Jan. 29th, 2017

Books

Jan. 29th, 2017 11:12 pm
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Tempting though it's been to spend the last few weeks opening 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale at random pages and going: Oh, God, I have done a wee bit of other (mostly escapist) reading.

The Regional Office is Under Attack! - Manuel Gonzales
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers
Invasive - Chuck Wendig
Mort(e) - Robert Repino
The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio: the true story of a convent in scandal - Hubert Wolf


At first glance The Regional Office is Under Attack! should have been so very much in my wheelehouse. There's a top secret agency of super-powered women saving us all from the forces of darkness! There's a splinter group of super-powered women! One of the main women has a metal arm! It's basically Die Hard with super-powered ladies! There's an exclamation mark in the title!

But, alas. It does that annoying thing where it pretends to be about women, but all the female characters are motivated/manipulated by a dude. The characterisations are thin, and I mean thin even by the standards of a Die Hard pastiche. The writing is, in places, just... not very good. I mean, the Regional Office itself seemed really cool, and there was an afterthought of a subplot where a character got taken over by her metal arm, and - it was like this book chose to tell the least interesting of all possible stories in the world it had created.

Luckily The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was much better. Okay, there wasn't much of a plot to speak of, it's basically a found family/group of misfits in space, but I didn't care because it was one of those books where I would have been more than happy to read about these characters doing not very much and bouncing off each other forever. There are great characters, fun worldbuilding, interesting aliens, and a lesbian romance featuring a human and a lizard alien; it was basically Jenny and Vastra IN SPACE. I can't overemphasise how much fun this was.

Invasive is about weaponised ants, because however bad things seem right now at least the ants aren't attacking. It's really fast-paced and fun, but maybe don't read it if you're afraid of insects, because I'm not at all and some of the bits about the sensation of insects crawling on your skin made even me squirm.

Mort(e) is also about an ant attack. In this the Ant Queen has been plotting war against humanity for thousands of years, and as part of her plan she gives housepets sentience in the hope that they'll rise up and kill their human masters. It's worth noting that while reading this I actually turned to my dog and earnestly said: "I love you very, very much, please don't kill me in the event of the insect uprising. Also, please remember that I gave you this rich tea biscuit even though you're not meant to have person food."

Also, in addition to sentience, the animals also get to be bipedal with opposable thumbs, and understand the use of semiautomatic weapons. I mean, it's mad as fuck, but it does that thing that some truly ridiculous books can, where they overshoot their silliness and come out the other side at really quite good, actually.

Sometimes I can be heard to complain about how hard it can be to talk to people on Tumblr, and it is, but one evening I managed to get involved a conversation that went from whether or not or I should write a La Maupin AU, to my own lapsed Catholicism, to Celtic FC, to people sending me recs for books about nuns, which was how The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio came to my attention.

It's non-fiction about a nineteenth century Roman convent, featuring the attempted murder of a German princess by a nun, several other murders, lesbian initiation rites, and the ensuing cover up by the Catholic church. It was certainly a book where I had to readjust my expectations partway into the book, because I went into it expecting, I guess, 19th century nuns gone wild, and what I got was much dryer and sadder. I mean, it's interesting, especially if you have even a passing interest in religious history, but it's not salacious in the way the summary makes it sound.

Although, because the more things change the more they stay the same, I really enjoyed this quote from around the time of the First Vatican Council and the Dogma of Papal Infallibility: "Stupidity and fanaticism join hands and dance the tarantella, making such a caterwaul that one cannot bear to look or listen." Because, yeah.

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