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The Earth Moved

Breath Of Earth by Beth Cato

5 of 5 stars

One reason I bought this book is its fantastic cover. It intrigued me: who is this woman and what is she holding? Then, after downloading the sample chapter from Amazon, I was hooked. I had to know how this story ended. 
 
This is a steampunk alternate history, incorporating real-life characters (Theodore Roosevelt was prominently mentioned, though he never appears; I hope he shows up in the sequel) and tackling some sobering themes, including oppression of women and persecution of Chinese immigrants. The latter is a little-known and shameful history in early 20th-century California, as the author explains in her Author's Note. She had to do considerable research for this book, as the story is set at the time of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 (there is a bibliography of her sources in the back). It shows. The scenes set in the quake and its aftermath are harrowing. 
 
But her worldbuilding impressed me the most. This is the most important element of a good story for me, followed by characterization and plot, and Cato aced all three. This is is a world where magic and mythical creatures--here called "fantastics"-- exist (one small detail that tickled me was an offhand comment about unicorns pulling wealthy people's carts in the San Francisco Heights), magically powered airships roam the skies, and "geomancers" prop up world economies and wield vast power. They are defined thusly:
 
Geomancy, however, was a rare skill among people and relied upon kermanite, an even rarer crystal that acted as a supreme electrical capacitor. Wardens absorbed the earth's energy from earthquakes and then channeled their power into kermanite, which was then installed in all varieties of machines. No other battery could keep airships aloft.
 
Kermanite had stimulated the Roman Empire two millennia past; now it was the Manifest Destiny of the United Pacific [United States and Japan; in this history, Japan and its airships helped the North win the Civil War] to govern the world, thanks in no small part to geomancers.
 
Unfortunately, the attitudes toward women in this history remain the same, and our protagonist, Ingrid Carmichael, a woman of color, bears the brunt. She is a female geomancer who is not supposed to exist, and she struggles under the same discrimination and constraints. Beth Cato sets all this up admirably in the first couple of chapters, and then we are plunged into a crackling good story, with mystery, intrigue, romance, well-developed secondary characters (including a transgender man) and culminating in the terrifying set piece of the earthquake. The book doesn't end there, but damn those chapters were outstanding. 
 
It's always a pleasure to take a chance on a brand-new author and be so well rewarded. If you've never given Beth Cato a try, read this book. You won't regret it.


 
This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/163932.html. Comment either here or there.
  • Feeling: impressed impressed
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  • Sun, 16:05: 2 of 5 stars to Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers https://t.co/mbadphGCXV
  • Sun, 16:39: RT @activist360: Millennials, Trump's not your fault, but if this madman bcomz Pres cuz u voted for 3rd party'rs, the horrific aftermath wi…
  • Sun, 16:41: I don't give a shit if you think you shouldn't have to choose between two so-called "evils." These are the choices u have: Trump/Clinton.#fb
  • Sun, 16:42: I don't give a shit if you think you shouldn't have to choose between two so-called "evils." These are the choices u have: Trump/Clinton.
  • Sun, 16:42: Neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein can win, and I wouldn't want either of them anyway. Look at their platforms: they're not better. #fb
  • Sun, 16:43: But if you vote for them because you have to be a goddamned purity pony, and Trump gets into office, it's your effing fault. #fb
  • Sun, 16:44: Neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein can win, and I wouldn't want either of them anyway. Look at their platforms: they're not better.
  • Sun, 16:44: But if you vote for them because you have to be a goddamned purity pony, and Trump gets into office, it's your effing fault.
  • Sun, 16:44: Repubs have chosen a worse candidate EVERY EFFING ELECTION CYCLE. Trump is worse than Romney/worse than McCain who was worse than Bush.#fb
  • Sun, 16:46: Repubs WILL NOT STOP until they are thoroughly repudiated. This means Trump MUST lose, and lose badly. #fb
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This Throne I Can't Get Behind

Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

2 of 5 stars

This was....okay. It's basically a court intrigue with a thin veneer of science fiction and space opera slathered on top. It follows a pretty standard formula: the heiress who fled home gets dragged back, the empire is in chaos, her family members are being murdered, and she has to decide whether to take up that life she turned her back on. Along the way she picks up unexpected allies, proves to be doggedly hard to kill, and in the end is crowned Empress after all. 
 
That could be a good story in the right hands, but unfortunately this isn't. The writing is just adequate, and the characterizations are shallow. There's an attempt to create a unique culture, a pseudo-India (as in the subcontinent, not First Nations) transplanted to another planet--most characters have Indian names, there is a pantheon of Indian gods, and everyone wears saris--that I wish the author had never included because it just comes off as painful and awkward. Another not-so-great worldbuilding idea is that the society is matriarchal because the radiation from when the planet was first settled killed off most of the men, the women assumed leadership roles, and now men are viewed as being generally inferior and incapable of ruling, or some such. Obviously that's a commentary on today's society, but it's not terribly well-thought-out. 
 
This book isn't really bad; it falls more into the category of "a mile wide and an inch deep." It's a decent read, but it lacks the thought, depth and spark that would make me search out the sequel. 


This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/163726.html. Comment either here or there.
  • Feeling: indifferent indifferent
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The Winner (and Reader) Takes It All

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

This is my second five-star read of the year, and as far as I am concerned it is knock-your-socks-off good. Having said that, this is not an easy read by any means. In fact, the first chapter alone will undoubtedly put off many potential readers, who will wind up scratching their heads and asking: "What the hell is going on?" This is due to the book's extreme in media res format; you are thrown into the middle of a battle and introduced quickly to the main characters, with no explanation or backstory. The narrative is, basically, sink or swim. 
 
This book is set in a far-future universe, with protagonists who are called "human" but share very little of what I would consider human, with technology that could be described equally as virtual reality, magic, or Arthur C. Clarke's formula of tech so advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic. Any of the three might fit, and part of the fun is figuring out your own formula for how everything works. The reader has to do this because, again, there are no explanations. Yoon Ha Lee is apparently the anti-infodump writer, although he does rather better with his characters, especially his undead general, Shuos Jedao (whose consciousness, or uploaded brain, or something, has been imprisoned for four hundred years in a "black cradle," and hauled out only when the ruling hexarchate wants to put down another rebellion).
 
This book sounds confusing as all get-out, but it sucked me right in and I didn't want to leave. The protagonist, Kel Charis, who is put in charge of quashing the rebellion at the Fortress of Scattered Needles and unleashes Shuos Jedao to do it, is a fascinating character: singled out because of her penchant for mathematics (which becomes bloody damn important at the end), and thrown into the middle of something she does not know how to handle. The relationship between Charis and Jedao is the heart of the book. 
 
This book will greatly reward re-reads, I think, because in going through it again the reader can pick up more clues about the technology (and what "calendrical rot" means--I still haven't quite figured that out, although I think it has something to do with these "calendars" influencing the fabric of reality in a given location). In any case, this book is breathtakingly original, and it will be up for awards next year if I have anything to say about it.

 
This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/163390.html. Comment either here or there.
  • Feeling: impressed impressed
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The Future is In Good Hands

 Generation Roe by Sarah Erdreich

3 of 5 stars

This little book is a good primer on the state of the pro-choice movement in America. It was written in 2012, long before the recent Supreme Court decision striking down HB 2, Texas' terrible abortion law, and thus is somewhat pessimistic about the movement's future. Despite the recent SCOTUS victory, abortion rights are still under siege in many areas of the country, as this book points out. 
 
Topics include "Hands-Off Training," discussing the (lack of) training offered by many medical schools in how to perform abortions; "(Mis)Representations of Reality," pointing out the distorted view of abortions, a common medical procedure (1 in 3 American women has an abortion during her reproductive lifetime), offered on TV and movies; and "I Went to the March for Life, and All I Got Was This Lousy Fear of Choice," the chronicle of the author attending the March for Life and visiting a so-called "Crisis Pregnancy Center." The most interesting part of the latter section is the author's recounting of literature she picked up in said CPC, and how dishonest it is. From page 197:
 
"I knew going into this CPC that I would not receive any pro-choice information. But I was still shocked at just how factually inaccurate and misleading the abortion information actually was. Just because a clinic is 'faith-based,' as the woman I met with pointed out--to say nothing of not 'abortion-minded'--does not give it the right to provide women and their partners with lies." 
 
Huh. Well, color me shocked (not). 
 
This book is well-written but doesn't tackle its subjects in any great depth, unlike another book I recently read on the topic, Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. It's certainly worth reading, however.


 
This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/162834.html. Comment either here or there.
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