Michelle Sagara’s TOUCH

Reviewed over at Tor.com.

It can be difficult to review quiet books. Books where the emphasis is on the interpersonal moments, where all the freight falls in the relationships between characters, in subtle cues and moments. Books where the tension is mostly between people of good will and the exigencies of circumstance. Touch isn’t a flashy book. You only realise how well it’s succeeded as a novel when you pause to reflect on how much it’s made you care, and in what ways.

I forgot to link to it when it first went live. It seems Tor.com are putting up the reviews I’ve sent to ’em quite rapidly.

Links of interest, with some commentary

From Boing Boing, “Booth babes are bad for business”:

The results were clear for Chen: the “grandmas” generated far more sales-leads and conversions than the “babes.”

Let’s just take a minute to point out the …inappropriate… nature of referring to all women older than their early twenties and not dressed as sex muppets as grandmas, and placing them in opposition to babes. Not only is “grandma” a term referring to one’s familial/reproductive status, rather than one’s age as such, but this opposition implies that grandma can never be a socially-acceptable object of desire.

And Foz Meadows is on top form yet again, with “Seeming Female: Gender in Digital Spaces”:

Which opened up a rather breathtaking possibility: what if the respective myths of the Fake Geek Girl and Fake Gamer Girl are actively being perpetuated, not through the whore-user predations of evil ladies, but because a cynical, sexist subset of male geeks are using stereotypical, strawman portrayals of women to manipulate their peers?

I encourage you all to go and read the whole thing.

Marie Brennan’s THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS

Reviewed over at Tor.com.

A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent opened a new series by Marie Brennan. In it, Isabella, a gentlewoman from the nation of Scirling—which bears a passing resemblance to Victorian England—begins the tale of how she became the foremost dragon naturalist of her age. The voice is a retrospective one, that of a mature woman reflecting on the experiences of her youth, and it is this choice of perspective that lends Natural History a great deal of its appeal.

The Tropic of Serpents shares Natural History’s voice, and—to my mind, at least—exceeds its appeal.

This, again?

So Paul Kemp wrote a thing. “Why I Write Masculine Stories.”

Both Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig responded. Probably other people did too, and I haven’t seen them, because I am writing a thesis and oh god oh god my life is a BLACK HOLE AND EVERYTHING IS DISAPPEARING –

Ahem.

So Kemp has written some books, and he wrote a thing about why they are masculine stories. (And how he’s not anti-woman and why no one should jump down his throat.) But there’s a problem here.* And because I’m cranky, I’m going to add my two cents pointing it out.

Kemp is basically framing the positive attributes of honour culture – among them defence of people less capable of defence than oneself, honesty, loyalty, self-discipline and true friendship – as essentially gendered, and ignoring the problems that creates. Framing it thusly removes women a priori from the category of those expected to participate in (capable of) honourable acts.

That’s prime retrograde bullshit right there, under the guise of “traditional masculinity.”

His comment in reply to Simon Spanton brings this problem a little more clearly into view, where he asserts that what would be cowardly in a man is seen as normal for a woman. Whatever his intentions, that right there reinforces a worldview in which femaleness is lesser than maleness.

I’m tired of treading this ground. I can’t quite express all my inchoate frustrations with it without resorting to expletives, so I’m just going to say:

REND IT WITH THE HANDS. TEAR IT WITH THE TEETH. KILL IT INTO PIECES.

*Quite aside from some apparent confusion over the Roman term virtus, but I’ll leave that to the Latinists.

Two links of interest

Amal El-Mohtar, Of Award Eligibility Lists and Unbearable Smugness:

There’s a peculiar, unbearable, vicious smugness in sitting back and talking about how tacky it is of people to list their publications and that of course YOU won’t do so because while winning awards is nice naturally YOU don’t really care about them. I find that behaviour several orders of magnitude more repellent than asking for votes. Requests for votes I can ignore; what I can’t ignore is the real toll taken on brilliantly talented people by this kind of rhetoric — brilliantly talented people who already think themselves unworthy of any kind of positive attention.

Martin Lewis, Elementary:

Of course, human nature is messier than that; intellect and emotion can’t be so easily divided. Creating art is a hugely personal endeavour and what is being criticised is the product of blood, sweat and tears so it is natural to feel wounded. On the other side of the fence, the whole reason I am writing this is because of a residual sense of sheepish hypocrisy. But the concept of manners simply doesn’t apply here and it is dangerous to import it from social situations. It goes without saying that I think negative reviews have value (to inform and entertain potential readers and to contribute to a wider discourse). It should also go without saying that criticising a professional writer’s published art is entirely different to telling someone that their shoes are ugly or the dinner they’ve just cooked you tasted of ass. Unfortunately this isn’t the case and negative reviews are often seen as direct attacks on the author – and, increasingly, their fans – unless they are couched in the politest and most equivocal terms.

A brief summation of some books read over the last weeks

I am a very irregular blogger. Well, I never promised otherwise.


Amalie Howard, The Almost Girl. Strange Chemistry, 2014. ARC.

Reviewed at Tor.com. I fear I may have been rather unkind to the poor thing.

David Weber, Like A Mighty Army. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. Very much following the tone of previous Safehold books: more wargaming than character development.

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. Sequel to A Natural History of Dragons. I like it. Lots.

David Drake, The Sea Without A Shore. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Next in Drake’s entertaining RCN space opera series. And, in the way of that series, very enjoyable.

David Weber and Timothy Zahn, A Call to Duty. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Set in the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, the setting might be David Weber, but the style, energy, verve, and attention to character is all Zahn. I like Zahn’s work: I tend to like it best when he’s playing with other people’s toys, and whatever one may say about Weber’s latest works, he has an impressive toybox when it comes to Manticore and its navy – and its navy’s history. I liked it a lot, and I’m delighted to hear that it’s only the first in a contracted trilogy.

Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy. Ebook, gift.

Excellent historical romance involving science. I like science.

Faith Hunter, Death’s Rival. Roc, 2012.

Fun violent urban fantasy.

Sharon Shinn, The Shape of Desire and Still Life With Shapeshifter. Ace, 2013.

Not exactly interesting romance with minimal point to the fantastic content.

Libby McGugan, Eidolon. Solaris, 2013.

Reviewed for Vector (forthcoming). Oy, how boring and irritating was this book.

Michelle Sagara, Touch. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of DAW.

An excellent sequel to the excellent Silence. I should be reviewing it for Tor.com shortly.