Read This Week: Swashbuckling Space Adventures

Read this week: All three books of The Highroad Trilogy, by Kate Elliott

Up next: More Than This by Patrick Ness

I had read and loved Kate Elliott‘s Spiritwalker trilogy, starting with Cold Magic, so when I needed to refresh my book list I looked her up again to see what else she’d written. I’d also seen the cover of The Price of Ransome, the last book in the series, floating around on people’s recommended reading lists on Tumblr – and since my Tumblr feed is as obsessively curated as the nick knacks on my desk (which is to say, very) I took that as a pretty solid recommendation.

highroad01 highroad02 highroad03

Tumblr and Kate Elliott did not disappoint. About a hundred pages into A Passage of Stars I bought Revolution’s Shore and The Price of Ransome, because a) I was invested and b) no there CANNOT be any lag time between book 1 and book 2, that’s just absurd, I need to know what happens right now.

Here are some things I liked about each book and the trilogy overall:

  • World building. The books give you enough to know where you are and to be interested in it, but not so much you’re like, okay, okay, moving along now. It was obvious that thought had gone into the history, circumstances, and culture that shaped each world, each space station, and each ship, but Elliott is confident enough as an author that she doesn’t lay all that out for you to prove it.
  • A subset of the above but notable enough for its own bullet: race and culture. I don’t know if it’d count as a spoiler or not so I won’t go into much detail, but there is a specific and lengthy history to who the characters of this space opera are that is both relevant to modern-day culture and very far evolved from it. Book 3 does an especially good job of examining some of these issues, and speculating in a way I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi or speculative fiction actually do.
  • Lily. Our heroine Lily Hae Ransome is the kind of heroine you would expect from Elliott if you’ve read The Spiritwalker Trilogy. Which is to say, she is a woman who is written like a human, who gets the novel treatment of being fully realized with her own strengths and weaknesses, amid a diverse cast of other women. I love Lily for the same reasons I love Cat and Bee, not because those women are anything alike but because they are each strong and flawed in their own ways, and I never have to suffer through any of them being held up as The One Exceptional Woman or morality tales.
  • The secondary characters and subplots. Sure, there’s some epic space opera business going on, mentors to save, governments to overthrow, but personal drama doesn’t stop just because everybody’s on a spaceship. I really respect Elliott’s ability to write and pace her secondary cast of characters in a way that makes me feel very attached to them and invested in their stories, even if those stories occupy very little in the way of actual page count.
  • How timeless these books are. When I searched the trilogy in preparation for this post, I found it had originally been published in the 1990s. THE 1990S. That is officially a long time ago. Some people who are adults today weren’t born in the year 1990. The books are now out in e-book only format, which have a release date of 2013, and that, combined with the recency of the recommendation I got, led me to believe these were recent publications. I went through the whole trilogy thinking the same, only to find out literally minutes before writing this it wasn’t the case. Maybe the books just aren’t old enough to be old school sci-fi, but they are also enough their own world, with their own imagery and norms, that nothing felt stuck in the traditions of older sci-fi.
  • And finally, how each book feels important. Trilogies can sometimes suffer from a middle book sag, where you’ve got how everything has to start in book 1, and how everything has to wrap up in book 3, but book 2 is an important if kind of iffy slog between the two. I would be hard pressed to name a favorite book in this trilogy, because I thought book 2 was both great and explored some really interesting ideas about politics and inspirational leaders.

Highly recommended for all your action, adventure, alien encounter, far-future space opera needs.

Read This Week: Kids with Powers

Read this week: Duskfall by Rawles Marie Lumumba; The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Up next: The Cipher by Kathe Koja

duskfall ashalawolf thecipher

Much like I accidentally read a string of books in which violence against women was a major plot point (nope), I accidentally got into a “young people with superpowers” kick with Duskfall, part one of five in a series of novellas, and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, part of a young adult trilogy. As streaks go this one was way better.

I’ve been following Rawles for a while on Tumblr, where she says various things that are smart, insightful, funny, interesting, and all of the above. She’s somebody I’d like to be friends with if she weren’t way cooler than me and hella busy to boot. I knew she was an amazing writer from her fanfiction, and I snapped up the first novella in her original series as soon as it was for sale. Free writing is all well and good, but a lady’s got to eat, and something that often gets lost in the conversation about art and fandom is how fans can engage with it in a way that lets their favorites make more of the stuff they like. I want Rawles to keep writing so I can keep reading that writing, so I am both happy and eager to give her money to do that.

I wanted to like Ashala Wolf, and I can’t say I did. As a child of the 90s reading X-Men comics, I didn’t find the book went anywhere new or interesting. It also fell into a chronic world building trap of not pacing how it asked me to suspend my disbelief. It is absolutely okay to have a totally fantastical world with more than one absurd, impossible thing. What’s not OK is to clue the reader in to these things in such a way that the act of discovery is less a matter of “now I know more about the world” and more “now I see how you’re going to use this new impossible thing you just told me about to get out of your latest plot dilemma.”

Ashala and her tribe are such badasses, though. I wish her and her gang of revolutionary tweens and teens the best.

Read This Week: Kids with Powers

Read this week: Duskfall by Rawles Marie Lumumba; The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Up next: The Cipher by Kathe Koja

duskfall ashalawolf thecipher

Much like I accidentally read a string of books in which violence against women was a major plot point (nope), I accidentally got into a “young people with superpowers” kick with Duskfall, part one of five in a series of novellas, and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, part of a young adult trilogy. As streaks go this one was way better.

I’ve been following Rawles for a while on Tumblr, where she says various things that are smart, insightful, funny, interesting, and all of the above. She’s somebody I’d like to be friends with if she weren’t way cooler than me and hella busy to boot. I knew she was an amazing writer from her fanfiction, and I snapped up the first novella in her original series as soon as it was for sale. Free writing is all well and good, but a lady’s got to eat, and something that often gets lost in the conversation about art and fandom is how fans can engage with it in a way that lets their favorites make more of the stuff they like. I want Rawles to keep writing so I can keep reading that writing, so I am both happy and eager to give her money to do that.

I wanted to like Ashala Wolf, and I can’t say I did. As a child of the 90s reading X-Men comics, I didn’t find the book went anywhere new or interesting. It also fell into a chronic world building trap of not pacing how it asked me to suspend my disbelief. It is absolutely okay to have a totally fantastical world with more than one absurd, impossible thing. What’s not OK is to clue the reader in to these things in such a way that the act of discovery is less a matter of “now I know more about the world” and more “now I see how you’re going to use this new impossible thing you just told me about to get out of your latest plot dilemma.”

Ashala and her tribe are such badasses, though. I wish her and her gang of revolutionary tweens and teens the best.

Cloudy Perfection (Short Story Excerpt: The Singularity)

Yep, still picking at this one. An excerpt from my short story where boyfriends who die come back as androids, called “The Singularity.”

“You need something to distract yourself,” Yui’s mother said at the breakfast table. Yui had been picking apart her toast, very carefully and precisely, for the better part of ten minutes. Her mother tapped on the table to get her to look up.

“Don’t play with your food,” she added. “That’s the sprouted wheat that we get because you like it.”

“Sorry,” Yui said. “And it’s good for you.”

Her mother looked at her.

“What do you mean, distract myself?”

“You need something to do.”

“School isn’t something to do?”

“Not your school, not for you.”

Yui snorted.

“Don’t tell your teachers I said that.”

“Okay.”

“But you do.”

“You mean like a hobby? I have hobbies.”

“You don’t do them anymore.”

Yui looked at her picked-apart toast.

“You need to find something that doesn’t make you think of him.”

Because that was the rub, wasn’t it. Yui had hobbies. She had things she loved to do. She had things she loved to do before she met Victor, and then they became things she loved to do with Victor. That seemed to be love, to her. Proper romantic love. Doing things you love with your best friend who also loves them. And sometimes kissing, and the rest.

But now that the things she loved were things she had loved to do with him, they hurt. Their joy was gone. She’d drawn, once. There were stacks of sketchbooks in the attic, carefully filed and dated and tucked in banker’s boxes by year. In the last few years she’d put them away by quarter.

She always hated what she drew, but still marveled at the progression of the things she could make. They were never right. But they were better than they had been, and they would keep getting better, even if, in their exponential growth, it was impossible for them to reach the cloudy perfection of what she thought she was trying to express.

The construction at the house next door started, sudden and loud, a table saw somewhere making short work of planks. She pulled her hands off her toast crumbles and wiped her fingers on her dress.

“You’re going to be hungry,” her mother said when she got up from the table.

“It’s okay.”

“I’ll put some granola bars in your bag.”

Yui didn’t say anything, just went upstairs to brush her teeth and put a comb through her hair and grab her coat.

It was so aggravating when her mom had good ideas. She’d have to play it down. Otherwise she’d think every one of her ideas was a good one, rather than just a product of random chance. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

She looked up, to the ceiling, though the pull-down stairs to the attic were out in the hall. She had some unfinished sketchbooks, tucked with their siblings in Summer.

Had it only been this summer, when she could still love something? When loving still felt safe, a happy thing, and not like she was asking for trouble?

She snapped the rubber band bracelet against her wrist and jogged down the stairs to catch the bus.

Pariah. That was the word. She’d been trying to think of it all day, while she, at the beginning of the route, took a prime seat near the back and no one sat with her even as the bus filled to capacity. As she reflected on all the days before this that the exact same thing had happened, with only one or two slips where people sat without looking then stood as if the seat was hot, or wet, or a hot poker had protruded up into their ass.

Sounds like piranha, she thought, while she had her lunch outside, because all the tables were occupied to some degree and she didn’t want to watch while people got up because she sat down, while the whole room turned to observe not their awkward shuffle to find new places but her, alone, eating a sandwich. Like you do. Because what are you supposed to do? She knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to scream, and shout, and possibly do bodily harm to a select group. She wanted to force them all to sit and listen as she called them out on their bullshit, their utter and complete bullshit, with eloquent words that she couldn’t fathom but could hear the cadence of, then drop the mic and walk out of the room. She wanted her day, her grand triumph, her epic finale. She wanted to win.

But this was life, and in life you don’t win. In life you sit outside even though it’s too hot, you steal the prime spot under the shade tree by sitting down and ignoring the trio of freshmen who get up and leave. In life you feel a small thrill as, just biting into your carrot sticks, after trying to think of the word all day, you finally come up with “pariah.” And then you feel like shit.

Science Fiction Now

I’m not that inspired when it comes to making up science fiction technology. But the more I read, the less I need to be. A lot of technological advances that seem to me like magic (“I… I don’t have to plug my iPhone in to sync it? It just talks to my computer through the air?”) already exist.

Power has a lot to do with future youth culture, and one element of that is hacking. And the more computers occupy our lives, the more power these hackers will have.

The Future is Now

I went to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in NYC on Tuesday to see their exhibit Why Design Now? National Design Triennial. The future is now, people. Or the future is when the exhibit’s designers, engineers, architects, et al get funding. For me, a lot of the fun of speculative or science fiction is making things up that aren’t real but just plausible enough. Thanks to the Cooper-Hewitt I can now pull out of my bag of near future knick nacks the following:

  • Widespread use of garden rooftops to reduce building energy use (imagine looking down on a city and seeing forests and street grids)
  • Clothing scraps/waste recycled into chairs (thanks Issey Miyake; this can also be expanded to a widespread culture of reuse, where things we previously discarded are obsessively repurposed)
  • Solar panels integrated into rooftop designs
  • bioWAVE and similar machines installed on the ocean floor to collect energy from currents
  • Magnetic/maglev trains (as seen in the late great TV show Caprica)
  • Towers that use the currents of rising hot air to generate energy
  • Increasingly convenient and carryable folding bicycles (the one on exhibit folded and could be rolled like luggage)
  • Use of vertical space for small-area farming (gardens up skyscraper walls, spiral towers with advanced drip systems as inner-city farms); especially useful as population growth bleeds into available land
  • Light boards powered by solar energy built onto building facades, allowing for advertisements (and maybe less sinister uses) everywhere
  • Bionic arms and other limbs that can be “wired” directly to a person’s nervous system using an injectable interface that finds its way to and implants itself in a person’s brain.

Sorry, no jetpacks.