Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole ~ read
Title: The Mortal Word
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Publisher’s Blurb: When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos…and the Library.
In The Mortal Word’s 1890s Paris the Grand Guignol is in full swing. Terror in its most “natural” state, precursor to B movies promising to be so frightening a doctor and nurse would be on standby for viewers who succumbed to their terror.
When several murders and other atrocities occur accusations fly. Terrifying things happen that might disrupt the Paris Peace Treaty between fae and dragon, mediated by humans, who better to blame than the Blood Countess?
Elizabeth Báthory, historically known for torturing her victims and bathing in the blood of virgins, is high chaos. With her in the story, the poisoning, the chlorine gas bomb, the mysterious clues to L’Enfer all too easily deflect attention away from the real murderer, and the political reasoning behind it.
Of course, the Blood Countess did all those things, and more. She terrifies others because it is in her nature. Disrupting the peace conference is fun and games for her, not politics. Yet, she has stirred the pot. And in stirring the pot, becomes the favored target of the political gamesmanship of fae and dragon.
Eventually, the evidence leads to the Grand Guignol theatre, and a basement chamber suitable for use by someone who tortures and kidnaps for fun. Staged terror and real terror in the same building, nothing could be more perfect. Here, the reader is led to believe, is the denouement of the story. Now, we will learn why and how the Blood Countess terrified both fae and dragon over a peace conference.
I got so carried along, i almost missed the siren call of the red herring. As despicable and terrifying as the Blood Countess is, other evidence points other ways. When calmer minds prevail and re-organize the evidence, the real killer comes to light.
To mystery readers, this may sound like standard fare. Let me assure you there’s nothing standard about Cogman’s characters. In her hands, and through Irene’s eyes, we are shown just how tricky it is to think clearly when a fae is trying to hold her in thrall. Dragons are tricky in their own way, with their rigid hierarchy and societal rules. And within this world, a character like the Blood Countess can thrive and both be guilty and not at the same time.
The Invisible Library series is inter-dimensional library, Librarians stealing books to keep chaos and order in balance, dragons, fae, alternate timelines, and so much more. It’s a pleasurable read, even when the villains are as terrifying as the Blood Countess.
Title: God’s War
Series: 1st of 3
Author: Kameron Hurley
Publisher: Nightshade Books
Publisher’s Blurb: Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war — but at what price?
God’s War is the first of three books in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series.
I long for the day when we don’t have to think about feminist or masculine tropes, that we can write and read good stories without the heavy load of “male gaze” or “women don’t/shouldn’t do that” (same goes for men). It seems unfair to have to point out that Kameron Hurley’s work is uniquely feminist, and that her reasons for being so amount to “enough is enough, women can too do that.”
It’s unfair because Hurley is a damned fine storyteller. She has said repeatedly she’s written characters like Nyx based on Conan the Barbarian and Mad Max. Her book The Geek Feminist Revolution has two essays which specifically address this. Hurley makes it clear that if a male protagonist can do it, so can a female protagonist.
And that’s how we got Nyx, the badass who can take on Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Nyx is a nasty piece of work, and she is everything a hero/antihero needs to be.
God does not answer the phone
If the goal of feminism is for women to be treated equally to men, then Kameron Hurley’s God’s War succeeds in many ways. In her world, women are in charge and visible at every level of society. As she tells the story, “bēl damê, [is] an old Assyrian/Babylonian term for a blood avenger … ‘owner of the blood’ and ‘collector of blood debt.’” She wanted to write about a bel dame in disgrace. Nyx hobbles through the world taking any contract that will pay the days’ bills.
If feminism is about being seen and heard, then nearly all the women who populate Nyx’s world have succeeded. But sexism still exists. Never mind the details, the women are the sexists in this world. They leer and catcall just like any ill-mannered male in other books.
What’s striking to me is while Hurley has turned the anti-hero trope on its head by making women the lead characters in a dismal, apocalyptic world, she does not give women a pass on bad behavior. These women are so far from prim and proper, and polite, it’s laughable. Yet Hurley is making a point, that women can hold the plot of such a story just as well as men. Women are in every corner of society, just trying to get along to the next day.
The main thrust of the plot is an alien gene pirate has landed and threatens any potential of “balance” in this world. It’s presumed her ancestors had a part in starting this war centuries ago for reasons no one remembers anymore. The pirate becomes a wanted woman and the queen calls on Nyx to deliver her head.
That’s what bounty hunters do, they behead and deliver it to the contract holder. Or they kill outright. But they only get paid if they follow the contract’s instructions to the letter.
So think about this, Nyx is a woman mercenary who’s good at tracking and killing people. She’s been kicked out of the guild of government paid assassins because even they couldn’t handle her. She’s given up her ability to transport zygotes in her uterus because she sold it for money to get to the next stop, wherever that might be. This is who she is, what she has become. And she has no illusions about her place in life. And the queen calls on her, not the bel dame, to find and behead an alien.
Politics being what they are, Nyx discovers hidden agendas and wanders into fights, literal and figurative, which call everything she knows about who she is and what she’s fighting for into question. In the end, people die or are banished. Nyx argues with the Queen over ideology and realizes, just as the rest of us do, there are no happy endings. We just keep going on.
Every one of the characters in God’s War are broken. There’s no repairing them, and most know it. Hurley does not spare us from the atrocities of warfare, sexism, and politics. She builds a world in which a paid assassin, part of a guild, would break under the burdens one must bear just to get through.
And although it was slow to get started, and it is bleak and horrifying, I found God’s War to be a good story. Which is what all readers are looking for, isn’t it? And thank you Kameron Hurley for making this the feminist apocalyptic story it is. Women can be just as badass as men, if not more so, and deserve the chance to tell their stories.
Can I get an awoman, sister?
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin ~ read
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
How literature saved my life by David Shields
Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete ~ read
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell
spook country by William Gibson
Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw – DNF
Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole ~ read
The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner – DNF
Invaders from Earth by Robert Silverberg
Music of the Common Tongue by Christopher Small
Self-Consciousness by John Updike
For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year. 2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief. Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.
One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished. I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.
Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy. Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned. Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.
When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine. This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?” His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”
And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018 happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved. Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good. Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.
It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.
2018 Books by the Numbers:
- 68 read
- 20,382 pages
- 26 unique publication years
- 40 unique author names
- 19 female authors
- 23 male authors
- 26 new to me authors
- 98 books new to the stacks
- 48 new to the stacks read
- 7 new to the stacks Pearl Ruled
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Margaret
- Even more relevant today than when first published, Atwood’s description of a dystopian, Puritanical society with no agency for women chills. My review focuses on the use of Scripture as justification.
- The Armored Saint by Cole, Myke
The Queen of Crows by Cole, Myke
- Heloise is the hero we need now. Tight, intricate, suspenseful story about a young woman leading the uprising against the religious order in charge. Book 3, The Killing Light, comes out in 2019.
- A Visit From the Goon Squad by Egan, Jennifer
- Freakin’ brilliant. We spent a month on it, I read it three times. Don’t let the non-linear style throw you off. Egan tells a hell of a story.
- American Gods by Gaiman, Neil
- What happens when Old Gods realize they’re being squeezed out by the New Gods? Just as fantastic on the second read.
- My Journey in Creative Reading by Gallowglas, M. Todd
- Don’t know how to review this book since he’s also my mentor. Every bit is so good and resonated so deeply I knew I had the right guy.
- The Geek Feminist Revolution by Hurley, Kameron
- My love letter to Kameron who speaks the truth about being a woman so hard. I continue to learn a lot from her about feminism and writing. GFR has earned a permanent place on my reference shelf.
- The Calculating Stars by Kowal, Mary Robinette
The Fated Sky by Kowal, Mary Robinette
- Speaking of feminism … Elma’s a wonderful example of all any human could be; blind spots and social anxiety and all. Mary Robinette Kowal is as kind and generous as I had hoped. An hour with her and real live astronaut, Kjell Lindgren was more than I’d expected. Excitedly waiting for two more Lady Astronaut books.
- Beloved by Morrison, Toni
- Because I am stubborn and refuse to read what “everyone” else is reading, it took an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad, and some serious prodding from a trusted friend to read Toni Morrison’s classic. Best opening line ever, “124 was spiteful.”
- Binti by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: Home by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Okorafor, Nnedi
- Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant story about a young African woman who breaks tribal taboos to go to university on another planet. My review focuses on bigotry.
- River Queens by Watson, Alexander
- Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant as he tells the tale of refurbishing a wooden boat and sailing her from Texas to Ohio. His is the most polished debut I’ve read and I’m forever grateful he asked me to review it.
- How Fiction Works by Wood, James
- Every writer, every critic, every anyone interested in reading and writing needs to read How Fiction Works. My review focuses on why critical reviewers should know about craft in order to write better themselves.
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson ~ read
Count Zero by William Gibson ~ read
Neuromancer by William Gibson ~ read