by Doctor Science
-- a day late.
Many of my friends on livejournal/dreamwidth are in the habit of posting "what I've been reading" book lists on Wednesdays. Meanwhile, one of the nicer online things that has happened to me in the past year or so has been becoming part of the community at File770, where books are constantly being discussed.
So I've decided to try collecting my File770 book reports over the course of the week, and then posting them here (only lightly edited, but with links & cover images) on Wednesday. But then of course yesterday a work panic-panic project come up, so the first installment was delayed. But only a day!
My policy is to write reviews/summaries without spoilers. Where I make spoilery comments, I'll put them through a simple "rotate-13" substitution cipher, which you can decode either at a website or using a rot13 script with your browser (I use this one).
This week: Matt Ruff, Hugh Howey, Mishell Baker.
I think I've already filled out one slot for next year's Hugo ballot: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. It's a novel about black science fiction fans in the 1950s who encounter eldritch, Lovecraftian horrors -- embedded in the non-eldritch horrors of the Jim Crow era.
There's an entire library's worth of stories where there's a world of magic hidden just below the surface in ours, unnoticed by mundanes. "Lovecraft Country" makes explicit how the Black American experience has been like that, hidden in plain sight from white Americans.
I found the book particularly striking because I can recognize many of Ruff's sources: not just Sundown Towns by James Loewen and The Negro Motorist Green Book, which are in his Acknowledgements, but also The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and Family Properties by Beryl Satter.
My only quibble: jura n jbzna jnxrf hc ba "oybbq-fyvpxrq furrgf", ure svefg gubhtug vf *abg* gb cnavp va srne bs ivbyrapr, vg'f "Tbqqnzzvg, rneyl *ntnva*!" naq gb fgevc gur orq sbe gur gbb-snzvyvne pbyq-jngre fbnx.
Aside from that, the book is freakin' brilliant.
Also, the characters are great.
I bought Hugh Howey's Beacon 23 because the library didn't have a copy, and I read the first chapter and it looked interesting.
Mr Dr Science got to it first, and said it completely broke his suspension of disbelief because the beacons ner arrqrq gb cebgrpg fuvcf tbvat 20p sebz ehaavat vagb nfgrebvqf. Vs zrer znggre vf n ceboyrz, tnf naq qhfg jvyy or ovt qnatref; vs tenivgl vf gur ceboyrz, lbh qba'g jbeel nobhg guvatf zhpu fznyyre guna Whcvgre.
He didn't think the story was worth overcoming the world-building, so now the library has our copy.
We both read Mishell Baker's Borderline, and thought it was really good. Generally speaking, I (and Mr Dr Science even more so) find characters who do bad things and "act crazy" tiresome. We really liked Borderline's characters, though, because they're all literally, medically psychotic. It turns out that when "psychotic" is a sloppy metaphor, it's annoying; when it's an exploration of mental illness, it works for us.
"Borderline" is set in Hollywood (Baker lives in L.A.), and I couldn't help noticing how much of the behavior of the literally psychotic characters overlaps with that of many people in The Industry. Things like dualistic thinking, emotional over-reaction, extreme self-centeredness, etc. Does Hollywood attract more than its fair share of people with mental illness? Or are psychotic-seeming behaviors cultivated in H'wood by neurotypical people? Probably both.