I’m a little bit too tired and short of brain to address any of the controversies cropping up in the realms of SFF this month. Or to get my teeth into a properly juicy matter for discussion: forgive me, friends. The spirit is willing, but the rest is weak.
So instead of proper thoughtfulness, this week I’m talking about all the lovely books I’ve read recently. And maybe mentioning the books I wish I was reading right now. (For some reason, there’s never enough time to read all the things I want to read. This is deeply unfair. Had I but world enough and time! etc.)
Elizabeth Bear’s One-Eyed Jack (Prime Books, 2014) will probably go down in the annals of literary history as one of Bear’s quirkier, more minor works. Set in Las Vegas in and around 2002, it’s a fantasy in dialogue with the spy shows of the 1960s and the mythology of American cities, with legendary American figures both real and fictional. Although it never breaks the fourth wall, it glories in metafictionality—and is ultimately a very fun fantasy caper. I enjoyed it a whole hell of a lot. Do recommend.
You might have already seen me go on about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword (Orbit, 2014), the sequel to multiple-award-winning Ancillary Justice. If you managed to miss my great enthusiasm, well, the short version is that it’s a space opera that could have been written JUST FOR ME, and I love it as much as I loved its predecessor.
You probably haven’t seen me go on about Roz Kaveney’s Resurrections (Plus One Press, 2014) yet. I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, Rituals (2012) and Reflections (2013), despite certain structural imbalances in the narrative. Overall, it’s a fantastic bloody series. Kaveney isn’t afraid to make ambitious messes with mythology, genre furniture, and your own expectations. In this outing, much of the narrative is spent between first-century-CE Alexandria and Judaea, with side-trips into the sixth century to meet with Hypatia, and a spot of time the present for a war between Heaven, Hell, and unnamed other parties. We’re treated to the life of Jesus according to Mara the Huntress, and our previous modern urban-fantasy protagonist Emma taking a whole new level in badass. Playful blasphemy aside, Resurrections has a few problematic moments, but I love it a great deal regardless. If you haven’t checked this series out before, you should give it a chance.
I wasn’t particularly excited by the latest collaboration between Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, The House of the Four Winds (Tor, 2014), a competent if rather predictable fantasy novel set in a version of our world sometime in the 1700s—the names of the countries are different, and there is magic, but “French doors” are still a thing and global geopolitics seems to be mappable one-for-one. It has pirates and the high seas, and doesn’t fuck up shipboard life entirely, but you can call the turns of the plot in advance without much effort, and the conclusion comes from nowhere. Diverting for an afternoon.
It’s not exactly science fiction or fantasy, but Barbara Hambly has a new book out. Crimson Angel (Severn House, 2014) is the latest Benjamin January novel, and in my opinion one of the best. Ben, Rose, and their longtime friend Hannibal Sefton are forced by death threats and old family secrets to travel to Cuba in disguise, and thence to Haiti, to uncover the truth before the people who killed Rose’s half-brother catch up with them and kill them too. A fantastic, atmospheric novel, and one that’s less about the mystery of who killed whom and why than it is about the atrocities committed against the slaves of Saint-Domingue before the revolution, and the atrocities committed against black persons under slavery. Well worth reading.
Bold Strokes Books sent me an electronic ARC of Shea Godfrey’s Blackstone (2014), the second book in a lesbian fantasy romance series. It’s probably fairer to describe this as an erotic romance, actually. The prose is competent enough, but there’s not a lot of plot to hold the attention in between fairly straightforward sex scenes. Not exactly my style of thing, unfortunately: I wanted to enjoy it rather more than I did.
Among the books staring accusingly from my to-read pile are Campbell-Award-nominated Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s short Scale-Bright (Immersion Press, 2014); Rebecca Levene’s Smiler’s Fair (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014)—I’m thirty pages in, and it’s looking interesting—and fellow Irishperson Ruth Frances Long’s A Crack in Everything (O’Brien Press, 2014), which is actually set in Dublin. Now all I need to do is read faster…