Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

14 May 2021, 12:18 p.m.

A Few Other Recent Books Read

Several months ago I read Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic fantasy quartet and liked it a lot. Today, Fire Logic, the first book in the series, is on sale for $1.99 on Kobo as an ebook. These books are great! They are about grown adults dealing with the aftermath of war, trying to make peace, falling in love with each other, raising children, and doing the hard work of working together with people whose temperaments seriously rub them the wrong way. You get multiple queer love stories, magic that feels numinous (as opposed to paperwork-y or airplane dashboard-y), and characters you can root for. Marks is in a writing group with Steerswoman author Rosemary Kirstein (I love the Steerswoman books) and I can see how they would appreciate each other's work. People at WisCon recommended these books for ages and I'm glad I've finally read them!

I've finished Nicola Griffith's Hild and it was slow going for me. I loved the court intrigue when I could understand it; in a novel I can have a hard time with keeping track of 20 different people's names! Sometimes Hild thinks really subtly and never comes out and says/thinks "here is the insight I just had" and sometimes I catch on and sometimes I don't. A friend who, she says, loves Hild the way I love Steerswoman is eager to talk with me about Hild and maybe she will explain some stuff to me so I can appreciate it better!

I had never read Richard Adams's book Watership Down and then I read it several weeks ago. What a story! Suspenseful and funny and moving! I didn't think I was going to cry, and then I cried at the last page. And I love what Adams does with General Woundwort's moment when he's balanced on the precipice of being a truly great leader and then falls back into being "no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate."

Naomi Kritzer's Chaos on CatNet. I have enjoyed every story or book I have ever read of Kritzer's, and this is no exception -- suspenseful, funny, satisfying. You know how some clothing manufacturers suit you really well, because the body shapes, the mannequins they're fitting their clothes to are very similar to your body? Evidently the ideal reader in Naomi Kritzer's head is shaped a lot like me, and I'm glad. This book continues the story started in "Cat Pictures, Please" and "Catfishing on CatNet. Those of you who have seen the animated film The Mitchells vs. The Machines might understand why, even though there is a conscious AI in the CatNet stories, Chaos is a more realistic teen-centered cautionary tale about modern tech platforms. I hope some number of teens read Chaos and think twice about installing sketchy apps on their phones and saying "sure, why not" to their permission requests!

Martha Wells's Fugitive Telemetry, the most recent book in her Murderbot series, is another fun story in the series; if you like the Murderbot books then this is another one, and if you haven't tried them yet, don't start with this, start with All Systems Red. I was talking with a friend about how the Murderbot books and Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch books (in particular the trilogy starting with Ancillary Justice) speak to the same modern meritocratic middle-class worry that echan illustrated in the vid "The Organization and the Assets", about brainwashed assassins and the institutions that make and use them. We're telling a particular story to ourselves A LOT, these past few years. I've heard recently (via Annalee Flower Horne) the sentiment that dystopia is when the same things that were already happening to everyone else start happening to privileged people; in the stories echan juxtaposes, and in Wells's and Leckie's work, we see from the point of view of people finding that they have been involuntarily complicit in harming others, just like the rest of us. There was a 2001 Bad Subjects piece by Jonathan Sterne about The West Wing and Star Trek as meritocratic fantasies* that rings true to me, and the trope echan highlights in "The Organization and the Assets" shows us the flip-side idea: You are the best at what you do, no one could question your competence -- and the very system that trained you forces you to use your talent to do massive evil, and you can't help it. The Murderbot books and the Ancillary trilogy start after the weapon-in-human-form is able to say no, and stop serving empire/The Corporation, and start trying to redeem their past atrocities.

I reread Neal Stephenson's Anathem and I still love so many of the ideas, the system of the maths, the articulations of how it can feel to feel like the least bright person in a discussion yet not want to show one's own humiliation, etc. But ugh! The treatment of women! Like when Cord is excited about something and Erasmas describes her as being enthusiastic about it the way other women are interested in shoes?! Why does our protagonist, who grew up in a monastery where all the fraas and suurs wear the same sandals, even have that stereotype about women?! It makes no sense!

I love every nonfiction essay by Joanna Russ that I read, so I'm slowly working to read all of them. To Write Like a Woman ranges around and gave me new ways to think about scifi as a literature, the portrayal of women in lots of kinds of literature, and ends with a letter she wrote that ends, "We are surrounded by nonsense. Love, Joanna" and it's energizing and thought-provoking. Wish I had met her.

* (see also: Hamilton: An American Musical)