Feb. 10th, 2013

sharplittleteeth: (Default)
I barely read any books in 2012. I'm trying to fix that in 2013.

My approach is simple: instead of reading Twitter over breakfast, I'm reading a book. I've set myself the modest target of finishing 20 books this year, and posting short reviews of them so I remember what I've read.

This is what I've read so far:


REVELATION SPACE
Alastair Reynolds


Cheating slightly - I started this over Christmas. Part of the New Space Opera, this post-cyberpunk hard sci-fi. A scientist tries to find out how a primitive alien race predicted their own extinction. The crew of crumbling spaceship seek to cure their captain of a nanoplague. An assassin longs to be reunited with her husband across the gulf of space. All three converge around an ancient alien artefact.

The characters are a bit generic, and they're prone to infodumping at odd moments ("Our shuttle is plummeting to its doom! Quick! Let's discuss the Fermi Paradox for three pages!"). And it all feels strangely small for a space opera. I'm told Reynolds's later books fix some of the weaknesses of this debut, so I'll check some out.

But I was after something to scratch my itch for space ships, and there's a lot to like in this book: kilometers-long spaceships called lighthuggers because they accelerate to almost the speed of light, and need conical shields of ice to protect them from space debris, weapon systems that can raze worlds, mysterious alien artefacts to rival 2001, and lots of the-brain-is-just-a-computer-so-lets-infect-it-with-infoviruses post-cyberpunk goodness.


SEA-HEARTS
Margo Lanagan


Nominally a YA author, Lanagan is known for her rich, dark reworkings of fantasy and fairy tales. Sea-Hearts is about Rollrock Island, a bleak and windswept fishing island where the men once took selkies for wives. Young Misskaella is teased and outcast for showing signs of seklie ancestry. But when she learns she can transform blubbery seals into irresistible women, she begins her revenge on the rest of the island. Soon the men are paying her exorbitant sums for a seal-wife, and the human women of the island are abandoned by the men who once loved them.

This a beautiful novel, but it's a harsh and unsentimental one, for all its poetic language. It's a book full of the yearning for impossible beauty, and a misery that follows from attaining it.


THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER
Michael Swanwick


Jane, a human changeling, is forced to work in a Faerie factory that manufactures iron dragons - the fey equivalent of fighter planes. When she finds a grimoire that teaches her how to pilot a dragon, she manages to escape. But she doesn't escape into world of freedom and adventure that normal fantasy fiction might offer. Instead, she finds herself trapped in different ways - at a high school where the homecoming queen is burnt as a sacrifice, a university where low scoring students are slaughtered in the Tiend, in elf high society where lives are just commodities, and ultimately in her dragon's desire for revenge. The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a vicious, nihilistic critique of the high fantasy genre, bleak but astonishing.

A review: http://www.michaelswanwick.com/revan/daughter.html

And an interview with Swanwick: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intms.htm
~

I've got two Chine Miéville books waiting for me next, but I think I might take a break from SFF for a bit and read some literary fiction. Probably Gillian Mears Foal's Bread, since it won all the awards last year.

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