stuff I read

City Under the Stars by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick

God was in his Heaven—which was fifteen miles away, due east.

Far in Earth’s future, in a post-utopian hell-hole, Hanson works ten solid back-breaking hours a day, shoveling endless mountains of coal, within sight of the iridescent wall that separates what’s left of humanity from their gods.

One day, after a tragedy of his own making, Hanson leaves York, not knowing what he will do, or how he will survive in the wilderness without work. He finds himself drawn to the wall, to the elusive promise of God. And when the impossible happens, he steps through, into the city beyond.

The impossible was only the beginning.

City Under the Stars completes a journey undertaken by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick 25 years ago, when they published the novella The City of God. Over two decades later, the two realized there was more to the story, and began the work of expanding it. Now, after Gardner Dozois’ tragic passing, the story can be told in full.

Ehhhhh, I can’t decide if reading the authors’ previous work “The City of God” would have helped or not.

City Under the Stars is an extremely setting-heavy dystopian novella about a man who flees after committing a murder and then becomes a prophet (?) after visiting The City of God. I honestly am not sure what was going on. It felt very familiar in tone, like it’s similar to Christopher Priest’s Inverted World or Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation in the familiar-yet-wildly-different-and-abstract-setting.

It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t particularly like it. Check it out if you’re a fan of the authors.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

mini-review · stuff I read

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Summary from Goodreads: In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Genderqueer and lesbian librarians in an alternative southwest United States? Sure! Sarah Gailey is a flipping genius at building a world without stopping to tell you all about it. Upright Women Wanted is a book set in a dystopic Southwestern United States where travelling Librarians with horses and wagons deliver “approved” materials to isolated towns. Main character Esther stows away with a Librarian convoy after her best friend – who she may also have had romantic feelings for – is hanged for possession of “unapproved” materials. When she’s discovered, the Librarians put her to work. And Esther discovered a lot about her world and her place in it. If you’re looking for a Western but need something different, this will hit a lot of buttons.

I signed up for the Reading Rush readathon this week since I’d been having serious book hangover from Mexican Gothic a few weeks ago and it’s working. I’ve finished four books so far, three of them excellent fantasy novellas from so A+ self!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale #2)

48143077._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within.

At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. Two have grown up on opposite sides of the border: one in Gilead as the privileged daughter of an important Commander, and one in Canada, where she marches in anti-Gilead protests and watches news of its horrors on TV. The testimonies of these two young women, part of the first generation to come of age in the new order, are braided with a third voice: that of one of the regime’s enforcers, a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets. Long-buried secrets are what finally bring these three together, forcing each of them to come to terms with who she is and how far she will go for what she believes. As Atwood unfolds the stories of the women of The Testaments, she opens up our view of the innermost workings of Gilead in a triumphant blend of riveting suspense, blazing wit, and virtuosic world-building.

Not gonna lie, I was not impressed when The Testaments was announced. The Handmaid’s Tale is a book I felt never needed more explanation or sequel. It was a very important part of my reading when I was a teenager. I probably would have read The Testaments, eventually, but then it got picked for the Barnes and Noble Book Club so I had to read it right away to lead the group.

I did like the writing and overall book as a whole. But where The Handmaid’s Tale had bared teeth and outrage, The Testaments doesn’t really give us new ground. We get a lot of pedantic nuts-and-bolts about how Gilead came about and more detail about day-to-day women’s lives. Dirty secrets and double-dealing as expected. But it is readable and I did enjoy it. (And yes, mild spoiler, there is another epilogue from the Gilead symposium or whatever.)

In my opinion, you can read this without having read The Handmaid’s Tale, although you should really read that one anyway. Atwood sidesteps a direct sequel to Offred’s story here by choosing different narrators, although if you’re paying attention you can easily pick out the links to the earlier book (meaning: I guessed all the “twists” in the plot).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because no one got a galley.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

28209634Summary from Goodreads:
Autonomous features a rakish female pharmaceutical pirate named Jack who traverses the world in her own submarine. A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work.

On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.

I had a galley, then it expired, and then I had to get in the holds line for the library’s Libby copy (this is the lyfe, I tell you). But I finally finished Autonomous and it is completely bonkers. I did not know that I needed a post-cyberpunk, futurist, anti-Big Pharma, gender-and-desire-exploring sci-fi novel but once I started reading, Autonomous was totally the book I needed. The beginning is a bit slow but once it picked up I just kept turning pages. Newitz has a background as a science journalist (Newitz co-founded i09 with her partner Charlie Jane Anders) and it really showed in how she pushed the science into the future, kept it within the bounds of believability, and also made it easy to understand.

I also really enjoyed the exploration of gender constructs and desire using a bio-bot. Paladin is one of the point-of-view characters and Newitz just cracked the world of Autonomous open using Paladin’s thoughts and opinions. So damn good.

Trigger warning for sexual abuse/slavery and homophobia (because if we haven’t fixed poverty 200 years in the future, we sure as hell haven’t fixed homophobia).

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley from Edelweiss, then had to finish with the library copy.  I’ll probably buy a copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

Worlds From the Word’s End by Joanna Walsh

34146471Summary from Goodreads:
This collection cements Joanna Walsh’s reputation as one of the sharpest writers of this century. Wearing her learning lightly, Walsh’s stories make us see the world afresh, from a freewheeling story on cycling (and Freud), to a country in which words themselves fall out of fashion—something that will never happen wherever Walsh is read.

“Joanna Walsh is clever, funny and merciless. She abducts people from their apparently normal lives and confronts them with the fact that dystopia is not a place in the future but a room in their own house.” —Yuri Herrera, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World

“Terrifyingly perceptive, subversively hilarious–these stories are part Daniil Kharms, part-Lydia Davis–while also managing to be singularly Joanna Walsh; how her writing always manages to make everything else I read (and write) seem specious and frivolous.” —Sara Baume, author of The Line Made by Walking

“Worlds from the Word’s End is an anti-mainstream collection. Joanna Walsh’s thick, blurred and claustrophobic worlds deal with deconstruction, estrangement, silence and the disappearance of common language. This is unconventional writing that is going to enchant unconventional readers.” —Dubravka Ugrešić, author of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

I had never read Joanna Walsh’s books before, but I was intrigued by the pull quote and blurbs. Worlds From the Word’s End is a small literary short story collection that lies somewhere between Laura van den Burg and Sofia Samatar in tone. There are a couple of stories set in dystopias that seem just one or two clicks off from our own (one is a society that has gradually decided words/lanuage was passé so that was interesting). There are a couple about being a book person, particularly the third story.

There is one story, “Simple Hans”, that I really didn’t like and it felt out of place in the collection.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publicist.

mini-review · stuff I read

Sip by Brian Allen Carr

33376058Summary from Goodreads:
A lyrical, apocalyptic debut novel about addiction, friendship, and the struggle for survival

It started with a single child, and quickly spread: you could get high by drinking your own shadow. At night, lights were destroyed so that addicts could sip shadow in the pure light of the moon.

Gangs of shadow addicts chased down children on playgrounds, rounded up old ladies from retirement homes. Cities were destroyed and governments fell. And if your shadow was sipped entirely, you became one of them, had to find more shadow, at any cost, or go mad.

150 years later, what’s left of the world is divided between the highly regimented life of those inside dome-cities that are protected from natural light (and natural shadows), and those forced to the dangerous, hardscrabble life in the wilds outside. In rural Texas, Mira, her shadow-addicted friend Murk, and an ex-Domer named Bale, search for a possible mythological cure to the shadow sickness but they must do so, it is said, before the return of Halley’s Comet, which is only days away.

Liberty was telling me about Sip a few months ago and I was lucky enough to get approved for a digital galley. (Technically, Sip published at the end of August, so thank goodness for galleys that don’t expire immediately so I could get it read!)

This book is weird, y’all, and has a very specific audience. If you like your fiction about as weird and gritty and disturbing as it comes, this book is for you. If that is not your jam, I do not recommend. The world of Sip is completely fascinating and horrifying and revolting and kind of awesome (“awesome” as in “A+ story idea” not “I totes would live in this world” because HELL NO). Sip is Christopher Priest’s Inverted World + Hubert Selby’s Requiem for a Dream set in a Cormac McCarthy western. Brutal and bleak, but a really interesting read.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.