athenejen: iAthena (athena)
posted by [personal profile] athenejen at 06:03pm on 17/06/2015 under
What I've just finished

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout. (See previous post for description.) I really enjoyed this, enough that its sequel, Pacific Fire is getting a pretty high slot on my to-read list. California Bones is definitely a full, satisfying arc all on its own, though. Note: I feel like I should probably emphasize here that it's a very dark world (the dominant powers of the world consider people just commodities to be used and consumed) and includes some pretty serious violence and grotesquerie -- if you're worried about specifics that might put you off reading or trigger you, feel free to ask me for more detail. Nonetheless, I would consider the overall narrative arc to be on the positive/heroic side.


What I'm reading now

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, book 2 of The Raven Cycle. I am enjoying this even more than I did the first one -- and I liked the first one a lot, so that's saying something. The cadences of the various voices of the characters have settled in more comfortably, and the style of the writing has definitely grown on me. Each character has a distinct perspective with different insights and blindspots, so the story is being built gradually and intricately like a (moody, atmospheric, potentially gorgeous) puzzle box. I feel like it's a good sign when getting to know the characters more has me both even more intrigued and even more endeared, and I'm quite interested in the new characters and hints at further world-building we're getting as well. Pleasing!

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Haven't made any progress since my previous post. I suspect I won't get back to it for a little while yet, but there's another plane ride scheduled for next month, so maybe then if not before.


What I'm reading next

Almost certainly book 3 of The Raven Cycle, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I have a feeling I'll soon be joining everyone waiting on tenterhooks for book 4 to come out next spring.


Bonus: Recent backlog

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, first book in a trilogy (though the second and third books have not yet been released in English). Last week I mentioned that recently books have been giving me nostalgic echoes of ones that made an impact on me growing up. This is another one of those, though it is not so much that it reminded me of them directly, as it reminded me of the way reading hard science fiction for the first time (Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, in middle school, though looking back on it I'm pretty sure that reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle in fourth grade primed the pump) expanded my worldview and made me think intensely about both metaphysics and large-scale societal forces. I never really did read a lot of hard SF subsequently (in general I am more about characters and character interactions than ideas, and while they certainly are not mutually exclusive I feel like it's fair to say in general that a lot of hard SF emphasizes the latter more than the former), but I do like to read some occasionally, and when I heard that a Chinese hard SF novel had made enough of a stir to get translated into English, it piqued my interest. I am really glad it did.

Before leaving academia, I spent many years studying modern Chinese history (I am also Chinese-American), so the dual setting of the Cultural Revolution (and its extended aftermath -- I will note here that violence and oppression are present in this book, and suicide is mentioned) and current-day China struck a deep chord in me. I was incredibly impressed with the translation, which has a stark understated clarity that somehow preserves the feel of the cadences and intentions of Mandarin while still flowing well in English. I have a feeling that the characters might seem like ciphers to some readers, and to an extent I agree, and yet there's something about them that felt right to me, like their essence was something I understood. It's possible that it's more echoes, this time from the Chinese novels and films I read and watched as part of my studies, because Liu's characters were very much in the style of some of those characters. Things happen to them, and around them, and they take actions, and sometimes a feeling is stated, but there's an unspoken understanding that every character is like a deep pool, and it is up to the reader or watcher to interpolate for themselves, to make that human connection.

In any case, the meat of this book is its ideas, and they were fascinating enough to me that I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about some of them. Hell, I'm not even sure I fully understand some of them, and I kind of love that. My knowledge of physics theory is neither deep nor broad, so I can't really speak to the accuracy of what's in here, but it's explained clearly and in a way that kept my interest, especially in context. In retrospect, I actually think even the level of basic plot description in the usual promo blurbs was more detail that I personally wanted -- I would've loved to have gone into this book completely unspoiled. So I think I will just say that the first half of this book haunted me (seriously, there was a point where I had to hide it under magazines in the bathroom when I was taking a break from reading it, because I could feel it staring at me -- not in a scary-horror way, but in this way where it almost felt like it was undermining my sense of reality), and the second half made me think about metaphysics, about civilizations, about the different ways individuals process and react to their experiences and expectations of the world, and what happens when those things change. Now I'm just hoping the second and third books live up to the promise of the first.

I will also say, even though this is the first of a trilogy, I did find it to be a coherent arc in and of itself, and I felt satisfied with it as a pause point. Even if I never read the rest of the trilogy, I'll be glad I read this one.

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