Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga)
Lois McMaster Bujold, 1994

Hugo winner - 1995

This is the third Vorkosigan novel that I've re-read specifically for the Hugo winners project, and once again, I'm surprised how much I discovered about this book by reading it in isolation from the rest of the series.

I had thought this was a good book, but often on re-reading it I have sped through the beginning out of a sense of anticipation and awkwardness around knowing the more dramatic plot elements that were coming.

After reading it with more care, I feel confident saying it's a fantastic book.

This is a book deeply concerned with identity. On the obvious physical level, there are numerous mirrors. Both Miles and Mark see themselves in mirrors at the beginning, establishing their current statuses, tying their paths together, and calling back to their first encounter in Brothers in Arms. Mirrors and cameras, self-image and projected appearance all play critical roles in pivotal scenes. Of course, the two men are also mirrors of each other, both physically and emotionally.

Mark is struggling to find his own place while Miles suffers from literal amnesia, and they each try on different identities on the way. You also have Elena returning to Barrayar to confront her identity in her heritage and the different types of identities and relationships claimed by the many characters who are clones.

All that plus spectacular plot and action, as well as poignant, illuminating appearances by the wide cast of supporting characters.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Island of the Mad (Mary Russell, Book 15)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Island of the Mad (Mary Russell, Book 15)
Laurie R. King, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Sequel to The Murder of Mary Russell. Russell and Holmes are off again, this time in search of a friend's aunt who may have run from an asylum.

This series continues to merely limp along, and yet, I can't quite walk away. At least this entry didn't have the problem that many of the recent books have shared (namely, that Russell wasn't the main character). It just has other problems.

The bones of the story and the characters are good. Reintroducing Mary's friend Ronnie and her extended clan works well, and most of the early investigation about the whereabouts of the aunt is interesting. However, there's a huge digression early on which strained the bounds of my credulity too far. Russell does something quite dumb and dangerous to go undercover to get information which she could plausibly have obtained any number of more legitimate ways.

It felt like half an excuse for unnecessary tension and half an excuse to infodump about a topic researched for the book so that the research wouldn't go to waste. I found the whole section annoying and thought it made Russell look either stupid or narcissistic.

Later, Russell and Holmes head to Venice (another thoroughly researched topic): Russell to search for Ronnie's wayward relation, and Holmes to obtain intel about the rise of fascism in Italy for Mycroft. Once there, they mingle with young wealthy folks from across Europe who are there for the beach and the parties and a set of artists and nonconformists surrounding the then up-and-coming Cole Porter. Unless I'm misremembering, this book marks the first openly LGBTQ folks in a series that has featured plenty of cross-dressing disguises.

All this mingling is part of my second major issue with the book (the aforementioned unnecessary undercover mission being the first). It seems as though the author set up an emotional plot for the main characters, and then just forgot to resolve it. Both Russell and Holmes in their respective sections (the narrative perspective switches back and forth) have moments where they make assumptions or are concerned about the other regarding their relationship.

Now, I have to step aside from the fact that all of these moments seem bizarre to me; the characters' worries do not evolve naturally from the previous depictions of their characters, and the moments are heavily flagged and happen more than once. However, then they aren't resolved. It's the most confounding thing. Neither character's concerns are mentioned or dealt with, rather the ending devolves into a complex, farcical scenario that reminded me of the end of an episode of Leverage. I like Leverage, and the complicated ruse is a lot of fun. But afterward, any loose ends are just hand-waved away.

I found it to be a disappointing read overall.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Remnant Population

Monday, June 11, 2018

Remnant Population
Elizabeth Moon, 1996

Read Harder 2018 Challenge: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

Premise: Ofelia is tired. Tired of living in a company colony, tired of expectations, tired of her son and daughter-in-law's attitudes about what older women should and shouldn't do. So when the company tells them they're shutting down and moving, she decides she's going to follow her heart for once, and stay on the planet alone.

It's a mark of how compelling the setting and main character of this book are that I was bothered when it started to have a plot. Ofelia had just gotten some dang deserved peace and freedom, and now there was going to be a plot in this book? I was perturbed, honestly.

It all turned out alright, though, because the plot is pretty great. This book isn't shy about what it's trying to say about social attitudes about curiosity, learning, freedom, and what (or who) is "useful," but it never feels like a lesson, more like a discovery.

The native creatures that eventually show up were extraordinary, almost to the point of being unbelievable. But I one-hundred-percent believed in the incompetent bureaucracy of the human specialists, and in the dismissive attitudes seemingly all of them held toward Ofelia herself.

I adored her internal monologues struggling between what she was taught all her life and what she felt to be true or right. She's delightful. The book is delightful. I loved it.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

[Side note: I haven't read Blue Mars yet, but both Remnant Population and my beloved Memory were up for the Hugo the same year as it won, and I have to assume they split the vote for more compassionate, human-focused, emotionally moving sci-fi.]

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo
Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller, 2018

Read Harder 2018 Challenge: A one-sitting book

Premise: John Oliver's prank on Mike Pence turned charitable-children's-book sensation. 

Okay, we all know the very existence of this book is hilarious. If you didn't buy a copy, you might just be in the minority at this point. We had to wait a month for our copy because the publishers didn't print nearly enough for demand.

However, did you also know it's adorable?

It's sweet and wholesome and just overall like a warm hug. With soft, colorful illustrations and gently repetitive text, I'd say it's appropriate for any kids who are old enough to understand a book with a simple plot.

There are a few allusions to the actual VP having a boring job, and the villainous stink bug who objects to our hero's happiness is obviously modeled off the same. However, these blend into the background, leaving you with a charming story about a little community that comes together so love can win.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book