Wheel of Time #9: Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan

Read: 3 March, 2015

Winter’s Heart is fairly standard fare for the series. Perrin and Faile’s relationship is still disturbing, though at least there’s a twist there. Unfortunately, it’s a twist that opens up far too many possibilities for mishandling – will Faile’s character grow by learning to properly submit? Will she be a damsel for Perrin to rescue? The twist has a lot of potential, but I’m a little afraid to hope.

Elayne’s return to Caemlyn and her struggle to secure the throne, by all rights, should be interesting. That sort of story is right up my alley. I also really like that Elayne is adamant that she must take the throne for herself, not be placed there by Rand, if she’s to be taken seriously (and she gets justifiably frustrated by all the Rand-initiated talk of him giving her the throne). Unfortunately, I felt like this whole sub-plot was taken over by Rand’s polygamy plot. We’ll see if it picks up in the next book.

Regarding Rand’s polygamy, I have to say that it’s refreshing to see a love triangle resolve itself in this way rather than the alternative. The agony of fiction love triangles is so done. It’s just unfortunate that Jordan chose to make it between one man and three women, rather than mixing it up a little. At least there are the green Ais Sedai… The polygamy becomes quite important in this book, as all four parties finally get to hash things out explicitly.

Mat is back, but not quite as bad as he’s been. He’s still pretty terrible, and his rape sub-plot is rather horrifying, but he’s kept too busy to spend much time being a complete douchecanoe. Don’t get me wrong, he still manages to fit a lot of his douchiness in, but it’s not as bad as it has been. Having clearly learned from his experience as a rape victim that rape is wrong, he learns the identity of his fated wife and the first thing he does is tie her up and kidnap her. Because he’s just that kind of character, apparently.

I’m liking the plot line about the Asha’man, and the fracturing, and the Forsaken infiltration. The problem is that I don’t really understand why Rand has paid so little attention to the Black Tower. He seemed to realize that the Black Tower was slipping out of his control, but rather than do anything about it, he basically just kept supporting Mazrim Taim until Taim became a full enemy – one with an army that Rand provided for him. I understand that Rand’s attempt to cleanse saidin has at least something to do with reducing the damage that the Black Tower can do, but this seems like too little too late.

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    Reverse Racism

    It may be a little hard to tell as I’m trying to plough through the Wheel of Time and Dresden Files series, but I have been trying to make a conscious effort lately to select more books by women, POCs, and where the two overlap. Since I’m a horribly slow reader and, I reiterate, trying to get through two series authored by white men, the evidence for this shift is still mostly only found in my To Be Read and To Buy lists, where I’ve culled many of the white male authors present, and have started dismissing out of hand recommendations for books with white male authors.

    And I’m not the only one. I started doing this after reading an article (lost to the annals of my browser history) in which the author wrote about her realization that the vast majority of the books she had read in her high school English classes had been authored by white men. More recently, heinous Heina has decided to exclusidely read non-male authors in 2015 and non-white authors in 2016 (you can read her explanation of this choice here).

    My high school experience was very much as described. The few books that didn’t fit this trend were very tokenistic, the same collection of classics trotted out by every educator who doesn’t want to seem too archaic (To Kill A Mockingbird, Autobiography of Malcolm X, and… that’s it?).

    Thankfully, my university reading lists were a bit more diverse. There were still plenty of classes with an entirely male reading list (now that I think about it, those classes were all taught by men), but I had a whole whack of professors who took special care in putting together a broad roster of authors. Best yet, this was also in many of the courses required for my degree, so they were unavoidable.

    But what really highlighted the issue for me was when I started to dip my toe into the idea of doing a project like Heina’s. I’ve been wanting to get into SF/F more, because I always enjoyed the genres but never really had access to them. So I started with the “bests” lists, hoping to get through the classics and to move on from there. Unfortunately, those lists tend to be blanched sausage parties, and there’s only so much of that I can get through before I start to feel a little jaded – even when those authors make an effort to have diverse character lists.

    When I tried to reach out and ask for recommendations of books not written by white men, only two names were really forthcoming – Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler. Both fantastic authors and entirely deserving of their fame, but oh my ghawd, they do not bring balance to the genres!

    I’m very glad to see this acknowledged as an issue, and I’ve been especially pleased in just the last year or two to see reading recommendations for non-white/non-male authors become so much more common and accessible. When I first started trying to get into SF/F, it took a lot of googling to find anything beyond Le Guin and Butler. Now there are entire blogs devoted to the discussion.

    This has been really meandering and mostly just a word-vomit of my thoughts on the subject. Since there are far better discussions elsewhere, in an effort to provide at least a little value, I thought I might mention some of SF/F books currently on my To Be Read list. Obviously, I can’t recommend any of these because I haven’t read them, but they have been recommended to me and maybe this list will be helpful to someone:

    • Ahmed, Saladin: Throne of the Crescent Moon
    • Brown, Rachel & Sherwood Smith: Stranger
    • Cashore, Kristin: Graceling
    • Cherryh, C.J.: Foreigner
    • Chima, Cinda Williams: The Wizard Heir trilogy
    • Cooper, Susan: The Dark Is Rising sequence
    • Croggon, Alison: The Naming
    • De Bodard, Aliette: Obsidian and Blood Trilogy
    • Delany, Samuel R.: Dhalgren
    • Elgin, Suzette Haden: Native Tongue
    • Elliott, Kate: Crown of Stars Series
    • Fox, Rose & Daniel José Older (ed.): Long Hidden (Anthology)
    • Friedman, C.S.: Black Sun Rising
    • Gentle, Mary: Grunts
    • Griffith, Nicola: Hild
    • Hanley, Victoria: The Seer and the Sword
    • Hendry, Frances M.: Quest for a Maid
    • Hobb, Robin: Liveship Traders Trilogy
    • Huff, Tanya: The Fire’s Stone
    • Hughes, Monica: The Golden Aquarians
    • Hurley, Kameron: The Mirror Empire
    • Jemison, N.K.: The Killing Moon
    • Kirstein, Rosemary: The Steerswoman
    • Liu, Cixin: The Three-Body Problem
    • Lo, Malinda: Huntress
    • Locke, M.J.: Up Against It
    • Lowachee, Karin: Warchild
    • Mandel, Emily St. John: Station Eleven
    • McKinley, Robin: The Blue Sword
    • Melling, O.R.: The Summer King
    • Norton, Andre: The Zero Stone
    • Pierce, Tamora: Alanna: The First Adventure
    • Priest, Cherie: Boneshaker
    • Samatar, Sofia: A Stranger in Olondria
    • Sargent, Pamela: Earthseed
    • Snyder, Maria V.: Poison Study
    • Stanton, Mary: Unicorns of Balinor
    • Tepper, Sheri S.: The Gate to Women’s Country
    • Valente, Catherynne: Deathless
    • Wecker, Helene: The Golem and the Jinni

      Wheel of Time #8: The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

      Read: 20 February, 2015

      I enjoyed this book quite a bit better than I have the preceding few. In large part, I credit Mat’s complete absence (may he fall in a hole and never return). I also felt that the story was quite a bit tighter, mostly sticking with one group until their story was totally updated before moving on to the next, only hopping around at the very end, when it worked because the plot lines mostly came together. Finally, the book was also quite a bit shorter than the last few have been, without sacrificing much, if anything.

      I’m finding the contrast between Egwene and Elaida as both character face very similar struggles as the Amyrlin of their respective towers to be very interesting, and a neat idea.

      Perrin and Faile, on the other hand, are still horrible. At least now that Perrin has largely “tamed” Faile (*cringe*), they aren’t quite as explicitly abusive as they have been – with the exception of Elyas teaching Perrin to shout at Faile and Faile feeling so wonderfully giddy that Perrin has finally learned to be a douche.

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        Wheel of Time #7: A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

        Read: 17 February, 2015

        I was talking to a friend recently about the pacing of these stories. Like many, he felt that the pace has been progressively slowing down, becoming intolerable (or near enough) around Lord of Chaos. For my own part, I hadn’t really noticed. There’s no question that I can recall a lot more of the specific events from the first book, but I’ve actually enjoyed the pace. I’ve enjoyed plodding through, seeing what micro-adventures the various characters go on, and generally getting to explore this huge world along with them.

        Because that’s the really great thing about a massive series like this – we get to see so many places and meet so many people that the world really does feel very large. And I’ve found the world building to be very compelling.

        After some discussion, my friend and I concluded that listening to this series on audiobook makes all the difference. When I’m “reading,” I’m also doing the dishes, or the laundry, or playing Minecraft. I’m free to focus when it’s very interesting, and to drift off when nothing much is happening. Were I reading the books in the traditional sense, I think that my tolerance for the pace (and for the quality of the writing) would be much lower.

        In this book, we’re seeing the various characters fall into their places – Rand continues his quest to be King Of Everything, Egwene settles in as the Amyrlin of the Little Tower, we see Mat leading his military band, and Elayne and Nynaeve have another side quest.

        Unfortunately, only Egwene’s plot line really interested me in this book. Her struggle to take the Amyrlin seat in more than just name showed us a lot of her character, and I found it very well handled.

        Rand’s plot line suffered from his emo-ness. He does some stuff, but mostly he just sits around acting like a jerk to everyone and praying that he hasn’t gone mad yet. I can understand that this is where his character is, and I know that we need to see his inner conflicts, but he’s just rather annoying.

        Elayne and Nynaeve make some discoveries during their side quest, but their Stuff Happening To Page Number ratio is very poor. And while I normally enjoy their chapters (the petty fighting aside), they are much mired by Mat in his book.

        Mat is where it really falls apart for me. He is unbelievable annoying. I see people talking about how “funny” he is, but how is it funny for him to just talk over women, bully women, demean women, humiliate women, harass women, infantilize women, and then, in the few breaks he takes from all that, spend his time complaining about how he just can’t understand why the women around him think that he’s a jerk? His narrative provides no new insight into the inner lives of people who think this way, it merely repeats the horribleness that women have to deal with so frequently, and it’s annoying as hell.

        Worse yet, Mat gets raped by a woman in this book. The scenes leading up to the rape are terrifying, yet despite feeling humiliated and taken advantage of, the most Mat is able to consciously express about the experience is how awful it is that he wasn’t the one doing the “chasing.” There’s some indication that Jordan, at least, was aware of how Mat’s own behaviour toward women is reflected by his rape – as when Nynaeve makes a comment to the effect of how he’s getting a “taste of his own medicine” – but it’s all treated in such a light-hearted way, as though the reader is supposed to find his rape and subsequent harassment amusing. I found that whole plot line incredibly disturbing – not just for what happened and Mat’s reaction, but for the way the other characters react to it when they find out.

        As with the last book, one of my greatest complaints so far about this series is that Jordan cannot write romance. He seems to view romantic relationships as some sort of battle for dominance in which the female party must learn proper submission and humility.

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          The Dresden Files #11: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

          Read: 30 January, 2015

          The trend of the series over the last few books has been to circle the Black Council, rather than each mystery being, at least ostensibly, isolated. It’s interesting to see how far the series has come from the original few books – how long has it been since Dresden has been to his office? At least the office gets a mention in this book, though for all Dresden’s talk of money woes, it seems interesting that he keeps paying rent for it when his time seems so devoted to Warden matters lately.

          The mystery itself was a bit of a let down. When Dresden notices a detail he wouldn’t ordinarily notice, and then mentions it at least twice in different parts of the book, it becomes far too clear who the traitor was going to be. I don’t try to guess the endings to mysteries, and I like to let myself be blown away in the reveal. So for me to know who the traitor is as soon as he comes on stage is really quite telling.

          Still, the story is good. Dresden makes heavy sacrifices, and the characters are changed by the events of the book. In a series, that is generally a very good thing, and something that Butcher is handling better than most authors.

          Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this books is all the extra insight we get into the White Council. We’re no longer bound to Dresden’s rather slanted view of them, and instead get some frank explanations from people who are more knowledgeable about and invested in the Council. It adds a great deal of nuance, and moves us away from viewing the Council as strictly an antagonistic force.

          This was an excellent addition to the series, and it’s a pleasure to see Butcher grow as an author.

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            Wheel of Time #6: Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

            Read: 17 January, 2015

            There were a few differences between this book and previous ones. For one thing, the final showdown broke tradition by not having Rand go mano-a-mano against one of the Foresaken. Rather, Rand is placed in a position of weakness, and his final battle is more of an internal one as he struggles to control his own madness (not to mention the conflict of how to deal with enemies when one is essentially a god, power wise).

            Egwene’s storyline in this book was extremely interesting, as it has been previously. Her new relationship with Siuan is an extremely interesting dynamic that I hope will be further explored in future books.

            Unfortunately, this book took all the subtle and ambiguous sexism of the previous books and really amped it up.

            Mat, who only got one book as an interesting and amusing character, has turned into a full blown jerk here. He makes it abundantly clear that he does not view women as adult people. He doesn’t trust them to ever make decisions for themselves, not to understand the consequences of their choices when they do make them – which makes his obsession with getting “cuddles” suddenly seem quite predatory. Rather than listen to Egwene and the others, he assaults Egwene and rips her stole from her shoulders. He yells at her until an external force finally forces him to realize what she had been trying to tell him from the beginning (and that he would have known if he’d let her speak for more than a word or two at a time).

            Then he has the audacity to whine for the rest of the book about how he just can’t understand women because it’s just such a great mystery that one of them might kick him for behaving like that. As though he wouldn’t have understood perfectly if a man had behaved the same way. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if it were made clear that this is his character, and not meant to be a wink from the author to the presumed male audience about how cray-cray them bitches are, amiright? At least one other male character giving him major side eye and telling him what a douche he was would have completely changed the tone of the book. Instead, I’m becoming increasingly suspicious that the great arc is for the female characters to learn proper submission to male authority.

            Another serious weakness emerging in the series is Perrin and Faile’s relationship, which reads like some sort of Gorean fantasy. Faile’s constant jealous, including her reaction to Perrin merely hugging a female friend after he hadn’t seen her for a long time, reads like a terrible sitcom. And the whole bit with her parents where it is explained that strong women need to be “trained” by stronger men or they will henpeck their husbands to death very nearly had me giving up on the series. I keep hoping that it’s just meant to be sexist characters who will eventually learn something about working together and mutual respect, but all the reminders about women’s role being one of submission are starting to make me suspicious that the issue is much greater than that.

            Faile and Perrin’s relationship also seems very toxic. We have Faile’s jealousy (getting angry at him whenever a woman she thinks is attractive happens to be in the same room), and her constant hitting and scratching of Perrin (at one point apparently done to ‘mark her territory’ or some such nonsense). Then we have Perrin bending Faile over his knee and spanking her, and then wanting to do it again later whenever he can’t be bothered to talk to her or to try to see things from her perspective. The whole thing is rather disgusting.

            In fact, for that matter, all of the romantic relationships in the book seem rather toxic (or, at least, delusional) to one extent or another.

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              The Physics of Magic #1: Magical Deliquents by Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg

              Read: 8 January, 2014

              Kira is a Walker, a magical race. When she begins her studies at the University of Waterloo, she begins to draw humans into her world – and all of its dangers.

              Magical Delinquents is a self-published book written by an acquaintance. Unfortunately, it suffers from many of the same issues as other self-published books I’ve reviewed – notably formatting problems and typographical errors. In this case, the narrative also had an unpolished feel to it, particularly around the time-hopping toward the end, and would have benefited from a good editor and at least one more draft.

              That said, the plot was a solid one. It’s the first book in a series, so a lot of time was spent on exposition. Still, the adventure was a fairly exciting one, the characters interesting, and the world-building has fantastic potential. Where this book really shines is in its descriptions of hospital and first aid care – the author is a nurse, and that’s clearly evident. The level of detail is quite a bit higher than is usually the case, and the hospital location used as the setting for several scenes felt very well fleshed out (complete with its own “culture” as the various doctors and nurses interact with each other).

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                The Dresden Files #10: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

                Read: 21 December, 2014

                The Summer Court is sending Gruffs (remember the billy goats? Yeah, those gruffs) after Harry, the Winter Court is sending Hobs, and Marcone has been kidnapped. All this results in a rather complicated (and dangerous!) affair that reveals a lot more about the Fallen and the Heaven/Hell conflict.

                The last couple books seem to have been setting up the character pasts, with little more than vague hints about the overarching plot. Here, the characters are established and we appear to be moving into the big reveal.

                I like Sanya quite a bit, and was glad to see him make an appearance. I also liked getting a bit more backstory about him – particularly with regards to being a black man growing up in Russia.

                Fidelacchius finally became important again, as Harry tries to find a new owner for it. (SPOILERS: I was concerned that Dresden was going to end up becoming a Knight, in addition to being a Warden and everything else. It would have just been so Mary Sue-ish. I kept hoping that Murphy would take it up instead, and was very glad when she was chosen. I was even more glad when she refused it, and gave a perfectly character-consistent reason. I’m still hoping that she’ll become the new Knight eventually (particularly given how Fidelacchius seems to match Murphy’s style of sword), but I’m glad that she didn’t just take it up right away. That would have been very un-Murphy.)

                Overall, a solid addition to the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next!

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                  Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

                  Read: 5 December, 2014

                  Hiro Protagonist (no, really) delivers pizzas for the Mafia, and must never, ever be late. On a night where absolutely everything seems to be going wrong, it looks very much like the pizza will be late, until he’s saved by fifteen year old Kourier, Y.T. Thus begins a partnership that sees the rise, and fall, of a linguistic virus/religion transmitted to hackers through the Metaverse.

                  Snow Crash is a dog pile of interesting ideas. Reading, it felt like something new was being thrown at me every couple pages. While that certainly made for an interesting read that I suspect I will still be thinking about for a long time, it also means that there wasn’t much room for character depth – or even for me to grow to care for the characters. Sure, Hiro and Y.T. are cool, but they never got to feel like people.

                  The sheer amount of content and detail also means lengthy info-dumps, like the multiple chapters of Hiro sitting in his Metaverse office talking to the Librarian. The Librarian is explaining the whole backstory for the plot while Hiro occasionally interjects with a question or comment, and this goes on and on and on. The ideas were interesting, but I couldn’t help but think that there absolutely must have been a better way to deliver them.

                  I think that the pacing and style of the book would have worked much better as a movie, but then all those info-dumps would have needed cutting.

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                    Wheel of Time #5: The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

                    Read: 28 November, 2014

                    In The Fires of Heaven, the narrative is largely split between Rand as he returns from the Aiel Waste and Nynaeve’s struggles against Moghedien.

                    I see that a lot of people didn’t like the focus on Nynaeve. She’s always been rather critical and negative, but she’s been something of a side character, so that she is only experienced through an intermediary. Here, though, we get a whole bunch of pure, unfiltered Nynaeve. That means near constant criticisms of men’s wool-headedness, abject hatred of Juilin’s hat, and her cattiness with Elayne.

                    Personally, though, I actually appreciated it. Because while Nynaeve is certainly very negative, her character is also growing a great deal through this book. After her victory against Moghedien in the last book, she now has to deal with the fact that a member of the Forsaken has taken notice of her and has a rather big grudge. She tries to deal with her fear and guilt by transforming herself into a meek woman, only to be brought back up by her friends and to realize that she cannot be meek if she is going to do her part to save the world.

                    Mat Cauthon continues his own transformation. I really didn’t like him when we first met him, but he is turning into one of my favourite characters. His constant cycle of trying to escape from his destiny only to be pulled back against his will is rather hilarious.

                    The pacing is slow, and I agree with the complaint that it tends to be very slow through most of the book only to suddenly speed up for the climax, making the book feel rather uneven. That said, though, I appreciate how much depth the characters have, and how much they are changed and impacted by their experiences.

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