Reading: Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders shot to the top of the bestseller lists. I wouldn’t say this is a fun book, but it is a thoughtful slog through grief and denial with a colorful cast of unforgettable characters.

Saunders’ unusual prose style is disorienting at first, but then makes complete sense as a style choice. Each character has a clearly unique voice. After a few chapters, it’s easy to tell who’s speaking, even without dialogue tags. The unique perspective of each character infused into their bit of the narrative was deftly done. And there’s so much history woven into the text that you’ll surely come away having learned a few things about Civil War-era life.

I really enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo and it turns out that Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman also liked the story enough to buy the film rights.

Reading: The Collapsing Empire

That John Scalzi, he sure can write dialogue. Hang on. Let me back up.

I’m going to sheepishly admit that I didn’t know John Scalzi had a new book coming out. Primarily because of my inability to read any publishing news and not due to any marketing failure on Tor’s part. Eh, I’m working on getting better at staying plugged in.

The first I heard about The Collapsing Empire was when word spread that one particular eye-rolling troll was attempting to diminish Scalzi’s book launch by excreting a pile of words under a similar name and cover design. So, of course, the only right plan of action was to immediately purchase Scalzi’s book in three different formats. (I read ebooks, Dave listens to audio on his long commute, and my little brother does paper copies.)

The Collapsing Empire is space opera at its modern finest. It’s fast and packed with intrigue without getting bogged down in political details. The concept of the Flow is both exotic and easy to understand. You don’t need a degree in astrophysics to follow the plot. And, as I said above, the snappy and true-to-life dialogue is a pleasure to read.

The entire cast of characters was realistic (even in extraordinary circumstances) and reflected the incredible breadth of cultures we would expect to find in a multi-planet civilization. And as a bisexual woman, it was amazing to see a strong character like Lady Kiva front and center. When she considered making a marriage of political convenience but couldn’t choose between a certain lord or a particular lady, I cheered. Why limit yourself when there’s so much awesomeness all over the gender spectrum?

You’re not going to find long, lush passages of description here. And that doesn’t make The Collapsing Empire a bad book. Because that’s not what this book is here for. You’re going to jump in fast and ride it hard like a bucking bronco. Or like Lady Kiva… *ahem* nevermind.

Reading: Spells & Sorcery

I bought Spells & Sorcery by S. Usher Evans a few weeks ago when we were due to have a huge storm with power outages and I’d planned to spend the evening reading. The storm never materialized, so it took me a while to get through my “Great Storm” reading list.

Spells & Sorcery is a fun YA story about a teenage girl who abruptly comes into magical powers. Lexie Carrigan struggles with both controlling her magic and navigating those tough teen years when you’re not quite an adult and not quite a child. Add to it an unusual household dynamic–um, like family members who completely abandon her to her new, uncontrolled powers despite her begging for help–and you’ve got a lot going on in this quick read. Also, it’s a terrible idea to take advice from an unfamiliar middle-aged man in a park. That’s just a good rule of thumb.

Evans’ prose reads cleanly and the story flies by. I finished the entire thing in one sitting… luckily the new book in the series is out this week!

Reading: Borderline & Phantom Pains

It’s no secret that I’m a brand new fan of Mishell Baker’s writing. I’d heard of her novel Borderline last year, but if you’re anything like me, your to-read list could span multiple decades of solid nose-in-book time. I didn’t actually start reading until Borderline popped up on the Nebula Suggested Reading List.

Borderline hit me in all the right ways. The story starts with Millie–who struggles with mental illness and disability and responds with sharp words and a fierce exterior. She’s doing the hard work of mending herself (in body and mind) while showing the world an incredibly strong facade. I just love her.

Every character in Borderline is fully realized with actual believable personalities and desires. The voices in some conversations are so distinct that you can remove dialogue tags and still know who is speaking. This is top-notch writing that sails along–I’d sit down to read a chapter and look up hours later.

I tore through Borderline like a bewildered child. I asked anyone passing by, “Why did no one tell me this book was so damn good?” Luckily, the release of Phantom Pains was only a few weeks after I finished Borderline. Both books move fast, but Phantom Pains goes deeper into Arcadia (figuratively and literally) and the systems that keep that world running. Millie is dealing with the aftermath (isn’t she always?) of book one and I was thrilled to see the enigmatic Tjuan become more prominent in the second book.

Borderline and Phantom Pains are fantasy, but they’re also about reality at its most awful. Kind of like urban fantasy, but centered in the body and mind. Physiofantasy? Medipunk?

Once again, watching Millie struggle within her relationships broke my heart (in a good way). There’s a wonderful tension between her, Caryl, and Claybriar that isn’t your typical love triangle. (Autocorrect made that phrase into “love triage” and it might be more appropriate in a way.) My only regret about these books is that I can read so much faster than Mishell Baker can write them. And… I learned that she’s a Clarion cousin from the class of ’09! *waves at Mishell from Clarion West ’16*