Today’s post is a quick roundup of my thoughts about all the things I read in May. May was the first month where I was relatively free from university deadlines and so I had plenty of time to read, In fact I’ve got 14 titles to cover about so I best get a move on. You can watch the video version or scroll past to read the extended text version.
First up I finished off Dawn by Octavia Butler. Butler is an author I’ve been meaning to read forever and this was an intriguing place to start. The dilemma of Lillith, deciding the fate of humanity and resigning herself to be the betrayer, was tense and well thought out. The characters themselves were nuanced and made me seriously look at how I thought about prejudice, human-ness, and my attitude to the new and unknown. I look forward to seeing how she moves the world forward in the next book. A reflective and meditative, yet dramatic, read.
The Female Man by Joanna Russ is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Uncomfortable, frenetic, literary, and GODDAMNED MAGNIFICENT. I really haven’t figured out a way to explain quite why I loved it the way I did but I was in awe of this perfect thing I was reading the entire way through. The way Russ seems to paint a scene with the barest of strokes and yet conjure up perfectly vivid characters was astounding. Within the space of two pages I’d go from tears of laughter to a gut-searing rage watching the horrors of the world move before me. I cannot say much beyond: read it.
Then I picked up Irregularity by Jared Shurin (ed.), a collection of short speculative fiction stories all themed around the idea of the Age of Reason and the history of scientific enquiry. It’s not often that I can read short fiction collections straight through (I need a break between each one) but I flew through this. From strange sea clocks powered by bodily fluids to a murderous time-travelling bohemian rhapsody quoting Isaac Newton, every story is a strange individual snowflake and yet they come together under the theme just perfectly. Evocative, sickening, amusing, haunted, and haunting – a joy to read.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer is classified by the author as weird nature fiction and, well, it’s pretty damned weird! The plot centres around the mystery of Area X – a section of land abandoned by human beings for no known reason. Previous explorations have all ended strangely and from the outset nothing is quite right. It’s uncanny and unsettling in the best of ways. It was a clever book as an exploration of the gothic trope but something about it just didn’t gel with me and I never got further than appreciating its cleverness. Clever concept, not my cup of tea.
Disclosure: received for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Finally, after months and months of (im)patient waiting, it was time for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. This is a hefty beast of a book; 861 pages long and weighing nearly 3lbs. But, oh my goodness, it’s worth hefting around. Split between a near future where Earth is beset with natural disaster and humanity flees to space, and a distant future where the space-faring descendants of humans must return to this alien world of Earth, the story is as detailed and clever as I’ve come to expect of Stephenson’s work. His writing is a joy and you always come out of his books feeling smarter than when you went in. I never knew that learning about orbital velocity could be so much fun!
In the middle of Seveneves I had a little bit of a break for something where 7 billion people hadn’t just been wiped out and indulged in some romance. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase tells of a mad, bad and dangerous to know lord marrying a clever, witty lady and, well, you know how it goes. It was fun but a little over the top even for me – in one short novel there was the hate, love, hate, love, scandal, marriage of a standard romance plot but also a whole extra section of angsty love-child side plot and villainous frenemies that felt kind of superfluous. Either cut it or add two hundred extra pages and turn it into a sequel.
Love & Other Scandals by Caroline Linden was a thoroughly enjoyable story of the wallflower determined to get away from the wall, and the scandalous (but nice) lord with whom she has some rather, shall we say, heated, arguments. The running thread of the series is a steamy ladies magazine/sex guide that provides the female characters with a positive attitude to, and knowledge of, sex that is often lacking in historical romance. Real history was not short of smutty books and explicit sex education and it’s nice to see romance novels play with this. No ridiculous angst, plenty of frocks, good attitude toward sex.
The Runaways by Brian K Vaughn was a series of comics/graphic novels about a group of kids who discover that their parents are actually all supervillains so they run away and become teen superheroes. It was cancelled after a few years but has since been resurrected by different Marvel authors. I read the first three collected volumes: Pride and Joy, Teenage Wasteland, and The Good Die Young. The first volume was a cute concept, with cute art, and the cutest pet dinosaur all interspersed with some rather shocking violence. Unfortunately I got gradually less interested over the next two volumes and remain uncertain about continuing.
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba is an insanely popular and extensive manga series about a teenage boy who finds the notebook of a death god. Anyone whose name he writes in the notebook will die exactly as he specifies and so he decides to rid the world of all evil and create a utopian society by going on what can only be described as a killing spree. I can see why the series is popular, there was some great detective versus killer cat-and-mouse games going on, but it’s also filled with ridiculously illogical actions and way too much sexism for me to really enjoy it or want to continue. Not so good.
(I read Black Edition: Volume 1 which combines the ordinary volumes 1 & 2)
Luckily I also read Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson which is just the most perfect and wonderous comic every created. Seriously, I think I’m in love. Every boy’s own adventure book I read as a kid has been expertly transformed into this totally fantastic badass lady-types, rip-roaring, fun never stops, comic of perfection. The characters are just screamingly fabulous; the art – a breath of fresh air; the story- hilarious. If you know anyone who is, or loves, a badass lady-type then make them read this because they will love it forever. Perfection.
Deathworld by Harry Harrison was my last read in May chosen purely because of the best blurb on earth: “The settlers on Pyrrus were supermen…twice as strong as ordinary men and with milli-second reflexes. They had to be. For their business was murder…” So much yes. And it really is just like that. It’s every ingredient of pulp and golden age science fiction stirred into 150 pages of adventuring, drinking manly booze, a sexy lady, monsters, telepathy, spaceships, and guns. High literature this is not, original, ethical and unpredictable – also no, fun – YES. James Bond has an angry interplanetary adventure – you can’t say no.
How was your reading month in May and what on earth are you reading in June?
Oh an don’t forget to put your nominations in for the BooktubeSFF Awards!