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The Monsters Are Due On Comics Street

Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie M. Liu

5 of 5 stars

I am a fan of Marjorie Liu's work. Her urban fantasy series, Hunter Kiss, is one of the more inventive UF series out there, with a rich, unique mythology, and the books are refreshingly free of most urban fantasy cliches. So I approached this graphic novel already predisposed to like it--and it knocked my socks off. 
 
This is set in a world with an intricate mythos and background, easily the equal of Liu's Hunter Kiss universe. This is gradually revealed through the 6 collected issues of this volume, and once you get to the end you'll want to take another pass through it, to see all the little bits of worldbuilding you didn't pick up on before. Liu trusts her reader to follow her, and is never condescending or long-winded about her world. 
 
But there are also some pretty heavy themes here, about monsters within and without, and fear of the Other, and how a person copes when she realizes she carries a horror within her she cannot escape. There's a shivery Lovecraftian feel and and an Egyptian tone to the story. It's pretty dark overall: this is definitely not a children's comic. The art is a muted palette of grays, browns and blacks that grows on the reader, and is very appropriate for the story. 
 
The characterizations are very well done, especially Kippa (Little Fox), Master Ren the talking two-tailed cat, and of course the seventeen-year-old protagonist, Maika Halfwolf. She carries a burden that would break most people or drive them insane, but at the end of the book she finds a sliver of hope. The whole thing is just outstanding, and I highly recommend it. 

 
This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/161674.html. Comment either here or there.
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Rebel Rebel, Your Book is a Mess

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

2 of 5 stars

This book disappointed me. I thought it would be right up my alley, but that turned out not to be true.

It started out strong. It began as a sort of Western/Arabian Nights mashup, with the Western part predominating. There are guns, and weapons factories, and trains; there are also gods, and First Beings, and djinni--and halfbreed children sired by djinni--and other mystical energy creatures such as Buraqi, the equivalent of a horse that can be caged by iron. (The Buraqi were the best part of the book, and I wish the storyline had focused more on them in some fashion.) There is a displaced prince, a rebellion ("A new dawn. A new desert."), and a clash of science, magic and religion. There's a sixteen-year-old protagonist, Amani, a sort of Arabian Nights Calamity Jane who has taught herself to shoot and desperately wishes to escape her backwards, misogynistic town and society. She meets up with a secretive foreigner, Jin, who turns out to be the brother of the Rebel Prince, and gets involved in the rebellion. Many fights and shootouts and a few deaths later, along with some revelations about Amani's parentage, the rebellion wins its first battle and is on its way. 

This may work for some people, but it did not work for me. The writing is okay and the characters adequate, although not terribly deep. What spoiled the book, as far as I am concerned, is the clumsy worldbuilding. The further along I got in the book, and the more it tended towards the Arabian Nights end of the spectrum, the less believable it became. By the later chapters, we're deep into the rebellion, and the half-Djinni children show their various powers (shape-shifting and illusion-casting, among others), and of course Amani is revealed to be a half-Djinni (or Demdji) whose power is to manipulate sand and make it do things, such as forming shapes that, for instance, grab her and keep her from going over a cliff...my suspension of disbelief shattered completely over that one. I realize this is supposed to be a fantasy, but the disparate parts simply do not blend. 

Somewhere, there may be a Western/Arabian Nights combo that succeeds. It's not this book, unfortunately. 
This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/161329.html. Comment either here or there.
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The Llama You Geek is the Llama You Accept

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

4 of 5 stars

I've been reading Kameron Hurley's blog since it was called Brutal Women, and I'm very gratified by her success. (Full disclosure: I am also one of her Patrons.) She's had a hell of a slog, dealing with a chronic illness, the ups and downs of the publishing business, and being attacked by asshats on the Internet, and it's nice to see one of the good people get ahead.

A great many of the essays in this book were originally published on her blog, but it's been long enough since I read them that I was able to look at them through fresh eyes. This book is divided into four sections: Level Up (dealing with the business of writing); Geek (something of a smorgasbord, tackling television and film reviews, archetypes in writing, male/female characters and protagonists, and dystopias); Let's Get Personal (how she has dealt with various challenges in her life); and Revolution (another smorgasbord, with treatises of Gamergate, Puppygate, and white privilege). This last section includes her Hugo Award-winning article, "We Have Always Fought: Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative."

In these essays, Hurley has a blunt, in-your-face style that is no doubt a result of their having been blog posts: as she points out, you have to develop a thick skin to be a woman on the Internet. (Sample [from the introduction]: "Because telling someone to be quiet on the internet to avoid abuse and harassment is like telling women that the best way to avoid being raped is not to go outside, and there are many more of us who won't be silenced, because fuck that.") I think this style is very suited to the subjects she tackles. As she freely admits: "I want to change the world," and to do that, you have to get angry, fight, be persistent, and work harder. Kameron Hurley is good at all of those.

My favorite essays include: "What Marketing and Advertising Taught Me About the Value of Failure" (an interesting account of how she applies the lessons of her day job to fiction writing); "Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max" (a deconstruction of Mad Max: Fury Road, my favorite movie of last year, from an angle I hadn't considered); "In Defense of Unlikable Women" (contrasting two movies, one with an unlikable male protagonist and one with an unlikable female one, and how the former movie was accepted while the latter was "controversial"); "Public Speaking While Fat" (an affecting account of how she came to accept her body and her existence as a fat woman); "The Horror Novel You'll Never Have to Live: Surviving Without Health Insurance" (a truly harrowing story of her experience as a Type 1 diabetic, and life before the Affordable Care Act); and "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On Empathy and the Power of Privilege" (showing how those who get into kerfluffles on the Internet usually need to step back, think, show empathy, and realize it's not about them).

There are many thoughtful, engaging essays in this book. I'm grateful that Kameron Hurley has given them to the world.

This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/161154.html. Comment either here or there.
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Hugo Voting 2016: The Big One

2015 Hugo Award Trophy

 (This is last year's Hugo trophy. This year's design hasn't been posted yet.)
 
We've reached my final Hugo vote this year, Best Novel or what George R.R. Martin calls "the big one."  I'll link to my Goodreads reviews of all these books.
 
1) The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (full review here, with spoilers)
 
When I originally wrote my review in September 2015, I said, "This is one of the best books I've read this year." I'll revise that now; it is the best book I read in 2015, bar none. I really really hope Jemisin gets the rocket.
 
2) Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (full review here, with spoilers for entire series)
 
In the third volume of the Imperial Radch trilogy, Ann Leckie brings it on home.
 
3) Uprooted, Naomi Novik (full review here, with spoilers)
 
I debated the placements for #2 and #3 for quite a while, and finally tossed a mental coin. This could change tomorrow, and back again the next day, these two books are so closely matched.
 
4) Seveneves, Neal Stephenson (full review here, with spoilers)
 
I understand why this book was nominated, and why it may even win (although the God of Infodumps forbid, I certainly hope not). But it has some pretty severe flaws.
 
5) No Award
 
6) The Aeronaut's Windlass, Jim Butcher (full review here, with spoilers)
 
This book disappointed me greatly, because Jim Butcher can write better books than this, dammit. The worldbuilding here is very good, but I need more than a fascinating world; I need characters that come to life, characters I can care about. That is what this book lacks, and a Worldbuilding Report doesn't cut it, not for a Hugo.
 
(Note: The eagle-eyed may have realized I omitted any voting for the [famously Not-A-Hugo] Campbell Award. I am still trying to get to that...I have until the end of the month [nervously looks at calendar]).
 
This entry was originally posted at http://redheadedfemme.dreamwidth.org/161001.html. Comment either here or there.
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