Review: To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

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ARC received from the publisher (Harper Voyager) on Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

And Becky Chambers has done it again. I know that’s a cliché line to use in a review, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few decades she will be remembered as one of the greats. This is the exact kind of thought-provoking, insightful, ultimately deeply human sci-fi that makes up the best the genre has to offer.

However, I went in with entirely the wrong expectations so I will say this: don’t expect another Wayfarers. Expect discussion of the ethics of space exploration. Expect your mind to be blown, perhaps. But heartwarming, character-focused…forget it.

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July 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up

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July has been an interesting, unusual, out-of-character month. I don’t go on binges, I don’t read novellas unless forced to for a reading challenge, and I have never been interested in Westerns until the end of this June. Yet I have:

  1. Read or attempted to read 6 westerns
  2. Read 8 novellas
  3. Binge-read a series that’s part of a subgenre I normally avoid (Urban Fantasy)
  4. DNFd 4 books

I think I only read one book that wasn’t on a theme. Unfortunately, all of this has two side effects: I have completely neglected the Bingo challenge and generally wrote fewer reviews, as I plan to merge Weird Westerns and LGBTQ+ novellas in two more comprehensive posts (soon!).

As far as non-review posts go, I did a Top 5: Weird Literary Fantasy list.

  • Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen (reread): The first book on my journey through the Weird West. It stands up to a reread very well, and I loved that it tackles the racism and sexism of the era…but I completely forgot how much sexual violence is there 😬
  • The Binding by Bridget Collins: I was enticed by the cover and the premise (books made out of memories! Romance!), but even though I did enjoy it, I’m not happy at the number of abandoned plot threads and the abruptness of the ending.
  • Unsouled by Will Wight (DNF): Very much not for me, but may appeal those looking for books about magic systems and protagonists growing more powerful.
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson: Literary novella, fantastic. I wasn’t quite sure of it right until the end, but as all the pieces clicked into place…wow.
  • Territory by Emma Bull: Weird Western slice of life. Sadly, another book that suffers from abruptly abandoning plot threads. And it felt….bland. Oh well.
  • A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (DNF): The writing style was good and the worldbuilding interesting and one of the protagonists was the fun kind of trigger-happy sociopathic prick, but the homophobia/racism/transphobia of the world were just too much. Uncomfortable and unfun.
  • Passing Strange by Ellen Klages: Another wonderful novella, this one depicting the queer women’s subculture of 1940s San Francisco. The magic is almost incidental, but it doesn’t matter. It’s great.
  • Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson: Not the typical Western, perhaps, but I haven’t encountered a book that’d be as much of a pageturner in a mortal age. I’d read it in one sitting if it wasn’t nearing 3 am…
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (reread): This time in paperback. Still as good as the first time.
  • The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman (DNF): A cross of Weird Western and New Weird, more interesting in theory than in practice. Nothing outrageously wrong with it, I was just…bored.
  • Los Nefilim series by T. Frohock: Yes, the whole thing – three novellas and the novel. One after the other. And I don’t even normally read UF! The worldbuilding and the characters are A+ and I could not stop. Features a rarity: an established couple. To be precise, a gay established couple with a kid.
  • Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson: What the fuck. It’s not often that the book confuses the everloving daylights out of me to that extent, but what the fuck. And the ending just confused me further.
  • Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox (reread): Reread it to reset my brain after Sorcerer of the Wildeeps broke it. Still good, still don’t like graphic sex scenes.
  • Fortune’s Fool by Angela Boord (ARC, DNF 12%): Decided to pull the plug after a month or two of not picking it up. No specific reason. If you want Reneissance-inspired worlds, family rivalries, and political scheming it may be worth a try.
  • Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett: Basically post-colonial, f/f Shakespeare fanfiction telling the story of Miranda after the end of The Tempest. Excellent, and super adorable.

Currently reading:

  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (12%): I’m leading a bookclub in August, so I have to finish it quick. So far, I’m enjoying it very much.
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (40%): It’s so long!
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (48%): See above. Damn chonkers.

Books read this year: 40 (+ 11 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 9/25 (36%)

Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

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Short but stunning. Despite probably not being long enough to even qualify as a novella, there’s a lot packed inside the small space. It’s about history, revisionism, stories, taking your truth back, humans exploiting other species without regard for anything but ourselves. And it’s beautiful. Highly, highly recommended.

Stories, too, they discovered. But it was a funny thing: They were shattered into pieces, like the Great Mother who had scattered them, and no one tale held to the ear by itself could ever be fully understood. To make them whole required many voices entwined. Then and only then could we become the undying We, endless voices passing along the one song that is also Many.

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Review: Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor (Binti #1-3)

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ARC received from the publisher (DAW) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed this series of novellas immensely. I’ve had Binti on my TBR since 2016 and in a way, I’m glad I waited until now – even though this is my first read, they work far, far better as one book.

“I have to try and make it better,” I said. “I can’t just leave here.”

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Review: The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang (Tensorate #1)

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…it had been so easy to turn her into this mythical figure, a distant and all-powerful entity insulated by the walls of the capital and the monastery. A prophet. The prophet. Beloved and abstract. But she was also his sister. A mortal, a human being, a person. Made of flesh and sinew and bone and blood. And she could be hurt like anyone else.

Akeha and Mokoya are twins, the children of the Protector. At the age of 6 they are sold to and begin their education at a monastery. At the age of 17, their paths diverge. Mokoya, a seer, stays with their mother and the Protectorate. Akeha chooses to run away, works as a smuggler, and eventually joins the rebellion. Mokoya has always been treated as more important than Akeha and this influences their relationship, but despite some resentment, they love and care for each other regardless.

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Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children #3)

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I forgot how much I loved this series.

This was Confection, land of the culinary art become miracle: land of lonely children whose hands itched for pie tins or rolling pins, for the comfortable predictability of timers and sugar scoops and heaping cups of flour. This was a land where perfectly measured ingredients created nonsensical towers of whimsy and wonder—and maybe that was why they could be here, logical creatures that they were, without feeling assaulted by the world around them.

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Review: In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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I received an ARC of this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This was just plain lovely.

The Vanishers had broken the world. They had taken and enslaved as they’d wished, leaving constructs and plagues as their legacies. Their magic was all chains and knives and diseases, everything that bound and broke and devastated. Even their rare healings had been double-edged, leaving people riddled with tumors and shriveled elements.

In the Vanishers’ Palace is, at its core, a delightfully queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in alternate Vietnam. Yên is a failed scholar, assisting her healer mother, but thought to be fairly useless. When her friend and a daughter from an important family, Oanh, falls gravely ill, she is exchanged for a cure from the dragon, Vu Côn, expecting to be killed, but instead becoming a teacher to her children.

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