What I’m Reading

A couple of Canadian authors from the last library haul!

Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad (2004)

Don’t let the barrage of science fiction references (from Watchmen to 90’s DS9-vs.-B5 debates to John M. Ford Star Trek novelizations) fool you. This is urban fantasy, inspired by the clubs and comic-book shops and grimy underpasses of Edmonton, Alberta as well as the myths of ancient Egypt and Sudan. Our heroes are a couple of socially-conscious nerds: Hamza, a failed English major turned dishwasher, and Yehat, an engineer who’d rather work in a video store than sell out to the Man. They get dragged into the hunt for an ancient magical artifact that also has something to do with the powerful drug known only as cream and also taking over the world and some sinister Norse cult.

The characters I really liked, however, were the exquisitely and hilariously depicted douchebags (and there’s a lot of them in this book). Ex-jock Dulles Allen, “TRIVIA DEXTERITY: NHL/CFL +100/+200, ALIGNMENT: Son of a bitch (certified level 12)”; the spectacularly pretentious and WASPy Meaney brothers; pompous steampunker Digaestus Caesar (the kind of guy who says “Zounds!” and “my good fellow” in daily life). This list is by no means exhaustive.

With its breakneck pace and dizzying array of perspectives, Coyote Kings is a little reminiscent of Snow Crash…but Canadian and considerably more intense. What more do you need?

Karl Schroeder, Lady of Mazes (2005)

I really, really wanted to like this book—not so much because of the ringworlds and spaceships, but the pervasive augmented and virtual reality. In this far future, everyone can tailor their perceived environments, creating distinct societies that are invisible to each other, and call up a host of virtualized friends (or their simulated stand-ins). Cool, eh? But the problem with such a radically different setting is that it’s difficult to understand. To our eyes, it would look like magic—a world of sorcerers and gods. It’s hard to explain the science without turning the book into a dry, boring infodump, which was what Lady of Mazes was to me. (The convoluted plot didn’t help.)

For example, here’s the character Aaron meeting a messageboard acquaintance for the first time:

…the elevator doors opened and Veronique stepped out.

There were six of her. All greeted Aaron warmly, in minutely different ways. He’d been warned about this aspect of his new friend: she maintained numerous artificial bodies, and flipped her sensorium between them at will. Those bodies not currently inhabited by her were run by the Archipelagic equivalent of animas.

Every page is like that. The exposition never lets up. Schroeder mitigates a bit of it with fantasy shorthand: individual life-support systems are “angels”, simulated assistants appear as fairies, there’s a posthuman who’s referred to as a god. But it’s not nearly enough. I’ll be glad to return this one to the library.

What I’m Reading

These three books were published together as Young Miles (1997); Warrior’s Apprentice and The Mountains of Mourning are available from the Baen Free Library.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Warrior’s Apprentice (1986)

After spectacularly failing the military entrance exams, Miles creates his own mercenary company out of chutzpah and sheer bullshit. Far-fetched almost to the point of contrivance, as a caper should be. A cracking good read except for a few bits that I expect will always make me cringe. (I’m thinking of the treatment of a non-binary-gendered minor character here, who is referred to with a quaintly bigoted term and dehumanizing, if not outright hostile [and thankfully rarely used] pronouns. I know it’s ignorance, not malice, but still.)

Warrior’s Apprentice had some very dark parts, of course, but it’s hard not to be carried along by Miles’s “forward momentum”—an irrepressible confidence that he can talk his way out of (or into) anything.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Mountains of Mourning (1989)

But it’s a twisted poor world we were both born into, that rejects us without mercy and ejects us without consultation.

I confess that as I read this novella, in which Miles is sent out to the backcountry to investigate the murder of a disabled newborn—I was dreading that it would go an entirely different way. Can you blame me? Eugenicist sympathies pervade even the most genteel liberal milieus, in our world and even Bujold’s half-parodied, half-idealized Beta Colony (where parents require permits to have children, and disabled fetuses are routinely aborted if they can’t be made “normal” with galactic-standard medicine). Which is why I was both relieved and frustrated by the end, where Miles proposes that a primary school be founded in the hill-country, because a little elementary education will end centuries of infanticide—and more importantly the motives for infanticide. Really?

Lest anyone think I’ve stamped a giant red “PROBLEMATIC!” label on the entire Vorkosigan saga and am boycotting it from here on out—well, no. I think Bujold’s treatment of disability is extremely interesting thus far, the failures and successes alike. For example, the discrepancies between her depictions of physical and mental disabilities are thought-provoking. And that the series is centred around a disabled hero and thus issues of ableism, disability, and the body take centre stage is remarkable in its own right.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Vor Game (1990)

After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy, Miles gets a posting on a remote, frozen island to learn subordination. Instead he ends up getting arrested for mutiny, then sent off to regain control of the Dendarii Mercenaries and avert an interplanetary war. (And rescue a very important hostage and outwit a villain nearly as fiendishly manipulative as himself.) Enjoyable, but I couldn’t help feeling that the MilSF-style cozy murder mystery The Vor Game was shaping up to be would have been just as fun.

What I’m Cooking

Close-up photo of a shiny red candy apple on a plate.

Candy apples! My friend G. and I made them before, and there were some ingredients left over so I made a batch by myself. I used this recipe and it was fairly easy, though preparation and waiting for the candy mixture to heat up takes a lot of time, and you have to watch it like a hawk or else it’ll burn. Things we had to get specially: candy thermometer, corn syrup, sticks.

What I’m Reading

Shards of Honor (1986), Barrayar (1991), Lois McMaster Bujold

…collected as Cordelia’s Honor (1996). Why yes, I hadn’t read any of the Vorkosigan books till now, and now I’m kicking myself. Shards of Honor centres around my weakness, Sensible Middle-Aged People Romance; Barrayar is political intrigue that builds to some truly badass action. Disability is very much present and important, which I’m not used to seeing in fiction.

The Gaslight Dogs, Karin Lowachee (2010)

A young Aniw spiritwalker is taken captive by the colonist-descended Ciracusans, who hope to use her powers in their nascent war against the overseas nation of Sairland (Britain to their America). From part of a review that I may or may not finish or publish, this book is “a rarity: a novel featuring a frontier setting and an indigenous protagonist, thoughtfully exploring a side of colonialism that is generally invisibilized.” I’d classify it as Weird North. My only gripe is that it feels more like half of a longer work truncated for publication rather than a complete novel with a cliffhanger ending.

What I’m Reading

The Apocalypse Door, James D. Macdonald (2002)

Just plain fun. A hardboiled spoof featuring Knights Templar secret agents and the Special Action Executive of the Poor Clares (who “tend toward the simple life: knives, garrotes, and gunfire”). Gore, explosions, car chases, exorcisms, time travel, and a lot of Last Rites.

Nova Swing, M. John Harrison (2006)

Not half as good as the transcendent Light, but still worth it for Harrison’s extravagant prose. Atmospheric, hallucinogenic noir; various characters (some from Light) meander, cross paths, solve crimes, and drink a lot in the city of Saudade, which borders on the mysterious “event site”. Also, there are cats.