I had the May post in draft for a long while, then I’ve been busy since, so let’s have a several months’ worth of wrap-up again. Only books this time, cause writing it took far too long as is, and I’ve read so much recently that it deserves its own space.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi – This book had a better starting position than many other near-future sci-fi books I’ve read simply because the culture it describes is already “ever so slightly alien” to me in its present form. I don’t know a whole lot about many South-East Asian countries, let alone about their daily lives. Thai near-future sci-fi, food shortages, a bevvy of points of view. This was a well-written book. It wasn’t really about the sci-fi and more about the lived-in experience, which the book got across very well, including the rising tensions, the terror of riots, and other such “fun stuff”. It truly did feel like peering into another fully-formed culture. Though Thailand and not Vietnam, it did remind me of some media revolving around the Vietnam War, in terms of atmosphere, that tense “peace” at times.
Yotsuba&! Chapters 1-60 – Yotsuba&! is mostly referred to as “Yotsubato”, which covers the world through the eyes of a 5 year old girl as she encounters all sorts of things, thus, “Yotsuba and Balloons!” for instance. There’s no real sense of wonderment in “So this is how a kid views these topics” for me in these chapters, but they’re funny, touching, sometimes very clever, and often you go, “Yes, that truly is how little kids act, aren’t they hilarious, so long they’re someone else’s?” The narrative structuring in the chapter with the detective story was especially good. The only bad thing I can say about Yotsuba is that I should’ve read all the material available for it. It’s really good.
The Dark Tower books 2 – 3 (Drawing of the Three, The Wasteland), by Stephen King – I’ve re-read book 2 so many times. It speaks to me. Especially the sequence with Eddie, and the final joining of the three. I’m not sure what it is. Book 3 is so grand in scope, and completely different. I know why I never really re-read book 4, at least beyond Blaine’s bit in it, because man is it slow with Roland’s backstory, but I find it strange I never re-read book 1. I think it might be too poignant for me. It’s very raw, not just in content, but in terms of quality. It’s very rough. So I flinch from it. Well, periodical re-read of this content accomplished.
The Lost Fleet books 1-3 (Dauntless, Fearless, Courageous), by Jack Campbell – These are the western equivalent of light novels, sort of. Light reading, fun and not very serious. It very literally is, “I might not be the best, but everyone around me is stupid, so I’m going to win the war,” because a century-long war killed all the experience. The characters are actually fine, and the relationships too. The worst part is the expected military fetishism, that saluting is a high mark of discipline, and other “liberal decision-making” being made fun of. He has a point, and if it were satirical it could be great, but it’s delivered very seriously. Still fun. Books should’ve probably been released as “two for one”, in terms of size and content.
Lirael, Abhorsen, by Garth Nix – This series of posts tells me the last time I’ve read Sabriel, the first book in the series (originally a trilogy) was August 2014. I’ve read it enough times that I remember it. Lirael I’ve only read once, and Abhorsen wasn’t out yet by that time. Well, I decided to re-read it in order to read Abhorsen, as those two comprise a single story, and leaping straight into Abhorsen without remembering everything from Lirael didn’t sit too well with me. The pacing in the middle section of Lirael flags down after a great start, but it’s fine. Abhorsen uncovers so much about the world, and has not just a lot of action, but a lot of “character growth moments.” It’s really good YA fiction. I’ll say that. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaiman – Light, somewhat amusing. It was lying around so I read it. Not much to say, really. I could see this being a book to read to children who’d wish for it to be read time and again, though it might be too long to be read as a single before-bedtime story.
Night’s Master, Tanith Lee, first part – Discussing pretty prose brought this series to mind again, and I read the first couple of chapters, and boy is the writing to die for, prose wise, but I wasn’t in the mood for it at the time and ended up reading more upbeat and quickly-moving content.
The Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest), by Robin Hobb – I’ve read this series so many times during junior high and high school, but in Hebrew, where they mostly translated the names, such as “Patience” and “Verity”, which always felt ever so slightly wrong. Regardless, this was my first time reading them in English, so many years down the line. The first two books in particular are great coming of age fiction, a falling in love story, disillusionment, finding your place in the world, etc. The third book is much more ponderous, after we’re removed from most of the action and intrigue, and it relies on traveling and understated interactions that aren’t nailed quite perfectly. Still, it was great to meet these old friends again.
The Tawny Man Trilogy (Fool’s Errand, Golden Fool, Fool’s Fate) by Robin Hobb – Back when I read books 1-2 of the series, 3 hasn’t been out yet, so this was a good opportunity to read it all. In many ways it mirrors the first trilogy, inasmuch as the first at least is a pretty wild tale of growing up and then action. There was a moment at the end of the first book that got me super emotional, and everyone who’s read the series probably knows which. The second book is much more given to dealing with court intrigue, and feels as if the atmosphere of the Liveship Traders series, which was much more, well, slower-paced and subdued fused with the Farseer Trilogy atmosphere. The third book is a thing of its own, and quite special. It’s a good trilogy, even if it feels more like a collection of three disparate books, tonally, than an actual trilogy.
Fool’s Assassin, Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy), by Robin Hobb – The gang is back! So much happened in the first 200 pages of each of these books, and a lot happened later, but man, you know how many books (and movies) have very little happen in the first two thirds, and then in the final 100 pages/30 minutes, everything happens? Sometimes it’s sort of the reverse, in that in-world the first 200 pages out of 500 take 80% of the time, but everything happens later in one in-world time, but most of the book. This series is sort of the mirrored opposite, in that so much happens in the first 200 pages that it feels like those “final 30 minutes”, but then the rest of the book, which is about 400-500 more pages feels like that again, and yet feels more subdued because it’s still stretched over much longer space than the original. Both books got me emotional, and it was great to meet the old characters again, and read content I was dying to see where it was going.
But that also brings me to a criticism. Chade is about 90 now. Fitz isabout 60. ~25 years passed since we last met them, and they read exactly the same. Yes, Fitz gets to demand others’ respect as he didn’t before, but it’s the same character in a different situation. For Chade it can still be excused because he was an old man last we met him, and he’s the same old man now, but for Fitz, there was an event in the end of the Tawny Man Trilogy that made him be someone else, except here he reverted to the same old Fitz he’s always been, even as Dutiful just became Verity…
Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry / Tale of The Worst One (Light Novel) books 1-3, by Riku Misora – This is slightly petty of me. Someone commented on my seasonal preview saying how this is sooo not a harem show, so I went and checked the first novel’s images. Then I started reading a bit, and it was so bad I had to keep on reading, to see how much worse it’d get. And it kept getting worse! The first book is so bad, and while it may not be a harem, it certainly makes itself out to be as one, especially early on, with how all the girls flock to our manly man protagonist (see my post on how harems are structured in anime and related media, it’s relevant).
It gets better by a bit as the story continues, but it’s underwhelming and non-terrible at best. The high point of the series commonly praised by its fans are its romance, which I found aimed at 13 year olds, and seems to describe characters who act and feel as if they are. Heck, the relationship reminds me of the “relationships” of “boyfriends and girlfriends” in 4th to 6th grade, where kids are play-practicing, except here we have teenagers with mature bodies. It reads almost like a mirror of shoujo manga. This relationship is not only unrealistic, but not even tropey, it’s as if you write based on tropes, and get even farther from reality and emotional resonance. I guess it reads as “good romance” because most other works in the genre bait you and don’t give you even that, coupled with, well, a lack of experience on the readers’ part.
Bad villains, bad characterization, non-intelligent fight sequences. I can’t really recommend this series. I’d even recommend Mahouka over it.
Witches Abroad, by Terry Pratchett – I’ve read this in the past in Hebrew, but since I’ve now had access to it in English and I wanted to re-read the Greebo sections, I ended up re-reading it all. It’s an okay book. I really like Granny Weatherwax as a character, but the witch books feel as if there’s something missing in terms of pacing. Discworld books are often not the fastest until the last act, but it’s even more-so with the witches. At least the last act here really was impressive, on all sorts of levels. The ball, the mirrors, Granny’s answer, etc. Yes, Granny’s answer as to finding her real self was so obvious, and yet so genius.
Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett – This book recently came out in paperback, so I finally read it. First time. This is a Moist von Lipwig book, which reads much as most of these books do. There was much less space given to Moist in this book, and his shenanigans, he’s much more of a respected figure this time around. Instead, it reminded me of Unseen Academicals, if there is one message that Pratchett tried to hammer home hard in his last few books it’s one of progress and acceptance of others. It’s unsurprising, considering how the world in general and Europe in particular have been recently with rising xenophobia. It’s a good book, even if it’s not amazing.
Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett – This book sits at the top of a nearby book pile, always close to hand. I read it 1-4 times every couple of years. It’s one of my favourite books of all times. I just like it. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read it by now, so this was another.
Reaper’s Gale (Malazan Books of the Fallen, book 7), by Steven Erikson – Recently loaned book 6 to someone, and checked a bit of it out. This is the first book I haven’t read already, so I read it, and a wee bit of the next book. I need to make the time to re-read the entire thing in one go, since it’s been a while, and there are so many characters. It’s ridiculous to look back and go, “Damn, we’ve had all of this happen 4 books ago, and all this happen 2 books ago, so much stuff is happening!” but of course, not all characters and storylines are as interesting as others, and book 7 definitely delved into stuff I care for less. Tehol Bedict is cute and all, but he’s another “Kruppe-Voice Character” for Erikson, which he seems to be unable to do without, but the Letheri and Titste Edur storyline is weaker, at least at this phase, than in its original, or the Malazan storyline.
Halting State, by Charles Stross – This is very much a Charles Stross book. I like the character interaction, the slightly cynical cast to it all, but the mystery and the action feel, well, not entirely worthwhile? Not sure what isn’t clicking for me here. I do like the writing itself, but the story isn’t doing it for me. Still got a wee bit to go in the book though.
Fruits Basket volumes 1, 6, 7 – I just wanted to revisit a specific sequence, of how Tohru and her mother met with Arisa, the former delinquent. Such a good moment. There are so many great sub-stories within Fruits Basket, it’s never really just about Tohru, and in fact she almost becomes a side-character used to introduce other characters for large segments of the series. And everyone’s story, well, not everyone’s, but so many of them are so heart-rending. I know it’s “cheap emotional manipulation,” but it’s just so well done.
Rurouni Kenshin volumes 3-27 (complete) – Continuing and completing my re-read. Some stories here went too long, or went too long without feeling they expanded enough about some of the side characters, but I wonder if part of that feeling was engendered by the author’s segment before each chapter where he said the same. There were quite a few emotional moments in the series. I think this is my 3rd time reading it in its entirety. The action was good, the characters were solid. I still quite like it.
Trigun Maximum volumes 4-5 chapter 2 – Well, read some more of it. Part of it is surely the translation I’m reading, another the exceedingly hard to follow frame-by-frame movement in Nightow’s comic, but man, this is hard to follow, and so my attention wandered to other stuff.
Any books, manga, or Light Novels you’ve read recently, or are reading now, and would like to discuss? Or any of the copious amounts of stuff I’ve read?