by Doctor Science
Bad news makes me re-read comforting fanfic, so it's been a while. At last I have some books to report!
Company Town by Madeline Ashby has many areas of overlap with Alex Rakunas' "Windswept", which I read about a month ago. Kickass heroine, working for a union, gets involved in high-stakes violence/crime/mystery involving a powerful corporation. Punches are thrown, mayhem involves movie physics more than real physics. And there's a dubious, good-looking guy.
Unfortunately for Ashby, her novel suffers from this comparison. The plot is too complicated toward the end, when a whole extra layer of machinations gets introduced and I lost track of character's motivations. I admit, I was also dissatisfied with the ending because I've been feeling dissatisfied with a *lot* of books, because they have characters who've inherited wealth & position and are also exceptionally charismatic, intelligent, or talented. What is with this yearning for aristocracy? Any time you want to put in a "rightful king" who has inherited some kind of ability for leadership or command, I invite you to contemplate: Prince Charles.
Anyway, I then went and bought Like a Boss, the second of Rakunas' "Windswept" books, and enjoyed it just fine (the cover makes the heroine look like a teenager, but she most emphatically is *not*). It's full of the atmosphere any good noir should have -- though in this case it's tropical noir, which means the food is much better. And it's almost got me craving rum, which I don't really like the taste of and which ends in a scalp-wrenching hangover.
I'm not quite sure I bought the overall plot, really. I guess Rakunas ran into another thing that's been bugging me in general: too many plots that involve The Bad Guy being motivated by essentially personal issues. Especially Revenge. I am so *sick* of Revenge as a motivator, whether for Bad Guys or "Good Guys" (moral protip: revenge is never a Good motive).
One thing about the Windswept books that is never explained: it seems as though most of the characters, include many (most?) of the ones who beat people up professionally, are women. This bugged Mr Dr because it's never talked about. I didn't notice until he pointed it out to me, and I suspect Rakunas is doing it as a kind of meta joke: to flip the kind of SFF stories (we've all read so many of them) where almost all the characters "just happen" to be men.
Meanwhile, Mr Dr Science just finished Dark Run by Mike Brooks. It's basically Firefly fanfic, except Mr Dr reports that the captain is supposed to be nuanced and morally ambiguous, yet is actually an irredeemable asshole. Why the characters are talking in fake-Western accents is never clear, either. I'm not reading it, I've got too much Hugo reading to do.
Hugo Best Novella nominees (in order of reading).
I started with Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, which has already won the Nebula. I knew within a few paragraphs it would be a high bar to beat, and, not surprisingly, none of the rest made it.
I'd been trying to avoid spoilers, but the few I'd seen led me to expect something *much* more downbeat than I actually got. To me, the almost hilarious meta-thing about the story is how Heinleinesque it is. Grrantr zngu travhf ehaf njnl sebz ubzr gb Fcnpr Npnqrzl! Rapbhagref nyvraf naq fbyirf vagrefgryyne pbasyvpg! [rot-13 spoilers] How old-school can you *get*?!?!! Seriously, it's one of the core SF plots, with a new-style character and a hair (lol) more complexity -- but the same basic feeling that lifted my heart when I was 12.
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds. Does this belong to one of his other series? Is it the start of a new one? It strikes me as too short for all of what happens, so crucial parts are kind of glossed over. It's also really odd, to me, to have a long story where we may have to rebuilt civilization etc., where there are male and female characters but no indication that anyone has sexual interests or motivations, nor are there any discussions about having children. Did I miss something about everyone being asexual, somehow? *scratches head*
Penric's Demon by Lois Bujold. This is another one where the treatment of sexuality confuses me. I think I can say, without major spoilers, that the basic plot is the trope known as "Sharing a Body", and in this case the body-owner is a young man, while the passenger turns out to be, essentially, n pbafbegvhz bs gjryir jbzra.
Now, I'm used to seeing this trope in fanfiction, where I would expect the story to be heavily focused on issues of sexuality, gender, and the characters' feelings about bodies. At first I thought Bujold was heading there, but then she sort of veered off to Plot-land, before the POV character had done more than guvax nobhg znfgheongvat. I was left feeling rather wrong-footed, and only sort of interested in the Plot. In sum: for me it was a good enough story, but rather bizarrely incomplete.
Perfect State, by Brandon Sanderson. Too much like a video game, though an interesting enough take on an old SF question. I just don't believe that most humans really want Awsum Powah instead of comforting relationships with other actual people.
I haven't decided yet how I'm going to rank those three stories (places 2 through 4), but I'm going to put The Builders by Daniel Polansky below No Award, and maybe off the ballot altogether. I just can't finish it, the animals are too pointless, clichéd as both animals and humans.