. Penguin Classics, London, 2007. Translated by G.A. Williamson, revised by Peter Sarris.

In which Procopius tells us how utterly terrible and sluttish were the two leading women of the Roman empire in the 6th century CE; how ruled by his wife was the general Belisarius; how greedy and appalling was the emperor Justinian, and how hard-done-by were lawyers (of whom Procopius was one).

Fascinating, if a little excessively on the side of savage invective.

171. Cicero, The Republic and the Laws. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998. Translated by Niall Rudd.

And so we see how a Roman aristocrat viewed the world. Interesting, although the Republic is very fragmentary. The Roman constitution is the Best Ever! and so are the Roman laws, most of them.

Not a lot of entertainment value in this, I think, though it might prove useful for reference yet.

My busy life, let me show you it: This Saturday I have an intro to Coaching course for karate, so I can't train; next week I have colloquium, so I can't train; and the following Saturday I grade for dan.

Since I figured this out, I have been walking around muttering kata sequences to myself and occasionally making wavey motions in the air. Dear people on the train platform tonight: I'm not mad! Just... preoccupied.
hawkwing_lb: (dreamed and are dead)
2011-10-30 10:38 pm

Books 2011: go drifting away

Books 2011: 167-168

167. Terry Pratchett, Snuff.

Not Sir Terry's most glorious hour. But a bad Pratchett is still a decent book. Look for a fuller review out of Ideomancer in their Winter issue.


168. Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism. Routledge Classics, Oxford, 2002; first English edition 1957.

Popper is here having a philosophical slapfight about the nature and purposes of history. Theoretical slapfights, even outdated ones, always have the possibility to be interesting, and once you get past Popper's decision to create a new vocabulary (and an occasionally counter-intuitive one), and his blasts at what are (now, at least) men of straw, he makes a few good points, and has some ideas that any historian perhaps ought to examine.
hawkwing_lb: (DA 2 scaring the piss)
2011-10-23 07:48 pm

Books 2011: General Taylor gained the day: carry him to his burying ground

Books 2011: 155-166

155-156: Jack McDevitt, Echo and Firebird.

The fifth and sixth entries, respectively, in McDevitt's Alex Benedict series. Archaeology in space: good fun if occasionally slow, and McDevitt sometimes puts my feminist hackles up.

157-158: Barbara Hambly, Those Who Hunt The Night and Travelling With The Dead.

Ebooks. First two in the James Asher series. Pre-war ambience, great characterisation, really creepy serious vampires. Strongly recommended.

159-160. Linnea Sinclair, Hope's Folly and Rebels and Lovers.

Romantic space operas. I would have preferred less romance and more space adventure, but one cannot have everthing that one desires. It is bad for one's character, or so I am told.

161-165. Susan R. Matthews, Prisoner of Conscience, Hour of Judgement, The Devil and Deep Space, and Warring States.

Four books set in Matthews' Jurisdiction universe, following on from An Exchange of Hostages and starring Andrej Kosciusko, Chief Medical Officer and Jurisdiction Inquisitor. They are sharp, brilliant, emotionally wrenching and frequently brutal space opera, of a kind I hardly dared dream of finding.

They are all, also, sadly out of print: 2005's Warring States is the last one, and I rather fear that the series has been orphaned of a publisher.

I recommend them exceedingly.


166. Cicero, Political Speeches. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009. Translated by D.H. Berry.

A selection of Cicero's speeches, including Pro Marcello, In Verrum I and IV, and one of the Phillipics, as well as some of the speeches against Cataline. Interesting oratory, fascinating politcal invective, has no relevance for my thesis but it was entertaining.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
2011-10-16 08:51 pm

Books 2011: also a to-do list

Books 2011: 151-154

151-154. Barbara Hambly, The Ladies of Mandrigyn, The Witches of Wenshar, The Dark Hand of Magic and Stranger at the Wedding.

Ebooks. Recommended. Should be turning up eventually at Tor.com, so I'll linky when it happens.

October is a busy month. I always forget this.


Contact Pricewaterhouse Coopers re: ITIN
Contact Dept. of Ed. re: Greek exchange scholarships
Read and review four books, two before 27 Oct., two before 2 Nov.
Write 7K on the thesis by 2 Nov.
Collect more seaweed and driftwood for firewood
Pick a novel and get it 12.5% finished by 8 Nov.
Email the people to remain in reasonable social contact.
Write another letter to J.
Figure out how to earn a tiny little bit of money that does not require me to do anything either illegal or unethical. (Anybody spotted a great blue whale job lately? I hear they're an endangered species?)
hawkwing_lb: (It can't get any worse... today)
2011-10-14 10:04 pm

Books 2011: also some other things make a post

Books 2011: 147-150

147-150. Barbara Hambly, The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, The Armies of Daylight, and Dragonsbane.

Ebooks. Further commentary should eventually appear at Tor.com, and I'll try to remember to linky to it when it happens. Suffice to say, I like these books very much.

I need to stop living on sugar, caffeine, and meat. It can't be healthy. On the other hand, today in the gym I ran 1.5 miles in 14:30 minutes, no stopping for a breather, and 2 miles in 21:40, which is getting towards where I want to be. (I need to shave another two minutes off my times, which I suppose means more training for running faster, and more training for running longer.)

I also cycled, rowed, and made with the lifting of the weights. And tomorrow, because I need to hit something, I'm going to karate again.

I have learned that Dublin has an Occupy protest of its very own. This makes me happy. Thank you, New York, for helping show the world a place to stand.

I'll head down next week. This weekend I need to crank out another thousand words on the thesis, or my supervisor will make I Am Disappoint face. And right now, my supervisor's goodwill is the only thing I have going for me.

Sleepy now.
hawkwing_lb: (DA 2 scaring the piss)
2011-10-13 08:36 pm

Books 2011: missed a spot....

Books 2011: 146

146. Anne Osterlund, Academy 7.

[livejournal.com profile] tanaise recommended this to me as an example of YA space opera. And it is space opera, albeit of the sort when the space opera setting is rather sketchily-framed stage dressing for a story of friendship and hinted romance.

Academy 7 is the most famous and exclusive school in Alliance space. Entrance is restricted to fifty students and permitted solely on the basis of test scores. Aerin Renning is a fugitive; Dane Madousin is the son of privilege. They both have dangerous secrets.

You can already guess where this is headed, can't you? It's a decent story about two young people learning to trust, and I've always had a soft spot for school stories. Come to think of it, why aren't there more SFnal school stories?

(No one mention Ender's Game. I'm not joking. I managed to read the first thirty pages once, and hated them.)
hawkwing_lb: (Aveline is not amused)
2011-10-13 08:14 pm

Books 2011: my eyes grow darker, guide me now

Books 2011: 137-145

137. Kelley Armstrong, Made To Be Broken.

Non-genre thriller/crime novel. Pretty good, if a little bland.

138. Juliet E. McKenna, Irons in the Fire.

I did not find this thrilling. Bland, and too involved in the logistics of organising a revolution rather than character and emotions.

139. Kim Harrison, Black Magic Sanction.

Second-to-latest Rachel Morgan novel. Pretty much fits the pattern of the series as a whole, wherein Rachel goes from one bad scrape to a worse one at high speed and with plenty of magical explosions. Entertaining.

140. Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

A good book, but not a me-book. Brilliantly written and with a black sense of humour, it just doesn't punch any of my narrative kinks.

141. Kate Elliott, Shadow Gate.

Sequel to Spirit Gate. Epic fantasy with giant flying eagles and politics and strange magic. A little slow and sprawling to really hook me, but nonetheless interesting and entertaining.

142. Barbara Hamilton, aka Barbara Hambly, Sup With The Devil.

Abigail Adams investigates more murderous mysteries in 1770s Boston. It is a well-constructed mystery, excellently written, but I don't find this historical period and location so fascinating as to truly love the Abigail Adams books.

143. Jim Butcher, Ghost Story.

Butcher writes good story, and this particular Harry Dresden installment has interesting and compelling twists. It is, however, a tad on the gloomy side.

144. Cherie Priest, Ganymede.

Third "Clockword Century" novel, after Dreadnought and Boneshaker. I like it less than either, but it is by no means a bad book. Set in Texas-occupied New Orleans and starring pirate Andan Cly, madam Josephine Early, and a newly-invented submersible weapon, it's worth the read.

145. Michelle Sagara, Cast in Ruin.

Latest of the Elantra books, and relies upon knowledge of the previous volumes. If you liked the earlier books, you'll like this one. Me, I enjoyed it exceedingly.
hawkwing_lb: (Bear CM beyond limit the of their bond a)
2011-10-03 07:07 pm

Books 2011: unexpected occurences

Books 2011: 131-136

131. T.A. Pratt, Broken Mirrors.

Serialised online here, and dear sweet godless heavens, how did I manage to miss this? It's the fifth Marla Mason book - a series which I love with unreasonable love - and lives up to the kick-arse-and-take-names speed, tension, and interest of its predecessors. I recommend it very highly.

132-136, Barbara Hambly, The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage, Dog Wizard, Mother of Winter, and Icefalcon's Quest.

I'm supposed to post on these at Tor.com, so I'll linky when that happens. But Hambly is pretty brilliant, so I recommend them.

Wonder if I'll break 170 books this year? That hasn't happened since 2007, at least.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
2011-10-02 10:19 pm

Books 2011: "there is nothing more depraved than our present politicians and our times"

Books 2011: 128-130

128. Sherwood Smith, Blood Spirits.

Sequel to 2010's Coronets and Steel. Once again, Smith's fake European country of Dobrenica strikes me as geographically and historically impossible - Soviets? And Russians still on the eastern side of the border, when all other indications seem to be that this is a Balkan-region state? Come on - with a side order of nostalgia for the ancien régime.

Which is part of what makes this book, like its predecessor, so hard for me to like. Once again, American Kim Murray travels to her grandmother's home country, where she gets mixed up in the politics of a very small number of families, all related to her, and the death of royalty is complicated by vampires and magic.

I liked the vampires and the magic. The plot is pacey and adequately tense, and this would be a perfectly cromulent book, except...

There's a reason that the ancien régime is ancien. "American goes to Europe, finds romantic olde-worlde history," is probably my least-favourite type of story. It gives me hives, for more reasons than I have words to articulate.

129. Barbara Hambly, Ran Away.

Eleventh in the Benjamin January series. After The Shirt On His Back's foray into the wilderness, Janvier is returned to New Orléans, where he becomes involved in the investigation of a Turkish pasha accused of murdering his concubines. Janvier knew the Turk in Paris, ten years before, and his recollection of the man's honour leads him to endanger himself to discover the truth.

Brilliantly written, as always. A large portion of the first part of the book is taken up with Janvier's memories of Paris, and for the first time we see more of his first wife, Ayasha, than her name. A lucid and intelligent entry in the series.


130. Cicero, Selected Letters. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008. Translated with an introduction by P.G. Walsh.

This volume presents a wide selection of Cicero's letters from across his lifetime. Cicero writes interesting, engaging letters, and these give rather fascinating insight both into his personality and into the last decades of the republic.

The translation is vastly readable, and the notes reasonably comprehensive. I recommend this for anyone with a passing interest in the dying years of the Roman republic.
hawkwing_lb: (Archdemon!)
2011-09-24 10:11 pm

Review: The Tempering of Men

I spent most of this afternoon sweeping leaves in my grandmother's garden. Now that I've ranted and blogged, let me give you the text of the review I withdrew from SH due to not having time to make more edits.

The Tempering of Men,
by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Reviewed as e-ARC.

Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear are well known for their individual works. Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths series (Mélusine, The Virtue, The Mirador, Corambis) has been generally well-received, and Bear (who won the Hugo award for her short story "Tideline" in 2008, and again for the novelette "Shoggoths in Bloom" in 2009) has published over a dozen novels in a wide range of subgenres, most recently Grail, the concluding volume of a trilogy set on the generation ship Jacob's Ladder. The Tempering of Men is their second novel-length collaboration, after 2007's A Companion to Wolves.

A Companion to Wolves
had a profound impact on how I read fantasy. Written in a prose clear and pristine as ice-crystals in the frozen north of this Norse-influenced world's chill landscape, it was brilliantly successful on all its many levels: as a coming-of-age story, as a clear-eyed response to the problematic tropes of companion animal fantasy, as an examination of gendered roles, and as a story, pure and exciting, filled with desperate heroism, self-doubt, and the courage of endurance. It expanded the boundaries of the possible -- at least for me.

And it took the "green dragonrider problem" of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books -- when your companion animal goes into heat, you go with her; but you're a man and all her potential mates are bonded to other men -- and gave it a thoughtful and thought-provoking solution.

The Tempering of Men
is a sequel four years in the waiting. It shares its predecessor's lucid prose, and hits the same high notes of quality, but it's a very different kind of book.

A Companion to Wolves
comprised the story of Isolfr -- born Njall Gunarrson -- as he came of age in the wolfthreat (the great trellwolves and the men who become their brothers, who together defend the settlements of the Iskryne against the trolls from the north) and bonded to the konigenwolf Viradechtis, while trellwolves and men fought a war to the knife against an unprecedented migration of trolls. It was a story about a young man's growth in a world at war, and it was very much Isolfr's book.

The Tempering of Men
is not Isolfr's book, though he is a strong presence in it. Nor is it a book about war, though it's informed by the aftermath of one -- and later, the threat of another. It's a book that could stand alone perfectly well, but I also think it's a rather more rewarding read if you've finished A Companion to Wolves first.

opens with the end of the trellwar, with the storming of Othinnsaesc. We see this last action before the war is ended for good through the eyes of the wolfjarls Skjaldwulf and Vethulf, leaders of the Franangford wolfthreat, whose wolfbrothers Mar and Kjaran are mates to Viradechtis, and who both desire Isolfr.

"Vethulf and Skjaldwulf did not get along," the first chapter opens.


"They had almost nothing in common. Where Vethulf was red, Skjaldwulf was dark. Where Vethulf was sharp-tongued, Skjaldwulf was taciturn. Where Vethulf’s temper ran hot and savage, Skjaldwulf would brood and consider before he spoke or acted.

There was only one thing they could agree on, and that was Isolfr. And agreeing about Isolfr did more to increase the tension between them than relieve it."

The uneasy triangle between Vethulf, Skjaldwulf, and Isolfr lies at the heart of the Franangford wolfthreat, and The Tempering of Men is the story of the Franangford wolfthreat  after the trellwar. Wolves and men must come to a new accommodation for the future, now that the original reason for the existence of the wolfthreats has been eradicated from the north. Vethulf and Skjaldwulf must come to accept each other and their roles within the slowly-rebuilding Franangfordthreat.

When a messenger arrives from the south, asking for the wolfcarls' help against a new enemy, an army of invaders, Skjaldwulf leads a small party to their aid. The wolfcarls have always fought trolls before, not men. The newcomers are stranger than any men of whom Skjaldwulf has ever before heard tell. Peril, capture and escape attend him, as well as the politics of jarls, godsmen and the Allthing -- out of which might emerge the beginnings of new role for the wolfcarls.

opens up the world of the Iskryne, and builds on it. From the godsmen of Hergilsberg to the jarls and settlements of the south, and from the invading Rheans and their half-Brythoni slave to the aettrynalfar, the 'poison elves' whose choice to shape living stone led to their exile from the svartalfar, Tempering deals with a much bigger world than its predecessor. Monette and Bear depict societies just as complex in their different ways as that of the wolfthreat, and do so without ever failing to acknowledge the connections and tensions between them.

At Franangford, in Skjaldwulf's absence, Vethulf will learn to interact with wolfless men without the other wolfjarl to temper his sharp tongue. And Brokkolfr, who survived the trollish invasion of Othinsaesc but carries the guilt of those he couldn't save, will not only make a new place for himself within the wolfthreat, but will also discover new, underground neighbours for the threat: alfar. Not the svartalfar whose alliance Isolfr won, but aettrynalfar, long estranged from their northern kin. Structurally, the three strands of the story -- Skjaldwulf, Vethulf, and Brokkolfr -- reinforce each other. Occasionally a section from each of their points of view ended on a cliffhanger that wasn't resolved until after the next point of view scene: done well (and it's done well here), this is a technique I enjoy, but some people might not enjoy it quite as much.

Monette and Bear, in their individual works, have a knack for writing real, believable, multidimensional characters. Their combined talents are displayed to full advantage here. Prickly Vethulf, navigating his responsibilities with defensive sharpness and moments of understanding; Skjaldwulf, at thirty-six old for a wolfcarl, with his unshakeable determination and thoughtful compassion; Isolfr, called Ice-mad, called Alf-friend, uncomfortable with the name of hero; Brokkolfr and Kari, whose explorations of an underground cave lead to the encounter with the aettrynalfar; Freyvithr the godsman, come to the Franangfordthreat to record Isolfr's deeds from his own mouth, whose understated sense of humour shines through; Fargrimr Fastarrson, a jarl's heir from the south and brother to one of the wolfcarls, who was born a jarl's daughter; Master Antimony, the aettrynalfar master with his students and adopted children; Otter, the half-Brythoni slave of the Rheans who Skjaldwulf comes to adopt as a daughter: every character that walks through these pages has a personality and an implied history, and nearly all of them are fascinating.

The wolves don't steal the show as much in Tempering as they did in Companion, but Viradechtis, Skjaldwulf's Mar, and Brokkolfr's Amma are vibrant personalities. Amma, in particular -- a not-very-dominant she-wolf with a boundless well of affection and enthusiasm for human babies, wolf cubs, and baby animals of any stripe -- steals nearly every scene for which she's present. The trellwolves are both believably intelligent and believably wolf-like: a tricky line to walk.

I wish we lived in a world where I could pass over one of the more central elements of Tempering without comment, as too unremarkable to require notice. As things stand, however, graceful, dignified and humane treatment of explicitly homosexual relationships is still worthy of note.

Which is to say: Yes, there is gay sex in this book. It's treated with all the grace and humanity that one might expect from writers with Monette's and Bear's track records, and unlike Isolfr in A Companion to Wolves, the viewpoint characters here during the occasional sex scenes prefer men. The explicitly sexual scenes are touching and affecting, and integral to character development.

The authors haven't chosen to make homosexuality an unmarked state in the world of the Iskryne. Outside the wolfthreat, men screwing men is unusual, and potentially unmanly. Inside the wolfthreat, it's the way things are. And very few people will insult one of the threat's hardened warriors to his face about his choice of bed partners.

Particularly not when he has his friend the giant wolf beside him.

If there's one criticism I could make of The Tempering of Men, it's that when I finished it, I found it left me wanting more. What will happen with the conflict with the Rheans? With the wolfcarls' new role? With the Franangfordthreat and the aettrynalfar? I found the conclusion to be eminently satisfying, but it didn't settle all the questions the story thus far had raised. This is a middle book, and it shows, a little. Another Iskryne novel is due out in 2013, however, and I expect it'll show itself fully capable of satisfying my curiosity on such points as "What are the aettrynalfar making in the cave with the broken cave ice?" "Does Kari's ankle eventually heal up?" and "How does Isolfr's father proceed to defend the Iskryners from the Rheans?"

The Tempering of Men
is an excellent book, set in a fascinating world. Quietly epic and strongly influenced by medieval Scandinavia, it's filled with interesting characters, complex relationships, and absolutely marvellous wolves.

I loved it unreservedly, and I recommend it without hesitation.