First Cheap Book Alert of the Year!

By now you should all know of my historic, endless love for Riddley Walker. Well, guess what? It’s one of the Kindle Daily Deals today! Wha-BAM! $2.79 ain’t much to pay for quality sci-fi, don’tchaknow. See, we’re only five days into the new year and we’re already bringing you news of excellent deals. 2013 is gonna be the year for Nisaba Be Praised, I just know it.

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The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany (A More Diverse Universe)

The Einstein Intersection

by Samuel R. Delany

“The Einstein Intersection won the Nebula Award for best science fiction novel of 1967. The surface story tells of the problems a member of an alien race, Lo Lobey, has assimilating the mythology of earth, where his kind have settled among the leftover artifacts of humanity. The deeper tale concerns, however, the way those who are “different” must deal with the dominant cultural ideology. The tale follows Lobey’s mythic quest for his lost love, Friza. In luminous and hallucinated language, it explores what new myths might emerge from the detritus of the human world as those who are “different” try to seize history and the day.” (via Amazon)

Good Things: As I’m sure other reviewers of this book have said before me, The Einstein Intersection (or, if you want to call it by its intended title, A Fabulous, Formless Darkness) is a tough book to talk about. It’s short, clocking in at around 150 pages, but it’s not a breezy read. Samuel Delany wrote it in his early twenties, and the book’s sections of narrative are interspersed with short journal entries that Delany jotted down while writing the book during a trip around Greece. That’s not a surprise, because The Einstein Intersection is dense with mythological references to the Minotaur, to Orpheus, to Phaedra, and many more besides that I’m sure went over my head. The main characters are all aliens who have come to Earth and inhabited the planet long after humanity has ceased to exist, and have taken human form for reasons never fully explicated. The main character, Lobey, describes himself as an oddly-shaped 23-year-old brown person with a bottom half larger than his top half, with hand-like feet and a great love of music. In this world, many people are born deformed, terminally disabled, or otherwise “different,” and Lobey begins to learn that he himself is “different” in a way that could endanger his life. When the also-“different” girl he loves, Friza, is killed, he sets out to find her killer and deal with him himself.

The language of The Einstein Intersection is often beautiful and fits the dreamlike structure of the story. I felt the atmosphere quite vividly the whole time I was reading, and there are certain scenes that will probably occupy my brain for quite a while. There are also moments of surprising humor that make me smile and which help define Lobey’s character and the world around him:

I began to learn what I was doing when about twenty dragons got stuck in a mintbog (a slushy quicksand bog covered with huge bushes of windy mint, right? Mintbog). (p. 68-69)

There are interesting explorations of gender and able-bodied-ness and able-minded-ness that are often ignored in science-fiction; it’s a very thoughtful, cerebral book that wanders through mythology, genetics, history, music, and death, touching on all and asking questions that it doesn’t necessarily answer.

Bad Things: All that meandering, that dreamscape quality, that obliqueness of the text? Is probably frustrating for some readers. It’s not a book that makes itself easily accessible to a lot of people. Do you know how it is when you get the feeling that the book you’re reading is probably smarter than you are? That’s sort of what reading The Einstein Intersection feels like. I felt a little lost at times when I didn’t get the mythological references or the talk about parthenogenesis and haploids, and I think some readers might end up feeling left out and quit reading partway through. I don’t believe it’s something Delany does on purpose; he was and is a brilliant man, and his books definitely go through cycles of being more or less accessible to a wide audience. The Einstein Intersection in and of itself feels less like a straightforward novel and more like an exploration of the themes mentioned earlier, hung on a fictional frame. The ideas explored don’t always come to a satisfactory conclusion–for me, particularly the parts regarding ableism and gender could have been taken farther and to more interesting places (why do the androgynes make Lobey so uncomfortable? difference and the true meaning of “functional” are discussed, but why is it okay to stick the severely non-functional disabled in “kages” and treat them as not-people?) .

I also felt a little sad that, of the few female (and neither-male-nor-female) characters in the story, none of them had much in the way of agency; La Dire exists to give Lobey direction and set him on his journey, Friza and Dorik die early on, and Dove is used by–who?–at Branning-at-sea to keep genetic lines from becoming too inbred.

Overall: Not easy reading, and may turn some readers off with its oblique references and shaky plot. Interesting and thoughtful, though, and a clear beginning of some of the ideas that Delany explores more thoroughly in later books. For more casual readers looking for more developed ideas and a stronger plot in POC-centered science-fiction, I’d suggest Nova, Babel-17 (reviewed at chasing bawa and to-be-reviewed at Necromancy Never Pays on Thursday), or Trouble on Triton over The Einstein Intersection, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Plus, the current edition available at Amazon has a foreword by Neil Gaiman! And who doesn’t like Gaiman, huh? (Don’t answer that.)

Skinned by Robin Wasserman

I have been so lax in reviewing, guys.  Hell, I’ve been lax in blogging, period. Partially I just haven’t been reading a whole lot (I fee like this always happens), but also I just haven’t been feeling the need to share my opinions.

Anyway, here’s a short selection, as collected from reviews I’ve started and not finished. It may be a little rough, since I read these as far back as January (!):

From Amazon: “Lia Kahn was perfect: rich, beautiful, popular — until the accident that nearly killed her. Now she has been downloaded into a new body that only looks human. Lia will never feel pain again, she will never age, and she can’t ever truly die. But she is also rejected by her friends, betrayed by her boyfriend, and alienated from her old life.”

Robin Wasserman was sweet enough to send me a whole set of her Skinned trilogy when she needed to make room for its repackaging into the Cold Awakening trilogy. I wanted to read the whole trilogy before reviewing it, but my reading whims cannot be tamed and I have still only read the first one.

You might be thinking that that’s a bad sign, but that’s just not the case with me. I like to read series’ slowly. For instance, I read The Hunger Games way back in January of 2009, didn’t read Catching Fire until last year, and am only getting to Mockingjay now.  I read the first Temeraire book a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a lot… And I still haven’t read any of the others. Throne of Jade has been waiting for me in the trunk of my car for quite a while. Poor thing.

Anyway, I did enjoy Skinned, though not as much as I hoped I would. I was intrigued by the premise – your mind downloaded into a new body that is way too Uncanny Valley for the comfort of yourself or your loved ones. Unfortunately, Lia is the wrong character for the kind of identity ruminations I wanted. In many ways, I think Lia is super realistic in her reactions and not dissimilar to me, actually. She spends a good portion of the book trying to ignore the implications of her situation, most of the rest simply being angry and sad, and she is generally more focused on how the people in her life see her than how she sees herself.

That last, especially, seems realistic. Lia doesn’t know what to think of her situation. She’s freaked out and confused and so takes cues from her family and friends. If they treated her normally, then maybe she was normal. Maybe she could start to feel normal. Unfortunately, it becomes quickly clear that things aren’t normal, that she isn’t normal, that nothing is alright.

There’s a lot more to the book, setting up the plot of the next two, introducing new characters who are like her, etc etc. But I almost wish this had been a quieter book. Perhaps a standalone that focused more on Lia and her immediate surroundings. You know, one of those literary family dramas full of dysfunction. Still, it is what it is, and because I love dystopias (oh, did I mention that this is a dystopia?), I know I will be reading the other books eventually!

Okay, well, this turned out longer than I meant it to, so I’m just going to end it here and go write those other reviews RIGHT NOW and QUEUE THOSE BABIES UP oh yeah that’s right.

Among Others by Jo Walton

From the Publisher’s Weekly starred review:

“World Fantasy Award–winner Walton (Tooth and Claw) turns the magical boarding school story inside out in this compelling coming-of-age tale. Welsh teen Morwenna was badly hurt, and her twin sister killed, when the two foiled their abusive mother’s spell work. Seeking refuge with a father she barely knows in England, Mori is shunted off to a grim boarding school. Mori works a spell to find kindred souls and soon meets a welcoming group of science fiction readers, but she can feel her mother looking for her, and this time Mori won’t be able to escape.”

I’m a month late in my Google Reader still, so I’ve only just read Aarti from Booklust’s wonderful review of Among Others. Mia and I read it last year in our YA book club and both really enjoyed it (good choice, Mia!), but I couldn’t find us ever talking about it on the blog. Aarti pretty much covered my feelings on the book, so I’d urge you to go read her review if you want to know more about the book! (That short synopsis above makes it sound more action-packed than it is. This is an often meditative book, so keep that in mind.)

(Hey, Mia, someone in the comments posted a link to a Pinterest pinboard with all of the books Mor mentions, mostly with great classic covers – isn’t it awesome?)

MORE More Cheap Books

Good news, everyone! I semi-religiously follow Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal page because I’m a cheapskate like that, and guess what! For the next six hours (I should have checked this morning, whoops) all three of the books in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy are on sale for $0.99 each! Plus, there’s a free short story prequel to the series, “The New World,” available for I-don’t-know-how-long.

via kallichore.wordpress.com

I’ve been meaning to read this series for ages and ages, and what an opportune time! I can’t convince you that you should read them too, because I haven’t read them myself, but they’ve been talked about all over the place and won awards and blah blah blah, and really–can’t you take a risk, when you’re getting a whole trilogy for $3? Go on, buy ’em! (Okay, so I’m a terrible influence when it comes to spending money. But c’mon, really, $3 ain’t bad.)

P.S. Anyone who doesn’t have a Kindle, I hope you stuck your fingers in your ears and went “LALALALALA” for the entirety of this post. I’m sure good book deals are coming your way in a variety of other capacities, though, never fret!

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker

Erg. Excuse the funky cover–in fact, excuse the funky covers that the current printing of all the books in the Company series seem to have. They make me think of Reboot, but not in a fun, nostalgic way.

They look so generic and goofy–the covers, not the Reboot characters–and don’t match the fun, exciting, clever books inside them, more’s the pity, because more people (way more people) should be reading and loving Kage Baker.

I’m departing from the new format I’ve adopted from Jessica, mostly because this is the fifth book in a series and I want to avoid spoilers that come with all the published summaries. Normally I’m not the spoilers-avoiding type, but I want so badly to get someone, at least one person into this series so that we can talk about it! And if that means avoiding spoilers, then, by gum, I’ll do it.

Most of The Life of the World to Come follows a new character, Alec Checkerfield, Seventh Earl of Finsbury, who lives in the 24th Century and who is destined to meet Botanist Mendoza, our sometimes-narrator and heroine previously in the series, for reasons that become clear later on in the novel. There’s pirating, time travel, genetic engineering, and the impending Silence, when Dr. Zeus–the titular Company with the power to convey immortality upon certain mortals and send them back to the past–no longer knows what is to come. As Alec grows up, an idealistic young man with a love of old-fashioned pirates and the sea, he realizes that there’s something strange about himself, and when he comes to find out the truth of his origins, he decides that he’s going to do anything it takes to bring the Company down.

I have to hand it to the late, amazing Kage Baker: she knows how to hook you in. Woof. The Life of the World to Come answers a few questions from the previous novels, but creates a few more, and it’s only the fact that the library is closed that I’m not immediately bolting out the door to go check out The Children of the Company and marathon-read it to find out WHAT HAPPENS. It’s not just the story, although I will give the story its due; Kage Baker planted the seeds for some of the crazy stuff happening now early on, and as everything is starting to untangle and become clear, I’m left about as eloquent as Keanu Reeves. Yeah, whoa.

After five novels and one short story collection, I’m seriously devoted to the characters, even Alec, our new man on the scene. I did want to punch him occasionally, especially for underestimating Mendoza, but that’s fine! (Side note: I cannot help but envision Alec–at least, grown-up Alec–as played by one Benedict Cumberbatch:

Benedict Cumberbatch with his natural lighter hair, anyway. He’s got the eyes and the cheekbones and everything!) The point is, the characters are funny and complex and imperfect and real and human–even the non-human ones. Some old characters come back on the scene towards the end (although I’m still left wondering if we’ll see Lewis again, my lovely bookish Lewis). Kage Baker writes such thoughtful, interesting science-fiction, and I’m glad I still have four or five novels and a short story collection to go, because I’ll be sad to see the series off, as much as I want to rip through it at the expense of sleep and work.

Plus, there are little unexpected bits where it’s just so funny:

Christmas was a very popular month, in the year 2350. (p. 181)

Come on. Tell me that’s not funny. Tell me that Christmas as a month isn’t funny. (Funny slash scary slash practically true anyway.) The books are witty and clever and also sometimes rip your heart out of your chest, but in a way that doesn’t give you total whiplash from the humor of things.

Most of this may sound like gibberish to those of you who haven’t read the series, but that’s what I’m saying! Go! Go get them! Start with In the Garden of Iden! Right now, people! I’ll wait. Then come back here and we’ll have a little chat. And you can back me up on the Cumberbatch thing.

R.I.P Russell Hoban, 1925-2011

I feel like a failure of a fan (and a failure of a book blogger) when I find out that an author I love has died long after the fact. During an idle internet search last night, I found out that Russell Hoban passed away in December, a month ago today. I know my own knowledge of the fact makes no difference to him either way, but I feel chagrin along with my sadness at his death–maybe if I were a better, more involved fan, I would have found out sooner. This whole month, I’ve been going around thinking of him as alive, or at least not thinking of him as not dead. Then again, like I said, it makes no difference to him.

I’m not a particularly “good” fan either way, insofar as these things can be quantified; I’ve only read two of his books, and have never even really tried to track down any of the others. I was never involved in the fan communities, and I’ve never left quotations on yellow paper in a public place.

But Riddley Walker, one of the two books I have read, is one of my favorite books of all time. I may have mentioned it one or forty times here before. It has its problems, but Riddley’s voice is interesting and clear, and the language really captivates me, especially in verse:

Horny Boy rung Widders Bel
Stoal his Fathers Ham as wel
Bernt his Arse and Forkt a Stoan
Done It Over broak a boan
Out of Good Shoar vackt his wayt
Scratcht Sams Itch for No. 8
Gone to senter nex to see
Cambry coming 3 times 3
Sharna pax and get the poal
When the Ardship of Cambry comes out of the hoal

Even without meaning, the words flow and feel right to me. I have a hard time pulling quotes from it that I particularly like, though, mostly because so much of the book’s poignancy relies on context and familiarity. Hoban’s nominally-labeled children’s book The Mouse and His Child (the other book I’ve read) is much more quotable, although they’re both philosophical books. I would say he seems like he was an interesting person and that I wish I had known more before now, but I would be feeding into something he said in amusement during an interview in 2002: “But I think death will be a good career move for me…People will say, ‘yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let’s look at him again’.”

photo by John Carey

At one point in A Mouse and His Child, two tadpoles are being eaten by a snake.

“It looks bad,” said one of the tadpoles as they disappeared down the snake’s throat.
“You never know,” said the other. “If we can just get through this, maybe everything will be all right.”

R.I.P Russell Hoban, February 4, 1925 – December 13, 2011