Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 6

It’s another beautiful day in the village. Are you a quarantined goose?

As I write this column, my wife is standing on the kitchen countertops and peeling the wall while singing a sea shanty, so we’re all fine here. No bubbling madness at all.

For those of you who want a distraction that doesn’t involve acrobatic DIY, I have some books to tell you about. Though I’m really feeling a lack of queer sword-and-sorcery style adventure stories in my life right now, which means that maybe I’m crankier about everything else because it’s not the fun I want to be having. Do you know how many novels involving plagues and quarantines I’ve encountered recently? (Maybe I’m just noticing them more.)

Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon is set in the same universe as her Lady Astronaut duology, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky. It probably won’t stand alone very well, since it relies on the previous duology for a lot of its context—even though it stars a different protagonist entirely. It’s the 1960s, and in this alternate past, there’s a small—but growing—settlement on the Moon and a plan to colonise Mars, because the Earth is going to become very difficult to inhabit. Nicole Wargin is an astronaut and a politician’s wife: her husband is the governor of Kansas and a frontrunner for a presidential nomination. Her career is bedevilled by sexism and her marriage is complicated by her husband’s ambitions and her own love for space. But the space programme is facing both political pressure and sabotage, including from within. Nicole is sent as a courier to the Moon to bring code books and use her particular talents to assist with uncovering the mole in communications. Events quickly spiral out of control, as a polio epidemic spreads across the Moon as sabotage attempts increase in frequency and seriousness. Cut off from Earth—and then with communications completely cut—Nicole and her colleagues on the Moon are completely alone, with their own lives and possibly the entire future of the space programme on the line.

It’s a solid, exciting read. I enjoyed The Relentless Moon a lot more than the previous duology. I suspect this is because Nicole Wargin is a much angrier protagonist than Elma York: angrier and with more sharp edges, which makes her a more compelling character for me to read. If it weren’t for the whole polio epidemic plot, it’d be the perfect distraction.

In a previous column, I believe I mentioned Emily B. Martin’s forthcoming Sunshield. Since I found that a light and enjoyable novel, I decided to go read Martin’s first trilogy, and see if I enjoyed that, too.

That trilogy comprises Woodwalker, Ashes to Fire, and Creatures of Light. Each has a different narrator—one of three different royal women, from three different countries—and each novel bends towards romance as well as adventure.

In Woodwalker, an exiled scout leads a small party of displaced royals through a forested country so that they can reclaim their home from invaders. In Ashes to Fire, a diplomatic meeting gone wrong turns a queen into a fugitive. And in Creatures of Light, a scholar-queen accused of treason sets out to overturn her people’s view of a prophecy that’s led them to become a nation of militaristic conquerors (and succeeds).

It’s hard to take the political ramifications of the characters’ decisions seriously—this isn’t a particularly realistic view of personal and international politics, and some of these people’s choices don’t seem like they should work out at all—but the stories trip along in an entertaining fashion, and everything works out in the end. My only significant complaint is that, as with Sunshield, this appears to be a world where queer people and queer relationships aren’t at all visible, and I’ve got used to a lot more visibility in the last while. But that aside, I had fun reading these novels.

What are you reading lately? Please tell me it’s something fun.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.


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