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"You think I don't know what country I live in?" Review, Lovecraft Country



5 of 5 stars

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year, and right up there with the best of 2015. It is so many things–a mystery, a horror story with callbacks to, of course, Lovecraft (although you never actually see Cthulhu or any of the Elder Gods–there’s just a suggestion of a black shadowy something coming through an intradimensional door in the last battle, turning the bad guys to ash and retreating again), and above all an unflinching, brutal examination of racism, both in the time of Jim Crow and echoing down to our day.

You might think this last is presented in a heavy-handed way, but it isn’t. This is because of the author’s prose, which is restrained and straightforward, almost Hemingwayesque. (He’ll never be accused, to use Stephen King’s memorable line, of paving his road to hell with adverbs.) Given the subject matter–both the horror elements and the social–this approach is necessary, I think. There’s also elements of humor; very dark, to be sure, but I was startled into laughing at least once or twice. The characterizations are subtle, and demand a careful reading; and in any case, this is not a book to rush through. It’s structured as a series of interlinked novellas, not chapters as such. You might think one or two of the novellas in the middle section have nothing to do with the overall plot, but keep going. When you get to the scene where all the characters sit down and tell each other their parts of the story (and how often have we read books where we say, “I wish these characters would just talk to each other”? Well, in this book they actually do it!), everything clicks into place, and the author’s meticulous plotting becomes evident.

It occurred to me as I read the final pages that the title is more than just a metaphor for the book’s horror elements. To me, it’s also a metaphor for America as a whole, with its continuing racism and fear/hatred of the Other, both in this book’s setting of 1954, and, to our shame, still today.
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The Rebel and the Soldier, Kicking Ass and Taking Names: Review, "This Shattered World"



4 of 5 stars

This is the sequel, of sorts, to These Broken Stars, to which I gave a five-star review a couple of years ago. I say "of sorts" because while this book continues the overall story, and the protagonists from the first book make cameo appearances, this book introduces two brand-new characters. Jubilee Chase is a bad-ass soldier and Flynn Cormac is an idealistic rebel, and they come together on Avon, a planet in the midst of terraforming (the swamp that covers the inhabited section is almost a third protagonist in its own right) and shrouded in clouds and mystery.

This book is a lot darker and grittier than the first, with the alternating points of view of Jubilee and Flynn exploring the rebellion, the politics behind it, and the attempts to tamp it down. The complication to all this is the so-called Fury, the mental illness that sooner or later infects almost every soldier stationed on Avon, causing them to snap and kill anyone nearby. I say "almost" because it soon becomes clear that Jubilee is immune to the Fury. The reasons why are a major plot point, reaching back ten years to a similar rebellion on her birth planet of Verona, where her parents were killed.

As in the first book, the characterizations are excellent. There is a considerably larger cast in this book as opposed to the first, which focused almost entirely on the starcrossed love story of Lilac and Tarver. This frees the authors to further develop their world, to the book's benefit. The book starts with a bang, with Jubilee's kidnapping by Flynn, and never really lets up. The pacing is masterful, with well-chosen, quieter moments of character development.

Jubilee and Flynn's story is brought to a satisfying conclusion in this book, but the storyline remains up in the air: will Roderick LaRoux, the master manipulator behind the scenes in both the first book and this one, finally get his comeuppance? This, presumably, waits for the third book, which is upcoming on my list. I hope I enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the first two.

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strong female characters

You Have Many Many Friends, Alli: Review, "Letters to Tiptree"

Letters to Tiptree by Alexandra  Pierce

4 of 5 stars

James Tiptree Jr., AKA Raccoona Sheldon AKA Alice Sheldon, died nearly thirty years ago. In an unfortunately brief career, she made an indelible mark; not only for her groundbreaking, feminist stories, but because of the fact that she wrote most of them under the male pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr, before being outed as Alice Sheldon after her mother's death. This book celebrates what would have been her 100th birthday, and is filled with poignant essays of current SFF authors writing about what Tiptree/Sheldon meant to them.

The first section, containing the titular "letters," has thirty-eight authors expressing their feelings about Tiptree. Some write to "Tip," some write to Alice, some write to all three or various combinations thereof; but all of them turn out fascinating, complex thoughts about a complex woman. The second section, my favorite, consists of letters between Sheldon and the writers Ursula K. LeGuin and Joanna Russ in the late seventies, before and after her outing, as she tries to explain why she hid her identity (and wonders out loud if she will have any friends left). LeGuin, in particular, comes off as a warm, loving woman and staunch friend, delighted in the revelation that James Tiptree is Alice Sheldon.

The third section consists of introductions to Tiptree's collections, from books published before and after the revelation of her identity; excerpts from academic analyses of feminist science fiction and Tiptree's role therein; and a final essay from the author herself, shot through with wit and humor.

This is a moving tribute to a remarkable woman, who sadly left us far too soon. Her influence on the SF field is still great today, and I'm glad to see a book like this that will carry forth her banner into the future.
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You Have Been the Last Dream of My Soul: Review, The Sandman Overture

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

(5 of 5 stars)

I'm still on my graphic-novel kick, but this is definitely the best one I've read since Scott McCloud's The Sculptor. In fact, it's damn near perfect.

Now, I must admit that I have not read any of the Sandman series proper, so this was a bit confusing at times. However, the story sucked me right in: the Dream King and his quest to save a mad star he mistakenly let live once upon a time, which will now bring about the end of the universe. This is a story that spans all of space and all of time, from the vastness of the multiverse to the interior of a black hole.

The artwork accompanying this story is absolutely gorgeous. I would not recommend trying to read this on any device. I checked the deluxe edition out from the library, and waiting for the dead tree copy is well worth it. There are two foldout pages (I imagine Vertigo had a fun time with that when it went to press) and on several occasions the art and word bubbles rotate across the entire length and breadth of the page. There are certainly no "panels" as such, not in this comic. The colors are bright and lush, and one could sit and study J.H. Williams' images for hours.

Morpheus is a lonely fellow in this story, and he ends up weakened and alone in the end, a state of affairs which is supposed to lead directly to the first volume of the series. That will be my next project, I think. Still, whether or not you have read the original Sandman, do not miss this.

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