Hey guys! So I know content around here has slowed down quite a bit lately, and I apologize. As the title says, I actually HAVE been reading books lately, quite a few of them. I’ve just been finding that they’ve more often than not left me with very little to say about them – or at least, not enough to justify a whole blog post. I’ve posted thoughts on a few of them to GoodReads, because it’s easy to spit out a few pithy lines on my phone and be done with it, but enough of them have accrued that I figure it’s time to Voltron together a quickie review post!
Here we go!
On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1) by David WeberGot 60 pages in before I dropped it. I don’t normally DNF books, even the terrible ones, because I AM NOT A QUITTER GODDAMMUT, but holy god this thing was boooooooooring. A car crash of terrible writing, the military stuff is bone fucking dry and dense, and the character stuff…oy. If you ever get some rando dude with David Weber on his shelf shitting on YA for its writing or genre tropes, feel free to beat him over the head with this doorstop, because he doesn’t have a goddamn leg to stand on.
I was jonesing for a good military sci-fi heroine after the one-two punch of awesome that was Mass Effect and Ancillary Justice, but my relationship with Honor (HONOR) was rocky from the start. On like page one we learn that she has a super-special, ultra-selective, six-legged intelligent psychic alien tree cat companion, which is like nauseatingly twee, whatever. But then we hit the two-page long passage where Honor describes herself in the mirror and suddenly she’s THAT kind of heroine. You know, the one who shuns make-up and hairstyling and fashion because she isn’t like all those other female military officers (what???); who has ~boring brown hair~ and ~boring brown eyes~ and a “serviceable enough face” aughhhhhhhhh, but is still clearly meant to be strikingly attractive, anyway.
Actual Quote from Her Male Co-Worker, Like Two Pages Later:
Those clean-cut, strong features and huge, dark brown eyes – ~*EXOTICALLY*~ angular and sparkling with barely restrained delight despite her formal expression – discounted such ephemeral concepts as “pretty”. She was herself, unique, impossible to confused with anyone else, and that only made it worse.“SUCH EPHEMERAL CONCEPTS AS PRETTY”. NO THANKS AUTHOR DUDE, you can take your Exceptional Woman and get stuffed.
First Flight (Nicole Shea #1) by Chris ClaremontThis one I at least managed to make it all the way through. It was still really boring though, which should have been almost impossible, given the content.
I mean, First Flight seemed cool on paper: female lead, multicultural cast, space exploration. I was still hankering for a good space lady tale post-Ancillary Justice and Mass Effect, and this book got off to a decent start.
But then it got to introducing the cast and things got weird. Like, I appreciate Claremont having a kind of surprisingly progressive cast for 1987. Three of the commanding officers are women, there’s a Hispanic lady captain, a bisexual Japanese lady scientist, a Hispanic co-pilot dude, an Israeli scientist, a gay Russian scientist. I mean, the heroine and the romance are still straight and blindingly white, but that kind of diversity in a cast is hard to find now, so it’s almost bizarro-world to see it in a book this old.
BUT apparently nobody told Claremont not to talk about human beings like they’re animals being categorized for science, so we get pretty clinical, dehumanizing references to discrimination against “homosexual males” and Hana, the science lady, is repeatedly referred to as “the Japanese” – Japanese WHAT, Claremont, it’s not a species name! Plus, he pulls the old “blue-eyed Asian woman, such exotic beauty!!!“, which is a classic, right?
So that was awkward, and then my excitement took another nose-dive when the older white male dickhead Brawny-Man-looking character was established as the love interest – WE COULD HAVE HAD SPACE GIRLFRIENDS, CLAREMONT – and a great deal of the focus of the story was set on that: the heroine’s conflict over her feelings for Brawny Man and their relationship and where it fit with her career, and when it was right and proper to give up her career to have babies and ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. While this could have potentially been really compelling stuff in some other, not terrible story, it just…wasn’t, here. I wasn’t engaged by the characters or the romance, and no one really leapt off the page to get me invested in the story.
Brawny Man, by the way, was on the cover looking like this:
That’s not even just the cover, he’s actually described like this, with his broom head mustache and his fucking rat tail UGH how am I supposed to find that attractive???
And they were flying around space in a giant space dick, so idk how I could possibly take this seriously.
All of that is bad enough, right, but then the world building wasn’t terribly interesting, and the plot was completely up in the air for almost half the book. I thought perhaps when it finally showed up in the form of – I shit you not – alien CAT PEOPLE straight off of DeviantArt, things might be looking up – and they did, briefly.
For a precious few chapters, there were bizarre hallucination-filled cat-people funeral rites on the cat-person holodeck, and the Brawny Man was transformed into a cat-person shaman against his will, and everything was so beautifully bizarre, I was like:
I CAN GET DOWN WITH A SPACE FURRIES BOOK. But then the fucking villain showed up, and just like that shit was tedious and boring again, this time for the rest of the book.
There’s just nothing that particularly sticks out about First Flight, except for the sexy alien furry cat-people wank fodder, which isn’t in-your-face weird enough to make the book worth reading for the lulz, or developed enough to make me take it seriously. I’m not even tempted to read the sequels, though I’m told the relationship between the heroine and Brawny never picks up again (score) and her relationship with Hana ends “ambiguously”. Still, gotta say pass on this one.
Also for Chrissakes Claremont, pick a POV and stick with it. Randomly tuning in to other characters’ perspectives for half a paragraph just to communicate some thought that can’t be worked in somewhere else is bad form, man.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry PratchettOh my god, I spent actual MONEY on this. My boyfriend and I have started reading books at the same time, and we take turns picking the thing we’ll read. Good Omens was his pick, and he couldn’t even finish it. I did, though! Because I hate myself, apparently.
This one is just such a banal, poorly-paced, over-padded, tedious, masturbatory exercise in “cleverness”. Like spending several hours sitting next to an un-funny comedian who oozes smugness out of every pore, and keeps spouting off tired observational humor whilst jabbing you in the ribs every couple of sentences.
Seed by Ania AhlbornI picked this one for the two of us to read. Maybe it was unconscious retribution for Good Omens?
Even two hundred pages are too many for this shallow story that offers nothing but tropey horror movie shenanigans that probably wouldn’t even be scary in the environment that they’re shamelessly cribbed from, and are even less impressive when just described. Seed is an incredibly generic, bare-bones haunted house/possession movie copy+pasted into book form, except without any of the depth of character, plot, or atmosphere that that change in medium might allow for. Populated by stock characters, narrated by a useless puppet muzzled and directed by plot convenience, and completely devoid of any mythology or world-building that might make it memorable, Seed relies on “gore” and shock value for its horror, and the worst part is that it never even makes it in to the realm of creepy. There is literally no reason to waste your time reading this book. Go watch Sinister instead.
Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieThis is hands-down best thing I’ve read in a really really long time. I loved Ancillary Justice. I love the characters and the writing, but especially, I love the world-building.
I love the attention Leckie pays to the variances in culture and language in this future. I love the technology and the ships and the concepts and her vision of artificial intelligences is so unique, I just, ugh, love. I love the fact that everyone is assumed brown and female until otherwise mentioned. I love that it sort of simulates basically anyone who isn’t a straight white man’s experience in sci-fi, where you’re given maybe one explicit representation of yourself, and if you want you have to dig and infer and read between the lines to find someone, anyone else who might resemble you, and then it turns out that they’re the villain.
I love the frank examination of imperialism and the cold cruelty of a system that operates on socio-economic inequality and discrimination. I love that literally everyone in the novel is shown to be complicit in this system, regardless of their direct involvement or intent.
I even love the ending, like, how often do you read such an interesting story that then has a satisfying conclusion? Like the kind of ending that you wouldn’t even mind being THE ending, it’s just that satisfying.
And hell, even the things that might annoy me in other books, some writing bits and expositional dumps, I don’t mind because everything is just so goddamned interesting, you could dump it in to an encyclopedia and I’d lap that shit up.
I love Ancillary Justice and you guys should all go pay money for it and read it right now.