What I’ve Been Reading

English: Portrait of the author Joan Aiken

English: Portrait of the author Joan Aiken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All my requests came in at once at the library, so it’s been like a feast for my brain.

Warning: non-spoilery to very spoilery.

Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord. The writing is amazing. I had to read some non-fiction after I finished because I couldn’t read any other fiction with her words and style in my mind. I hugely enjoyed this book for precisely the reasons it will drive some people crazy: it’s episodic, it’s intimate, it is not what you expect of an after the end of the world plot, there’s consensual sex and none of the non-consensual kind, there’s a love story, and it’s social science fiction.

That said, I was bewildered by the ending. There are some things about violence and gender expectations at the end that I just didn’t get; there were some unanswered questions–why exactly were there so few Sadiri women left?–, it seemed very heteronormative, in spite of the asexual and genderless character and the mention of polyamory, and very procreation focused, even for a frontier world/race trying to rebuild itself, and the no sex before marriage reference just confused the hell out of me.

Still I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time, and it’s become a new standard of what science fiction and fantasy can be. It does not edge out Redemption in Indigo for first place in my affections.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress. SPOILERS. This book is also focused on repopulation after a disaster; somewhat strangely so IMO. I couldn’t understand why the survivors would want to restart the human race, and I couldn’t help thinking about those poor girls who would be expected to breed and breed and breed to achieve that goal. This was probably heightened for me by Kress’s choice to use an adolescent boy narrator whose narrative is often framed by whether he wants to stick his cock in the other female characters.

It is one of the few books that looks at what we are doing to the Earth head on and central to the dystopia and I respected it for that. I zipped through it, but I have ambivalent feelings about it.

Listening to Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, by Leonard S. Marcus. I’ve never read a biography like this–it’s a compilation of interviews with people who knew her in different ways, from only slightly to very well. It’s divided in sections like Writer, Matriarch, Icon. I’ve been fascinated by L’Engle ever since I was a kid and read her books, every single one I could get my hands on, and even more so as an adult, reading her adult books and autobiographies and then the famous New Yorker profile in 2004 that said L’Engle’s autobiographies are as much fiction as her novels. Some of the interviews seem to focus a bit more on the person speaking, but most (so far) include a fascinating anecdote.

Aunt Maria, by Diana Wynne Jones. I haven’t finished this because the villain is too true to life. She’s one of those manipulative relatives who guilts everyone else into doing what she says and it makes me squirm and get so angry every time I can only read a few pages at a time.

Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken. Two people in a row told me to read it, so I did. It was exactly what I was in the mood for, a kids’ book from 1962 where scary things happen but you know everything is going to be all right in the end. Plus it’s interesting to remember that so many books were written in omniscient back then, which is not fashionable at all today. Absolute bonus: whenever the main character does something outrageous, the dad says “Well, girls will be girls.” Love it!


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