The Hall of the Mountain King, Judith Tarr
I grabbed this in an omnibus for two bucks at a library book sale, and I feel somewhat bad about dropping it - it is Fine Enough epic fantasy, but it is very, very much of its time (1986, specifically), and while it has no crippling flaws it is a very slow, heavy work - the omnibus pages are bigger than standard and the print is small, so those 94 pages are probably closer to 130-150 standard and just...not a lot has happened. The setup is good, in a classic sense - king whose daughter (and heir) has been missing for years is revealed to have died, with her demigod son via the sun-god delivering the news. The king's other child by a second wife is not pleased with this, nor is his mother. Classic stuff, evil jealous uncles and their sorcerous mothers. Not too big a fan of the rather uncomplicated cosmology (sun = good and masculine, dark = bad and feminine), and if it gets subverted later on I don't know. The prince is fun in the "young character who knows more than they should and uses that to freak out / mess with other people" sort of way. It was significantly more homoerotic than I was expecting (granted, I had no expectations at all going in, having never heard of the author or the book.)
It was a very interesting look into the mists of the past and books that have been forgotten, but my ADHD-addled and novelty-seeking brain couldn't find the space for it.
Children of Memory, Adrian Tchaikovsky
HE'S DONE IT AGAIN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Where even to begin? I'm awed by his deft handling of high concepts, his unwillingness to leave behind the close-to-home and the human elements, his ability to craft a good sentence. Children of Memory builds on its predecessors in the way all good sequels do, and he has managed to increase the scope without pigeonholing himself into a game of one-upmanship - I'd love to see a novella collection of other colony worlds and their unique stories (I appreciate that so much in this series - every planet is unique in its existential circumstances and that uniqueness makes reading about the ins and outs of terraforming mightily interesting.)
As in the other books, he can take well-trod conceptual ground and make it new and fresh again, and that is a skill often overlooked.
Skerples has said that, if this series had been released 20 years ago he would be considered a revolutionary figure in sci-fi. Certainly, the timeline where he takes off in place of Alastair Reynolds is one that is, in one small way, perhaps a little brighter.
Always Coming Home, Ursula K. LeGuin
What can I say? LeGuin's work, as always, is a beacon of calm in a chaotic world. I will have more to say in the future, for I have not finished it yet: This is a book that I need to get a copy of my own - it's not something I can just read through all at once. I go and then leave and then come back to read more.
The book is a fantastic and lived-in portrait of a people that has never existed. It feels a disservice to call it worldbuilding, it is so much more vibrant and alive than so much of spec-fic. It is LeGuin at her most LeGuin. The people and the place may exist only in the mind but in the eye of my imagination I can see the scrub hills, the morning mists, the dappled shade. Down in the valley, I can hear a distant drum and the sounds of the people singing heya...
No recommendation higher.
The Lady Who Picked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window, Rachel Swirsky
A novella about a sorceress whose spirit is bound to the land and is summoned over and over, witnessing the great changes over the centuries and millennia.
The concept is great, and the story is at its best when we see the glimpses of the radically different cultures our narrator finds herself summoned into. But it falls afoul of one extremely specific pet peeve of mine, which is that the story sticks us with a truly piece of shit character as our POV and doesn't give us any emotional catharsis via other characters responding to our POS POV in a similar way to how we the audience are feeling.
Context: Our sorceress POV is from a culture where women who bear children are called broods and treated like cattle and men, if they are spoken about at all, are considered a sort of feral animal. While this is somewhat effective at reinforcing the theme of dredging up old poisons and mistakenly thinking that "this time it will be different", it still traps us with Ms. "Waahhhhhhh wahhhhhhh wahhhh me me me how dare these people not let me practice my genocide-based spiritual heritage" without so much as an audience-sympathetic "Shut the fuck up" from another character.
Also the academy mage that summons the sorceress gets in a sexual relationship with said sorceress which I am certain is violating some sort of ethics policy of the academy and is certainly violating the basic logic of self-preservation and I while I normally will side on the "emotional repression is generally not a good thing", maybe repress the desire to fuck the genocidal slaveowner, eh? Not gonna work out well. Something something sudden but inevitable betrayal.
Move Underground, Nick Mamatas
Before reading this, I would have scoffed at the idea of Jack Kerouac serving as our narrator as Cthulhu rises from the sea and reality falls apart, but honestly he might be the best version of the Lovecraft protagonist. The self-destructive nihilism of the Beat poets, awash in psychotropics and misapplied Buddhism, is the perfect vessel for the grand cosmic horror; dripping with vivid colors, grotesque imagery, utterly disjointed contents and no plot to speak of. It is a dissolution into meaninglessness but, unlike the actual On the Road, it is used here to supplement the weaknesses of its other half, to provide to the Mythos what Lovecraft and his pastichers couldn't manage to do.
Honestly by halfway through I wasn't entirely convinced that anything in it was real. Were there ever to be a book to be revealed to be the hallucinations of a man dying in a ditch of drug overdose, this is the one.
Sometimes the pastiche falters and the modern touch reveals itself. Sometimes it becomes too pat, too sensible and coherent, especially in the last quarter - but on the whole it successfully walks the balancing act.
Because Internet, Gretchen McCulloch
An excellent and entertaining look at the internet's influence on modern language and communication, and how those changes have shifted as social integration of the internet increased. If that piques your interest at all, track it down (and also listen to Lingthusiasm, which is more about linguistics in general and not necessarily about the internet). It's also nice to read about the internet from a POV that is of the very online, post Google pre-social media generation that I call home. Short review, so you know I liked it.