Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

For a book I anticipated so much that I pre-ordered it, I took a very long time to finish reading it.  Now, at least half of that is just me and how my brain works, but half of it was certainly with the book.

This book is work to read.  It isn't bad work, or very difficult work, but it is thinky-thing work.  There are still the obstacles from the first book -- the handling of gendered language, for one thing, and the nonspecificity of characters' physical attributes. The main character, Breq, where our point of view lies, doesn't notice these things because they are not necessarily important, either personally or culturally.  For me, this is both fascinating and disconnecting.  So, I have to work around that.  It is good work to do.

There is also the "mystery" of the book, the questions it poses and then attempts to answer.  In the first book, Ancillary Justice, the reader shared ignorance with the main character -- we didn't know what Breq didn't know, and we discovered along with Breq.  This time, however, Breq knows more, but we aren't in on it.  Sometimes that got a bit oppressive for me, and I was frequently trying to catch up.  That was work I didn't enjoy so much, because I felt distracted from what I enjoyed in the first book -- how the world was constructed and how Breq dealt with it.  The conflicts in this book felt a little pulled from the air, although I strongly suspect they connect more to what will happen in the next book.  This book leans in two directions and didn't quite stand up on its own, which, again, I think is not unusual in the middle book of three.

Perhaps that is what made this slower reading -- this is the middle book of three that will tell a complete and complex story, and on this book's shoulders are all the duties of connecting the big events that started things with the big events that will end things.  That's hard work for an author.  I don't think Leckie failed on this -- I see paths, I see connection lines -- but that the particular style that worked to bring Breq to a distinct goal in the first book don't work as well here, but she has to use it because doing otherwise would tear everything apart.  Instead of letting me in on the story, it held me a bit at a distance so as not to "spoil" things.  Leckie also doesn't use the typical "clues" of series books:  very little dropping the events of the past in as references, or standing at some future point looking back to foreshadow other things.  I'm a series reader, so I'm familiar with those tropes. They aren't here, or are subtle, and while I think that is a positive for the trilogy, it creates some problems and I noticed the bumps, which I think slowed my reading.

I did enjoy some of the games Leckie is playing with gender this time, though.  Again, the language creates in the mind of this Western reader the vague idea that the world is peopled only with females, although this isn't actually true (the Penis festival underlined this idea nicely).  One secondary character is depicted as a sexual predator and abuser.  We do not know this character's gender at all, but we know that at least one victim was male or at least distinguished as being a "brother" to another character.  This subtle bit of plot casts shade on the idea that only men are predators and abusers who seek power over others (a typical male role) while not doing a "See?  Women can, too!" thing.  It just batted at the stereotypes, knocked them around, and made me think about them differently.  That's a successful action for a book to create.  Leckie is very good at poking at the stereotypes typical in science fiction without making an issue of her poking.

Of course, I have the next book, Ancillary Mercy, on pre-order.  I also intend to hunt down some of her short fiction (perhaps she has a collection?)  Leckie is well worth reading, even if her writing makes me work.  Maybe because her writing makes me work.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review -- Jack Strong

Jack Strong by Walter Mosley

Long short story or short novella, I'm not sure what should be the technical term.  Too short for me, really.  I got to the end and wanted more.  I can't complain, though.  The e-book was a gift and I enjoyed it.

Well, maybe not "enjoyed".  That's far too vague and mealy a word.  This is a scattered story told by a scattered protagonist, a protagonist who doesn't know what's going on, who or what he is, or why he's going through what he's going through.  Everything is a discovery, even when he "knows" what's happening in the moment, and which of the many people inside him is doing whatever he is doing.

This makes for a complicated reading experience.  I handle books like this by taking my brain out of gear and just riding where the author takes me without being very critical or doing much back-seat driving.  I was lucky that this time, despite the rugged road and the hairpin turns, Mosley is an expert driver who didn't wreck the story.

Yeah, that's a better metaphor.  This was a drive in the dark on a road I didn't know.  I couldn't even make guesses, and that was fun. The real negative was that the ride stopped at some lonely truck stop in the middle of nowhere.  It was certainly a different place than the one where I'd started, and I had an inkling that the ultimate destination would be interesting, but I wasn't there yet.  Part of me wonders if Mosley did this because he intends a series of short stories and part of me wonders if he just ran out of steam with his cool idea.  And there's a teeny bit that can't help sneering and wondering if this was intended to be "Art", that "let the reader..." stuff popular with a lot of young artists who are feeling very clever (more clever than their audience).  I haven't read any other Mosley writing, but that's not his reputation, so maybe that teeny bit is just some rising snark.  I have Blue Light on my wish list and am eying the Easy Rawlings series.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Found Something

Aigh.  Fighting through a cold, reading manga and not finishing anything.  That's ok.  I found something -- someone -- I am enjoying despite blurry eyes and woozy head.

Grant Snider -- Incidental Comics

I'm adding him to my list over there so I don't forget after the germs are evicted.  Germs can carry stuff away with them like looting invaders.