All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Oh my. Oh my goodness. Ann Leckie loved it, and I can see why. I am so very glad that there are three more on the way this year. The protagonist is a human/droid construct who calls itself Murderbot. I don’t love Murderbot quite as much as I love Breq (of Ann Leckie’s novels), but it comes very close.

The first sequel doesn’t drop until tomorrow, so today I started another of her series. (The Cloud Roads: The Books of the Raksura Book 1)

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

I finished this a while ago, at the beginning of a recent trip and have neglected blogging about it. For some reason, I remembered The Dispossessed as a long, difficult, not particularly enjoyable read. It was not! I liked it! And there were many details I had no recollection of. With more experience and less idealism than when I first read it in my twenties, the ambiguity of the situation appealed to me this time.

It’s interesting, however, that from the distance of just a couple of weeks, I once again don’t remember many of the details.  In that sense, my original response stands, that this is very much a novel of ideas for me, and much less so about character or plot.

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Light is the left hand of darkness,
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

Ursula Le Guin’s recent death has set me on a rereading journey (and a reading journey: there’s still plenty of her work I’ve never read). I decided to start with Left Hand of Darkness, and it was fascinating to reread it. It stands up to the passage of time, and yet has not aged well. It is still a suspenseful tale, and it proposes thought experiments that are still relevant today. But the gender norms that the terran diplomat Genly Ai expresses (written in 1969 and projected into some unstated but future time) are already out of date. Conceptions not only of roles but also of gender identity have changed in major ways that make parts of the narrative distracting.

This reread made me wonder why movies and television shows are routinely rebooted or redone but books rarely are (with the exception of parodies or pastiches that combine classic books with wildly different genre tropes). I’d really love to see a progressive, visionary, feminist author retell this story today.

My perspective on the two main characters has shifted since I first read the novel. The protagonist Genly Ai so struck me previously that I’ve used the name “Genly” in several online locations when I needed a handle. On this reading, however, perhaps because I’m now middle‐aged and was then more Genly Ai’s contemporary in age, I identified with Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. Estraven is the moral center: restrained, patient, mature, visionary, committed to a greater good, capable of intentional self‐sacrifice. Ai is no less fascinating as a character (indeed, flaws are often the most fascinating things about characters); it’s just that I’ve gained a fuller appreciation for Estraven.

Reunited with an old friend

For years, I have fondly remembered a novel I read when I was a kid. It was an adult novel, not a children’s book, and it was about people who moved from a city to the country to start a goat farm. I thought the title was Star Hill, and looked off and on over the years with no success. (Bear in mind I was reading a library book of unknown age in either the late sixties or early seventies.)

Well, recently I was made aware of Internet Archive’s book program, and took another try at search algorithms—and I found it! Turns out the title is Thunder Hill, and it is by Elizabeth Nicholds, published by Doubleday in 1953. I found a copy for sale online and am having a lovely time dipping into it.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Having spent a lot of time in Second Life over the past eleven years, parts of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are downright quaint: the ways in which he needs to explain avatars, or virtual spaces, or the word “metaverse.” And there are things he describes that have been implemented almost word‐for‐word in Second Life, which is kind of creepy.

I enjoyed the story itself (and much more than Neuromancer, with which Snow Crash is often paired as precursors to parts of the internet and virtual reality). I’ve only read a few of Stephenson’s novels, but I rather enjoy the way they meander and take side trips.

Ken Scholes’s The Psalms of Isaak

Over the holidays, I reread the first four volumes of Ken Scholes’s The Psalms of Isaak in preparation for the release of the fifth and final volume. I’m glad I did. There were things I had missed or didn’t remember. Hymn, the final volume, provided a satisfying conclusion (albeit with a bit of a deus ex machina—which is a pun, should you read the books) while leaving the door open for future stories in the same world. I hope Scholes does continue creating here.

The books, in order:

  • Lamentation
  • Canticle
  • Antiphon
  • Requiem
  • Hymn

I’m very sad about this

Early morning, Wednesday, 27 January

Just in from Kathleen Bartholomew, Kage Baker’s sister and care giver:

Kage’s doctor has informed us she has reached the end of useful treatment. The cancer has slowed, but not stopped. It has continued to spread at an unnatural speed through her brain, her lungs and — now — reappeared in her abdomen. It is probably a matter of a few weeks, at most.

Kage has fought very hard, but this is just too aggressive and mean. She’s very, very tired now, and ready for her Long Sleep. She’s not afraid.

We’ve been in a motel the last week or so, in order to complete her therapy. I’ll have her home in her own bedroom by the weekend, though, so end of life care can take place in more comfortable surroundings.

via Green Man Review and John Scalzi.

There are two intertwined sources of grief in this news.

First, I love Kage Baker’s books, especially the Company novels.

Second, my late friend Barbara and I read most of them together as they came out, and they were central to our recognition that we turned time and again to unorthodox time‐travel books. (Other notable authors in that category are Kim Stanley Robinson and Connie Willis.)

And now not only will I not be reading new Kage Baker novels with Barbara, I won’t be reading any at all. Barbara’s last weeks at home in hospice care were rich and filled with loving friends and family, and she simply never woke up from an afternoon nap. My prayers are with Kage, her sister, their family and friends, as she continues along the path we will all walk one day.