Finished reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a pre-COVID “most people in the world die of a plague” novel. The story starts during a performance of King Lear at the start of the plague, and then follows two people — the actor playing Lear, through the before-times to that point, and a young girl also in the production, through the after-times in a traveling company performing Shakespeare plays. I read Last One at the Party about a year ago, and think this one is so much better it’s almost unfair to compare them. If you can stomach the premise, read this.
Finished rereading The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O’Brian, book 16 of the Aubrey/Maturin series, and the fourth and final book of their circumnavigation. Neither Aubrey nor Maturin has great success in this book; oddly, this felt satisfying enough that even a deus ex machina ending wasn’t a disappointment.
Finished reading The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison, a followup to last year’s Witness for the Dead. I enjoyed this as much as the previous. Addison draws her fundamentally-decent but painfully-introverted protagonist with compassion, through grim events of murders, child pornography (handled as tastefully as possible), and a malevolent spirit.
This still basically holds up, which I was a little concerned about. (There’s more reference to rape than I remembered, but at least it doesn’t involve protagonists, and justice of a sort is generally done.) Some of stuff that was profound when I was in my 20s feels a little trite, but overall it still seems to achieve what it’s aiming for.
Finished rereading Cugel the Clever by Jack Vance (which I originally read as The Eyes of the Overworld), book two of the Dying Earth series. This picaresque was quite entertaining, despite (or because of) the cruel and antisocial main character, who invariably chooses the most destructive option whenever possible. You know what? I regret that characterization of the book. It’s a trap: You’re meant to be entertained by the cruel and antisocial main character, and you’re meant to gloss over how he sexually coerces one character and sells another into slavery. Fuck that, and fuck this book.
Finished rereading The Truelove by Patrick O’Brian, book 15 of the Aubrey/Maturin series, and the third book of a circumnavigation of the globe. Another well-crafted book, focusing on the relationship among the ship’s officers; most of the naval action is relegated to a montage sequence late in the book.
Finished rereading Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Boy do I have complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, the concepts are fascinating and the storytelling is top-notch. On the other, there’s a bunch of pandering to nerds and contempt for non-nerds, especially in the first half of the book, not to mention the casual sexism. (I would be curious to see what the book would have been like in the alternate universe where he wrote it today.) I used to recommend this book without reservations, but now it would be more along the lines of The Lord of the Rings (read this, but don’t fail to notice that the people with dark skin are bad guys).
Finished reading Spear by Nicola Griffith, a short, fun novel retelling the story of Percival and the Holy Grail. (It’s just around a quarter the length of Hild!) A lovely digestif of a book.
Finished rereading Scary Go Round volumes 1–8 by John Allison. I first read these as they were published online (starting with 2004’s “1840 and All That”); it was very interesting to reread them as a whole work, seeing the progression of Allison’s artistic and storytelling styles and interests.
My recollection was correct: Hild does belong on the shelf next to Lavinia and Matrix.
Finished rereading Hild by Nicola Griffith, the first part of a fictional biography of the lightly-documented Saint Hilda of Whitby. I love this book, love how it centers girls and women in its well-researched portrayal of seventh-century life. I read this slowly enough that having the ebook was a huge advantage: Whenever a character I’d forgotten showed up again, I could quickly search to remind myself who they were.
Finished reading Last Exit by Max Gladstone. Lots of thoughts about the book — reminds me of Stephen King I read ages ago; repetitious and hamfisted observations on the Way the World Is Today; difficult to stay focused on, especially the first half — but in the end it won me over, and I really enjoyed it.