Category: Books (page 1 of 9)

The Coode Street Podcast with Jo Walton and Me


At WorldCon in Kansas City I got the chance to join Jo Walton on the Coode Street podcast, hosted by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe. We talked about writers that characterize different eras of science fiction, how science fiction differs rhetorically from fantasy (more detail on that here), and whether there’s a difference between the kinds of literary experimentation in the past and what is pursued today. As tends to happen, I fell a little bit into just listening to Jo be enviably clever, but I did get a chance to talk about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s modern support for genre writing, and contemporary writers who inspire me (going on for a bit about  Carmen Maria Machado and Meghan McCarron and Carola Dibbell). You can listen to the episode on the Coode Street site, on your podcast player of choice through iTunes, or via the embedded player below.

“The New Mother” included in Heiresses of Russ 2016


I’m quite please to say that “The New Mother” has been selected for inclusion in Lethe Press’s Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, edited by A. M. Dellamonica and Steve Berman. This will be the first time my work appears in a reprint anthology. It looks to be a gorgeous book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and learn who I’m sharing the TOC with. “Heiress of Russ” is an appellation I never would have claimed for myself, but couldn’t be happier to receive. You can buy the book from Lethe’s site here.

Reading 2016: Catching Up

I did very little reading this past summer, my attention instead consumed by other responsibilities. These are the only books I managed the last few months.

  1. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton – A book I’d saved for a time when I wanted to read something I was absolutely sure I would enjoy. It’s impossible to overstate how delightful and sly this is. I’ll be, I’m certain, revisiting this novel as comfort reading in the future.
  2. Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz – I’ve been reading Wertz’s comics online off and on for years, and it was nice to revisit these earlier strips.
  3. Astro Boy vol. 10 by Osamu Tezuka – Borrowed from Ada Palmer’s library, this volume collects the story arc in which Astro Boy must fight the robot Pluto. I read this so that I can at some point return to Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto with greater appreciation.
  4. Domu: A Child’s Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo – Another book borrowed from Ada Palmer, this is one I’d been wanting to read for a long time, I think since it was reviewed on Artbomb in the early 2000s. I love Otomo’s Akira, and this book in many ways feels like an earlier experiment in creating that world. It also reminded me that there has still never been another mangaka who draws action quite like Otomo does. I’m going to be buying a copy of this for my own collection.
  5. Engine Summer by John Crowley – Crowley’s prose is pristine, and much as in The Deep, here he employs a shadowy frame narrative that maintains an undercurrent of curiosity even as a hundred pages go by without the story glancing that way. This book is lyrical and contained, pleasant but not major. Still trying to work myself up to giving Little, Big another shot.
  6. Blindsight by Peter Watts –I think I fundamentally disagree with the philosophy of mind at the core of this novel, but very much enjoyed it nonetheless. I stayed up all night reading it in one go. Watts writes excellent, cutting sentences to hold some big science fiction ideas. I have many nitpicks, but Blindsight is a novel of real ambition and menace. I admire that.
Time, I think, is like walking backwards away from something: say, from a kiss. First there is the kiss; then you step back, and the eyes fill up your vision, then the eyes are framed in the face as you step further away; the face then is part of a body, and then the body is framed in a doorway, then the doorway framed in the trees beside it. The path grows longer and the door smaller, the trees fill up your sight and the door is lost, then the path is lost in the woods and the woods lost in the hills. Yet somewhere in the center still is the kiss. That's what time is like. –from Engine Summer by John Crowley

Reading 2016: April


April was an overwhelmingly busy month, and I only finished one book. But what a book it was.

  1. The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell – I had been recommended this book by enough people I trust that I already owned a copy when the Tiptree Honor list came out, with Dibbell’s novel featured. That was enough to bump it up to the top of the stack. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years, tackling favorite themes like the compromises of parenthood, or the intersection of biology and identity, with such an assured voice and a slow-burn thoroughness that I was left in awe. My envy that someone else wrote this book instead of me is surpassed only by my gratitude that it exists at all. This is Dibbell’s debut novel, and it’s perfect. I feel honored to share an award list with her. I’m on to my next book now, but I keep being tempted to put it down and read The Only Ones again from the beginning. It’s that good.

Reading 2016: February


  1. This Census-Taker by China Miéville – The first of his books that I’ve read since Embassytown, this short novel is a bit of a departure. It’s a study in voice and character that resists plot resolution in favor of mounting tonal stresses. Somewhat similar to Jeff VanderMeer’s Adaptation in that regard. And like that book, one I found pleasant enough while reading, but didn’t overly impress. I liked seeing a stylistic departure, though, even if it wasn’t my favorite thing of his I’ve read.
  2. Beasts & Children by Amy Parker – Amy is a friend from grad school, and her debut is a collection of linked short stories that look at caretaking as understood by children from their parents, parents toward their children, and humans toward animals. Each of these stories is strong on it’s own, but there’s a delightful momentum as you watch the main characters grow into adults, meet each other, face old problems from new angles with the weight of personal history behind them. The book gets better and better as it goes along.
  3. Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte – Another debut from a grad school friend. Tony’s novel has been getting deservedly glowing reviews all over the place, for its hyperliterate prose, its blistering satirical edge, and its photorealistic capturing of a familiar millennial mood. I read this straight through in less than a day, and then went back and re-read chapters that had lodged especially deeply.
  4. Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, J. H. Williams III, Dave Stewart – Probably my favorite thing I’ve read by Neil Gaiman since The Graveyard Book, with typically astonishing art from J. H. Williams III. Made me want to go back and reread all of Sandman.
  5. Odd John by Olaf Stapeldon – I’m continually impressed with the breadth of Stapledon’s imagination, and how many of his ideas have since been reinvented and made cliche in ways he could never have anticipated. Odd John is the story of the birth, rearing, and death of a superhuman, perhaps an early member of one of the species of humanity described in Last and First Men. I found this book completely enjoyable right up until chapter 16, where there’s a huge knot of anthropological racism: a superhuman from Africa is characterized in ways that read to the modern eye as buffoonish stereotypes. The volume on such caricatures is turned down thereafter, but never quite goes to zero. It’s a shame, because the book is otherwise wonderful.

Reading 2016: January


Another year, another book tracking tag. Whereas last year I made a point of focusing on gender diversity in my reading list, this year I’m focusing on something much more personal: working down the huge collection of books I own but haven’t read yet. These will be interspersed with more newly-released books than usual, as I have many friends with books coming out this year.

  1. The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi – I loved the first book in this trilogy, The Quantum Thief, and found the second book, The Fractal Prince, interesting. I really wanted to like the conclusion of the story, but I closed the book disappointed. It wasn’t bad, but where the previous books of the series seemed to constantly deepen the grand conceptual premises on offer, The Causal Angel feels much more shallow. The plot feels heavy-handed where previous installments seemed organic, and leads up to a deus ex machina conclusion that would actually be pretty satisfying except Rajaniemi gives the reader no tools to understand the consequences of the climactic change. That said, the writing remains as gripping as ever, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
  2. What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell – The first of a bunch of books coming out this year from folks who were at Iowa with me. I didn’t actually know Garth, he showed up towards the end of my time there, but we have many friends in common, and heard rumblings about this book long before it hit shelves. It’s a short novel about an American teaching in Bulgaria and the intermittent relationship he has with a young male prostitute named Mitko. The novel in is in three sections, the first detailing the narrator and Mitko’s sexual relationship. The prose is pristine throughout, but for me the book really becomes impressive in the second section, a near stream-of-consciousness rumination on the main character’s childhood after he learns of the terminal illness of his father. The third section looks at the main character and Mitko’s relationship again, in light of our new understanding, as the relationship turns medically and socially fraught. A memorable book that’s been receiving absolutely glowing reviews. I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as some of the people writing for major publications do, but it’s easy to recommend.
  3. Our Expanding Universe by Alex Robinson – Robinsons first book, Box Office Poison, was really important to me during my teens, and I’ve followed his career since waiting for another of his books to hit me that hard. None has, and maybe none will, but I’ve not regretted the journey. This book is about people in their late twenties and early thirties, negotiating their feelings about settling down, having children, giving up (or not) their childish ways. The scale isn’t ambitious, but the naturalistic dialog is fairly absorbing, and what grace notes there are all work.
  4. Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer – In his mid-80s, having already done every other damn thing under the sun, Jules Feiffer decided to pen a graphic novel. That should really be all you need to know, but I’ll add that it’s an intricately plotted, gritty story of family enmity and mistaken identity in the 1930s and 40s. Guns and dames, twists and turns. Great fun.

Reading 2015: Final Roundup

MyRealChildren_Jo-WaltonI never did a Reading2015 post for December, but I only read one book during the month, My Real Children by Jo Walton, which I consumed on Christmas day. I adored it. It’s the story of a woman who, in her old age, can remember living two distinctly different lives, stemming from a single choice in her youth. It’s an alternate history of alternate histories, with chapters alternating between two very different life courses that, in the end, ask you to make an impossible ethical and aesthetic judgement, what Ursula Le Guin on the back cover calls “a sort of super Sophie’s Choice.” I’m always a sucker for branching narrative, the way the space between the threads opens room for new resonances and emotions, just as a paper towel doubled over can absorb more than the same sheet applied flat. This book might just be my new go-to example of the form.

So here’s where that leaves my stats for 2015:

  • 67 total books
  • 35 prose books
  • 32 graphic novels
  • 26 women authors (writer or artist)
  • 44 books authored or co-authored by women
  • 33 male authors (writer or artist)
  • 28 books authored or co-authored by men.
  • Best month: September (12 books – all GNs)
  • Worst month: December (1 book – prose)

As with last year, here the the books (not counting re-reads) that stand out in most my memory (which isn’t exactly the same thing exactly as how much I liked them):

  1. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  2. My Real Children by Jo Walton
  3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  4. On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch
  5. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  6. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
  7. Tenth of December by George Saunders
  8. Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
  9. Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill
  10. Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
  11. Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
  12. The Wilds by Julia Elliott
  13. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Some interesting things include the presence of only one graphic novel, despite the form making up nearly half of my reading. That’s largely due to my having re-read all of Dykes to Watch Out For, all of which were ineligible for this list.  Another is which Mary Gaitskill book made the list. I think that in many ways the collection Because They Wanted To is the stronger of the two Gaitskill volumes I read this past year, but it’s her first novel my mind alights on more easily. And I can’t do anything about the wiring of memory, and what it may have to do with two books I read in just the last two month making my top 5.

It was my resolution for 2015 to read 100 books, and I fell short not just of that mark, but of my 2014 mark of 73 books read. I attribute this primarily to having started doing some work for television, which prompted me to massively increase my television watching. I would say the TV I’ve consumed, added to the hundreds of hours of Fallout 4 I played in November, is easily equal to 33 books. But since I don’t have any better ideas, I’m going to go ahead an roll over my 2015 resolution to 2016, and aim for 100 books read in the year to come.

The past is the religion I was raised in, but I don't practice religion. –from This Shape We're In by Jonathan Lethem

Reading 2015: November


As predicted, Fallout 4 dominated my media consumption time this past month. The first three books here I read in the week before the game came out, and the last two I read in the final days of the month, while traveling for Thanksgiving and far away from my console.

  1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – It took until about halfway through the book for the story to cohere and reveal its stakes, but once it did I was deeply invested. I’m not sure I found the linguistic handling of gender as mind-blowing as other readers did, though I did think it very clever. This is enjoyably chewy space opera, and miles better than I expect first novels to be. My only real complaint was how many places the plot hinges on coincidence, with multiple characters just happening to pop up again despite the passage of decades and centuries. To its credit the book does at least address the issue, by having the main character ruminate on the dominant culture’s religious treatment of coincidence each time, but I found this gesture to mollify more than it excused.
  2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  3. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie – I read these last two back-to-back, as one long story, and so don’t really have opinions on them as distinct entities. It says something that I was invested enough after the first book (which I’d owned since it came out but just finally got around to reading) that I picked up and read the rest of the trilogy immediately. And I think I’m glad I waited until the series was finished, because approaching it this way was quite enjoyable. Books 2 and 3 are palpably smaller in scale than book 1; the Space Operatics feel comparatively muted. But the character work being done is in many ways superior to the first book, in no small part because the premise is already established.
  4. Superman: Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S! Maggin – I last read this book back when my age was in the single digits. While it’s set in a very 70s era of the Superman mythos, and the dialog tics feel dated, there is a tremendous amount here that captures things I love about Superman. This Superman isn’t naive at all, he’s brilliant and principled, and his relationship with Lex Luthor has the resonant complexity of myth. Also, rereading it, this is clearly where I learned the word “philtrum,” (misspelled throughout as “filtrum”) which is notable because, when my parents decided to adopt a child when I was 10, Filtrum is what I suggested that he be named. (Also, on the book cover Maggin’s middle initial is punctuated with a simple period, but he often used an exclamation point instead, which I love so much, I refuse to render it any other way.)
  5. This Shape We’re In by Jonathan Lethem – This book was lent to me by Karen Meisner after I told her how much I loved stories in which the plot is dictated by the physical shape of the setting, especially if that shape is primarily linear. My example was the movie Snowpiercer; they’re at the back of the train, they want to be at the front of the train, and all of human society stands in the way: go! I love stories like that, and Karen correctly predicted I would enjoy this, in which the characters are all living in a giant organism, and slowly make their way from the rear to the head in pursuit of goals it would be spoilery to talk too much about. But this is a short piece, probably a novella, and great fun.