Vorkosigan Saga #9: Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 22 January, 2018

Like Falling Free, this book is set within the Vorkosigan universe, but isn’t about either Miles or his mother, Cordelia.

I really enjoyed this one. Feminist science fiction tends break with genre conventions in interesting ways, but Ethan of Athos managed even to break with those breaks – first by centring the story on a man, then by using one patriarchal society as the backdrop for exploring an entirely different patriarchy. And, while there are only two important female characters in the book (a minority by a fairly wide margin), and while those women break rather significantly from what North American culture would see as “women’s” roles, the book manages to have a lot to say about how women (and women’s labour) get valued.

One of the most ding-ding moments in the book is when Ethan is talking about the tremendous labour cost of raising an army, and is surprised to find out that – in the outside universe – all that labour is simply unaccounted for. It belongs primarily to women, and is therefore not “productive” labour. On his own world, where there are no women and therefore where parenting is handled exclusively by men, that labour is recognised as such. This fit in beautifully with what feminist economists like Nancy Folbre argue.

I loved Bujold’s vision of human adaptability. While North American culture still disproportionately offloads the labour of parenting onto women, and while so many will straight-facedly argue that it is simply a matter of biology, Bujold presents us with an all-male society where men – absent any other choices – simply step up and become parents. Some, like the main character, Ethan, go well beyond that to be downright nurturing. From the very beginning, Ethan is preoccupied with babies. His whole career is devoted to their creation, his long term goal throughout the novel is to have children of his own, and it is the threat to babies that incites his actions again and again.

The same is the case for Bujold’s concept of sexuality. Absent choices, many people will content themselves with homosexuality regardless of what they would choose if choices were available – as we see in gender-segregated environments like prisons and the military. History has many examples of societies with different conceptions of sexuality – Ancient Greece being the most well-known example. And, of course, Bujold allows for those individuals whose sexuality is less flexible, which on Athos would mean the celibate orders. It’s a vision of sexual fluidity that doesn’t get mentioned much in a culture where homosexuality is always on the defensive.

I’ve been hoping for a glimpse of the Quaddies ever since Falling Free. Now, I guess I’ll be hoping to see what the future holds for Athos.

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Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam [Neither Eve Nor Adam] by Amélie Nothomb

Read: 18 January, 2018

I really enjoyed the author’s Stupeur et tremblement, which is set in the same time period of her life. While that explores her time working in Japan, this book is about her time off, when she is dating a Japanese man named Rinri.

Typical for the author, the book is quite funny and insightful. It was especially amusing to read about a woman’s adventures trying to relearn her childhood language (in this case Japanese) while I, myself, was doing the same (in this case French).

And language plays a huge part in the story. Several pivotal plot moments involve linguistic misunderstandings between Amélie and Rinri, and a lot of the humour has to do with bilingual puns (not to mention the cultural differences).

As with all of Nothomb’s books that I’ve read so far, I really enjoyed this!

The Djinn Falls In Love & Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

Read: 12 January, 2018

Overall, I found this to be a really solid anthology! There were a few stories that I didn’t like, and more that I think I just didn’t really get, but the proportion of great to not great is excellent.

“The Djinn Falls in Love” by Hermes

The anthology starts with a poem. Poems tend to be a little more ambiguous or open to interpretation, but I think it’s comparing the force of nature that is the djinn to the force of nature that is love. Whatever it’s about, it has quite a bit of powerful imagery packed into a rather short piece.

“The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie

Starting off with a bang, this is one of my favourite stories in the collection. It starts as this beautiful, dreamlike queer love story between a human and a djinn. Then, unfortunately, the story keeps going and the love between the two young men is revealed to be that of two brothers. It’s disappointing that the story went so far, then shied away from what it could have been. It’s still a good story, though, with a strong fairy tale flavour.

“How We Remember You” by Kuzhali Manichavel

I feel like I don’t quite get this story. From what I could tell, it’s about a djinn living among people, but then he gets ill so the children kill him. I suppose it’s a commentary on something, or perhaps it alludes to other stories that I’m not familiar with? It’s well written, but I just don’t feel like I grasped what the author was trying to convey.

“Hurrem and the Djinn” by Claire North

This is one of those stories that’s frustrating because I wanted so much more – more exploration of the characters, more exploration of the world, more. Hurrem – a sultana believed to be using her control of djinn to manipulate the sultan – isn’t physically present in much of the story, yet she is present on every page. She is loved, and the ending reveals her to have remarkable strength and intrigue-savvy. I would happily read a whole book about her and the narrator, and the courtly forces trying to bring her down.

“Glass Lights” by J.Y. Yang

This story reminded me of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” – what if the djinn walked among us, leading ordinary lives, putting in their time at the office, having unrequited crushes? This one emphasised more the wish-granting aspect of the djinn, which turned it into an interesting commentary on pleaser personalities (people who spend their energies pleasing others at the expense of themselves). I mostly liked the story, though I do wish that it had gone a bit further with the concept. I also feel that the whole character backstory about the djinn grandmother was unnecessary, and the story would have been stronger with that trimmed off.

“Authenticity” by Monica Byrne

This was another one that I don’t feel like I really grasped. The idea of authenticity tourism is interesting and worth exploring, but I’m not sure how the story actually connects with that theme (other than the main character’s frequent repetition of the word). As for the plot itself, I don’t think I understood what the author was trying to say – especially in light of the “reveal” at the end. I feel like the film-making theme, and the direct experience versus in-person voyeurism versus on-screen voyeurism dichotomy are probably important, but the execution didn’t capture me enough to want to follow that thread.

“Majnun” by Helene Wecker

This was an interesting one that worked well as a short story. I usually either don’t like short stories, or they read like test runs for longer pieces, but this one was perfectly self-contained. A djinn converts to Islam and is faced with a former lover who is possessing a young man the djinn is trying to exorcise. What a great set up! The story has a solid narrative, an interesting conflict, and a satisfying ending.

“Black Powder” by Maria Dahvana Headley

This is a very dreamlike story that bounces back and forth in time, imagining that a djinn lived inside of a gun rather than a lamp. The dreaminess and the looseness of the narrative made it a little hard to follow, but I loved the imagery. The circle of skeletons with the broken tea cups, the bodies in a reactor meltdown turning into red and opalescent rock… just haunting.

“A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” by Amal El-Mohtar

This is another of those poetical-type stories that’s rather tricky to nail down. The literal story is about a second person “you” who transforms into several different birds, each time hunted by the “wizard-nation.” The impression I got was of the immigrant experience – each bird representing the types of immigrants and immigrant communities, and the wizard-nation being the consuming force of their new home. I have no idea if I’m on the right track, but I recognised a lot of those immigrant dynamics in the way the birds were described and the ways in which they were attacked by the wizard-nation. And if that’s the case, then the ending is rather uplifting.

“The Sand in the Glass is Right” by James Smythe

Interestingly, this is the first “be careful what you wish for” story in the bunch! And while the idea sounds painfully cliched, the execution is actually fairly descent. It’s told by the side characters, so the consequences of the wish are explored at a bit of a distance. It’s not my favourite story in the collection by far, but it’s a solid entry.

“Reap” by Sami Shah

This one is very powerful. The action of the story takes place in a small Pakistani village, and is told from the perspective of a narrator sitting in a military base in New Mexico. He’s observing the village from a drone, interpreting the heat signatures of its inhabitants, getting drawn into their lives in a removed, voyeuristic way. The whole set up is so interesting, and the story itself – though somewhat ambiguous due to events that happen outside of the drone’s visual range – is very compelling. The ending was a little weak, but I forgive it on the strength of the rest. And this is another one that works really well with the short story format!

“Queen of Sheba” by Catherine Faris King

This is an interesting origin story – showing us a young girl coming into her powers, then realising that she comes from a magical family. The problem is the format. This would have worked so much better drawn out, so we could explore more of the main character’s reaction to her newfound knowledge and powers. This could easily have been a whole novel, or maybe even a series.

“The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice” by E.J. Swift

I liked the worldbuilding in this one. I mean, putting the djinn in space? That is just awesome! The mystery plot worked really well for me, too, though the twist at the end needed something a little more. There’s a difference between an ambiguous ending and a story that wasn’t ended in the right place. This story was full of great ideas, but is another one that would have worked better in novel format.

“Message in a Bottle” by K.J. Parker

Like many of the stories in the collection, this one had some fabulous worldbuilding – the science, the plagues, the monastic orders, the bureaucratic limits to magic… all fantastic! And I really enjoyed the most of the story. The problem is with the ending, which takes an ethical non-question and tries to pass it off as an actual question. If the plagues are destroying humanity anyway, there’s absolutely no downside to releasing something that *might* be more plague, and all the benefit to releasing something that could be the cure. So the main character comes off less like someone paralysed by fear and more like whine and irrational jerk.

The djinn connection is a bit tenuous. There’s the bottle with its morally ambiguous contents, and there’s the face in the mirror. There’s also a rumour mentioned early on that someone gained knowledge from a demon. But there’s nothing concrete to relate this story to the theme of the collection.

“Bring Your Own Spoon” by Saad Z. Hossain

Again, we get some fun worldbuilding – this time it’s post-apocalyptic. I liked the idea of the djinn’s chaotic nature being used to help those on the margins of society.

“Somewhere in America” by Neil Gaiman

I saw this one on-screen in the TV adaption of American Gods (which I enjoyed quite a bit, by the way). Knowing everything that would happen didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the excerpt at all, even though I did have images from the show in my mind while reading. The excerpt works pretty well as a short story, albeit with an unnecessarily ambiguous ending. We still get the conflict, the pivotal moment, and the change – a full arc in a handful of pages.

“Duende 2077” by Jamal Mahjoub

Yet another story with fantastic worldbuilding. The story itself is pretty good too, but again, we have that issue where it’s setting up something so much bigger than the short story format allows. This one isn’t post-apocalyptic, per se. More like post-western civilisation. There’s plenty of humanity left, but the dominant culture is Arab. I really want to see this explored in greater detail!

“The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” by Sophia Al-Maria

A horror story about a religious young man in an arranged married totally failing to see the humanity of the – frankly, awesome – wife he suddenly finds himself with. It’s a cautionary tale about failing to prepare young people for their future relationships. It’s also rather horrifying, so major content notes for domestic abuse and violence against women.

“The Spite House” by Kirsty Logan

Something of a meditation on the concept of spite, using a djinn as a vehicle. The spite house is a house built to spite someone, a house that isn’t functional for its inhabitant, a house that is only suitable for a djinn who is used to living in cramped spaces. It’s a pretty good story – not one of my favourites, but a solid addition.

“Emperors of Jinn” by Usman T. Malik

This is another one that made me feel like I’m missing something. A group of children play around with a book about jinn. One of the kids has a sister who has been locked away because she’s been possessed. The whole thing felt like it had a deeper message to it, but it escaped me.

“History” by Nnedi Okorafor

I really liked this one. It’s like a superhero origin story, but told from the perspective of the ratioactive spider. This is one that would have worked as a longer novel, but also ties up neatly as a short story – a rare phenomenon.

A Gameknight999 Adventure: Terrors of the Forest by Mark Cheverton

Read: 9 January, 2018

This book apparently follows from the Herobrine novels, but doesn’t require that they be read. My son wanted to jump straight to Entity303 and, while past events are frequently mentioned and impact the current book’s plot, they are explained enough to get a feel for what’s happening.

I went into this not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. Considering that it’s a novelisation for a game without either plot or in-game lore, it seems like the kind of thing that would be banged out for a quick buck. And, it’s true, the came wasn’t exactly revolutionary – the plot is fairly simple, the character arcs lack subtlety, and there’s quite a bit of repetition. But at the same time, it was just fun. I enjoyed reading it, my son enjoyed listening to it, and since we’re playing the twilight forest mod on our family server at the moment, it was really cool to go find places and mobs we’d just been reading about.

My edition could have used some better editing. There were quite a few typos and even an instance or two where characters were addressed by the wrong name. But, overall, I was actually fairly impressed. This book is candy, but it’s healthier candy than a lot of what’s available.

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We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler

Read: 6 January, 2018

At a time when feminism sells, We Were Feminists Once examines just why that is, and what kind of feminism is being sold. It’s a well-researched and, as far as I am concerned, necessary look at what happens when feminism and capitalism team up.

It is a dense little book. There’s very little repetition, or meandering, or fluff. Zeisler hits the gas right from the first page, and it’s up to the reader to pause for processing when needed.

I appreciated that this book put down concretely into words, with facts and statistics to back it up, elements of the mainstream feminism (“Girl Power”, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, and more) that have made me feel uncomfortable – though I couldn’t always articulate why.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalists

EDIT: This list was originally published on 23 May, 2013. At that time, I had ready 30/237 of these entries. Now, a mere five years later, that number has grown to 48/237. That’s pretty neat!

NPR did a Science Fiction and Fantasy vote way back in the bygone days of 2011. Of course, late to the party as ever, I’m only just hearing about it!

But it makes for a good challenge if anyone is interested in reading highly esteemed Science Fiction and Fantasy books!

(I’ve been trying to catch up on SF&F classics for a few months now, so I’ve taken the liberty of bolding those works that I’ve read so far.)

  • 1632, by Eric Flint
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  • The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
  • The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
  • Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
  • Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
  • Armor, by John Steakley
  • The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
  • Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
  • Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
  • The Belgariad, by David Eddings
  • The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
  • The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
  • The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
  • The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
  • A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  • The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
  • Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Change Series, by S.M. Stirling
  • Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The City And The City, by China Mieville
  • City And The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
  • The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
  • The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F. Hamilton
  • The Company Wars, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
  • Contact, by Carl Sagan
  • Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  • The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
  • The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
  • The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
  • Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison
  • The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
  • The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
  • Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
  • The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
  • Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
  • Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
  • Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
  • The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
  • Earth, by David Brin
  • Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
  • The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
  • The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
  • Eon, by Greg Bear
  • The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
  • The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  • The Faded Sun Trilogy, by C.J. Cherryh
  • Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
  • The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
  • The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
  • Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
  • The Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
  • The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
  • The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper
  • Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
  • The Gormenghast Triology, by Mervyn Peake
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper
  • Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
  • The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  • The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
  • House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
  • The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
  • I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
  • I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
  • The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
  • The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  • A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Kraken, by China Mieville
  • The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
  • Last Call, by Tim Powers
  • The Last Coin, by James P. Blaylock
  • The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  • The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
  • The Lensman Series, by E.E. Smith
  • The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
  • The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
  • Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
  • Little, Big, by John Crowley
  • The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
  • The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
  • Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  • The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
  • The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
  • The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
  • Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
  • Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
  • Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
  • The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
  • Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
  • More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Newsflesh Triology, by Mira Grant
  • The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton
  • Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
  • Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
  • The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
  • Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  • On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
  • The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
  • Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
  • The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
  • The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
  • Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
  • The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  • Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
  • Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
  • The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
  • The Pride Of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh
  • The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R. Scott Bakker
  • The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  • Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
  • Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood
  • Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
  • Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
  • The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven
  • The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
  • The Saga Of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
  • The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Scar, by China Mieville
  • The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
  • The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge
  • Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  • Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
  • A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
  • The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
  • Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
  • The Stand, by Stephen King
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  • Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
  • Steel Beach, by John Varley
  • Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  • Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  • The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
  • The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
  • The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
  • The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
  • Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
  • The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
  • Ubik, by Philip K. Dick
  • The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
  • The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
  • VALIS, by Philip K. Dick
  • Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
  • The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
  • The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon
  • The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
  • Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  • The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak
  • We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
  • When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
  • Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
  • Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
  • The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • World War Z, by Max Brooks
  • The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison
  • The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon

10 Novels Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Read

A little while ago, EpicStream published its list of 10 Novels Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Read. It’s in a listicle format, so I’ll reproduce it here:

#10: Dune by Frank Herbert
#9: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
#8: Contact by Carl Sagan
#7: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark
#6: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
#5: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
#4: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
#3: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
#2: 1984 by George Orwell
#1: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This list has the benefit of being entirely composed of books I’ve read, but notice anything strange about it?

Yeah…

Aside from the obvious problem that 1984 barely qualifies as science fiction, this list doesn’t even include Ursula LeGuin or Octavia Butler – who are the usual go-to “diversity” entries for lists written by people who don’t read diversely.

So I thought I’d come up with an alternate list. So here are my 10 Novels Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Read, in no particular order:

  • A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
  • A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
  • Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

With honourable mentions:

  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

These days, there simply is no excuse to come up with such a ridiculously narrow list. Novels from people of all sorts of different backgrounds and perspectives are more accessible than ever, and a great many of them are good. We don’t need to be reading the same stuffy handful with the okay writing style and the few thought-provoking ideas, because we are living in a buyer’s market. We can demand excellence, we can demand creativity, and we can demand different.

And little makes me quite so angry as a list, written in this scifi golden age, that trots out the same old slogs all over again. Particularly when the newest blood it sees fit to include is Ready Player One, of all books!

Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Captain Phasma by Kelly Thompson, illustrated by Marco Checchetto

Read: 4 January, 2018

I don’t have a great track record with tie-in comics. I didn’t much like the Mass Effect one I read, and I really didn’t like the last Star Wars one. But this one was on sale for almost the exact amount I needed to get free shipping on an order, so I went for it…

And I actually liked it!

Like with most graphic novels, I was a little disappointed by how fast everything flew by. I wanted a little more time with the characters, more inner dialogue to help me get to know them better, but I think that’s just because novels are my home medium.

And yet, with the space Thompson had, she did a fantastic job of giving me a better sense of Phasma as a character. Phasma, who has been notoriously short-changed in the movies, deserves her own story, and this is a good start. Even better, there are scattered hints of more that have me excited to read the Phasma novel by Delilah Dawson and find out more.*

*Although the artistic choices in what appear to be a flashback have me a bit confused. The figures we see are all dark haired. And while we never see Phasma herself without her mask, the actor Gwendoline Christie is fair haired.

The story itself was a good one, and I loved that Phasma was amoral, rather than evil. She’s here to survive, and survive she will – no matter what. There was nuance there that we don’t often get to see in “dark protagonists” of any gender, but especially women.

Vorkosigan Saga #8: Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 2 January, 2018

The Cetagandans have lurked in the shadows of this series since the beginning, but – other than a brief glimpse in Warrior’s Apprentice – this is the first time we’ve gotten to meet any of them.

The stakes don’t feel quite as high in this book, for some reason, but the worldbuilding is incredible. It reminded me a bit of A Door Into Ocean and Dune, in the sense that women are in charge of bio-engineering. And, in all three books, it’s through the monopoly of bio-engineering that these women secure their power/freedom.

I liked the way the female and male spheres were separated, yet also intertwined and interdependent – mirrored by the relationship between the haut and the ghem classes.

Mostly, though, I liked that all of this was just a glimpse. Miles is permitted a peek at the inner lives of the haut, but no more than that. I can’t wait to see both how Miles’s actions in this book will affect the Cetagandans of the future, as well as how his experiences with them will affect his own responses to their future conflicts.

I love seeing how much Miles seems to be maturing as the series progresses. He seems more self-aware now, with a greater understanding of why he does the things he does (like keep problems secret from his superiors until he can solve them himself).

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Vorkosigan Saga #7: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 21 December, 2017

Miles is at it again!

Freshly graduated from the academy, Miles’s first posting is in an isolated polar base where they send people they’d rather just forget about

This book reminded me somewhat of Shards of Honor, at least in its structure. Both books can be divided neatly into two – each portion having its own separate plot, its own resolutions, its own setting. But, at the same time, the events of the first come back to become integral to the events of the second. So in both books, we get two distinct novellas that complement each other. In this case, we get Miles at the polar base, and then Miles in space and far, far away from home.

Warrior’s Apprentice came with something of a wakeup call. It’s all fun and games as Miles gallivants around the universe having adventures, until responsibility starts hitting him in waves – first the danger to himself, then the danger to his friends and crew, and then the danger to the entire political system of Barrayar.

In The Vor Game, we get a somewhat wiser, more jaded Miles. He’s not much older, but he has a better understanding of his responsibilities, and of how badly his actions can harm others. Even better, we get to watch, from his perspective, as the Emperor Gregor goes through the same lesson.

It’s this negotiation of danger (especially as the spheres of danger come into conflict with each other) that makes this book so interesting.

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