Book roundup: Bitterblue, Simoqin, Three Felonies a Day

Quick notes on some books I’ve read recently. I have laryngitis (still!!!) and it seems to be worsening rather than getting better. So I will write rather than talk.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, which I picked up from a tip in SF writer Claire Light’s blog. Third in an excellent fantasy trilogy (Graceling, Fire), this is the heaviest and most awesome of the lot. Bitterblue dove into murky waters as its young queen realizes all the ways she (and the kingdom as a whole) are being gaslighted as they try to heal from the former and very abusive, tyrannical king. She becomes obsessed with history, stories, and truth.

I am thinking of this book in conjunction with others that address how we as a society (and individually) face history. How much of the past do we want or need to know? What is worth teaching? What culture are we constructing? I think of epics like Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and Dune in opposition to Bitterblue and many other feminist sf/f works. In Wolfe and Herbert, individual enlightenment is attainable by Knowing Everything, by becoming/eating/consuming the past. Once you have it, you become ruler and god. There can be only one. I saw Lois McMaster Bujold take a fairly complicated stance on this in Hallowed Hunt and there are tons of other examples of the rejection of “know everything, truth absolute, be god” model of culture. The Marq’ssan Trilogy addresses this beautifully of course. Bitterblue fits right into that feminist sf political picture for me. I also found it resonated well with my ethical and political framework of acknowledging atrocities and calling out abuses of power in personal life.

Cashore really packed a punch and I admired how her earlier works in the trilogy hinted at this, reaching for it while coming off as much more light or escapist fantasy reading. She matured as a writer and thinker maybe but also lured readers in. A big old “Trigger Warning” on this book if you are an abuse survivor. I would also say that a pre-teen or younger teenager might be okay with the first book, maybe less so with the 2nd, and boy howdy the 3rd may not be for the younger ones. Depending of course.

I will be reading all of Cashore’s books forever more!

The Gameworld Trilogy – The Simoqin Prophecies, The Manticore’s Secret, The Unwaba Revelations by Samit Basu. These are just great. I am not sure I can do them justice but they’re a fantasy trilogy set in a world that is India-centric in its mythological background, its geographical perspective, and in its rambly structure that explores hero-tales and philosophy, life and death, free will and religion.

As a huge fan of the Mahabharata and Ramayana I especially loved this series and all its hilarious jokes and references. But I don’t think you need background knowledge culturally or from reading to love these books. In any case you will likely at least get the Tolkien and Harry Potter jokes. I love the city of Kol and its vroomsticks, its spellcaster university, the fabulous bar, the Chief Civilian, Spikes, the unwaba, and the underground tunnels… The Dark Lord, the very silly magic movie industry, and the angsty, loose-woven romantic drama of the huge cast of primary characters. While I do not really like Terry Pratchett (I *know*… just move along … there is no convincing me… I am allergic… I am not judging you) I think that people who do like Pratchett would probably adore The Gameworld books.

I am going to mark down all of Basu’s books for future reading – there is a new one out called Turbulence that I have my eye on. WTF that I have never read these before! And that the U.S. Amazon.com entries don’t have any reviews yet. When U.S. fantasy readers get wise to Basu he will be a huge hit.

Basu reminds me a bit of Minister Faust, the depth of exploring tropes with charming wit & detail – basically this is for fantasy what From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain is for superhero comics. Okay, not exactly, but the playful humor was similar.

samit-basu-simoqin

I read Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes by Rebecca Burgess, on the recommendation of my friend Rose White who is a textile and yarn and spinning expert. We were talking about Burgess’s Fibershed project and I expressed the desire to learn to spin. Burgess’s book reminds me of one of my favorite nature-lover books, Margit Roos-Collins The Flavors of Home. I want to run out and harvest wild plants and make giant pots of steaming dye and feel like an earth mama eco- mad scientist. I would bond with the land! Yay! This will not happen, because I don’t really have the time or energy, and my hands hurt too much to screw around with giant pots and wet things. But it was nice to think about and maybe I will recognize some new weeds or pick a pocketful of toyon berries and half-assed-ly try to dye something someday.

I also plowed through Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey silverglate. This was an impulse buy based on some random internet person’s recommendation (Like much of my reading) in a discussion of Aaron’s federal prosecution. The title sounded promising. But I don’t recommend this book at all unless you feel that hedge fund managers and the heads of Enron are inherently very innocent people who suffer unfair persecution. Things started out kind of okay and then I realized I was reading a book by a crazed-ass libertarian. Then I had the equivalent of political anaphylactic shock somewhere in the middle of the Enron chapter. There were interesting bits and I especially liked the stories of Governor White’s case and how federal prosecutors try to “ladder up”.

There was a particular sentence that crystallized the whole book’s loathsomeness for me. While I like to think that even filthy rich criminals deserve a fair trial Silverglate went a million miles over the line in the bit where he was bemoaning how some dude’s bazillion dollars of assets got seized because someone made a federal case of whatever it was he allegedly did. And so…. and so…. that was super bad because… “he couldn’t get a fair trial”. Sums up right wing libertarians doesn’t it? A fair trial is one that you can use all of your gajillionty dollars to buy. without all those millions a fair trial is just impossssssible. (But we don’t bother to mention all the people who dno’t have the millions in the first place; it’s just normal I guess that we expect them not to get a fair trial? Or maybe “fair” means something different to Silverglate.)

I would like to read a book that lives up to the “Three Felonies a Day” title, or the premise that we are all committing crimes that we could be federally prosecuted for, daily. This is not that book. It was very annoying.

Reality Sandwiches by Allen Ginsberg. Every so often I take out the books that are on the tiny shelf in the bathroom and put in a new batch of very small books that fit there and seem suitable for reading on the can or while in the bath. I remembered that I don’t love the poems in this book except for most of The Green Automobile.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Never read it before. I have not read much Scalzi other than his blog when he says something that jibes with my politics that I get linked to a bunch by my friends. I was initially annoyed that he could write about things that the rest of us regularly write about and be hailed as a motherfucking genius for summing up oppression like racism or sexism or whatever in the context of science fiction books or gaming in a way that is palatable to the vaguely liberal nerdy white dude masses. Then he did it again. Then so many times that I began to appreciate and like him as an excellent ally. Then I read some book of his that starred a teenage girl in a space colony and I gave him kudos for writing a teenage girl character that didn’t make me want to slap him. I know, my bar is set low. Anyway, Old Man’s War. It was okay space opera and I got what it was doing and referencing but it didn’t light me up in flames. I wanted to know what happened. I will probably read more of his books especially if someone recs me a good one. Thumbs up Scalzi!

The First Shift and The Second Shift by Hugh Howey. Holy shit! Now these books floated my boat much more. Awesome density and moving things along. Sabroso! I loved Wool very much and have been telling everyone to read it! In fact I also went heads down and read every other thing by Howey I could find. I recommend them all. This short blog post has gotten long so maybe I will talk about Howey, Wool, the Silo books, zombies and 9/11, Hurricane and coming of age books, and so on, later…

Read Wool! And the Silo books too!

Must also go into Jan Morris’ Hav books, Mieville, Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side (amazing! read it if you like Au Rebors and things Gothick) Sherwood Smith “A Posse of Princesses” and various other poetry books.

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