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Books I Read in February

The Peripheral, William Gibson

The Loser, Thomas Bernhard

Dipa Ma, Amy Schmidt

The Burglar in the Library, Lawrence Block

Concrete, Thomas Bernhard

Star Trek: Picard – The Last Best Hope, Una McCormack

Embers of War, Gareth L. Powell

Fleet of Knives, Gareth L. Powell

Light of Impossible Stars, Gareth L. Powell

Cinema Purgatorio, Alan Moore

The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

Procession for the Dead, Darren Shan

The Seep, Chana Porter

The Burglar in the Rye, Lawrence Block

 

Fourteen books in January, and fourteen in February – I’ve never counted books read in a monthly basis, but I’m sure I must have broken a personal record. Since I put my mind to focus on one book at a time, I’ve been reading more and, hopefully, better. In all honesty, I started to read more than one book at the same time, and there are three books in my Currently Reading pile right now – but I’m not worrying too much about this. I’m enjoying myself very much reading shorter novels, most of them not necessarily fantastika-related. Exception made to Gareth L. Powell’s really good Embers of War trilogy. I’m almost finished bingeing the Bernie Rhodenbarr novels (although I must confess I’m a bit tired of them, since they share the same formula, with very little room for variation), and the Berhnard novels are a refreshing surprise, so I’ll probably read more of them in March.

But this is going to be a very busy month for me, with the University and no less than TWO novel translations to do (finishing one and beginning another, with a small overlapping), so I won’t be terribly disappointed if I don’t keep the same book score by the end of the month. Let’s see what happens.

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Review – Mazes of Power, by Juliette Wade

 

One of the virtues of worldbuilding is to make your reader discover the universe you created in bits and pieces. Too much exposition at once seldom works (except for Kim Stanley Robinson, but let’s not go there). Mazes of Power, by Juliette Wade, is a very good example of well-crafted worldbuilding – starting with the epigraph. It’s very revealing, and gave me goosebumps: Varin is a place where humans have always lived on an alien world. It is also your home.

This is a powerful statement, because it throws us headlong into a world in which not only the characters have always lived, but the readers too. This is an incredibly astute strategy to make us care more about the world. I caught myself along the reading musing where this planet would be. In what star system would it be located? Or – maybe it would be right here, and instead of Earth we would have Varin all the time.

This thought reminded me for a moment of Harry Turtledove’s A World of Difference, a cosmological alternate history, where Mars simply do not exist and we have a planet called Minerva in its place. But, even if this novel is interesting and action-packed, it didn’t do much to my sense of wonder. But (pardon the pun) there is a world of difference between that novel and Mazes of Power.

The story is the first volume in The Broken Trust series, and upon reaching the end of the book we can quite understand what is this trust and what happened for it to be broken. Even if I was going to give you spoilers (which I won’t), the process is much more important than the outcome, at least in this first novel.

Mazes of Power tells us the story of brothers Tagaret and Nekantor, teenage sons of the powerful Speaker of the Cabinet Garr, a scheming member of the First Family of Varin and a man who has the ears of the Heir to the throne. The boys, who doesn’t have anything in common with each other, must try to learn to trust each other and the people around them to survive and, eventually be selected to the throne themselves. At the same time, Aloran, a young men but who is soon to be indentured to Tagaret’s mother, Lady Tamelera – a relationship strained since the beginning, but that at some point might probably become more than that.

I read very carefully several passages because at the first moment I thought there was two different species on Varin. But this is not true: there are only humans there (as far as we know) inhabiting the underground in a huge cavern system. But there is a sort of caste system too, of which the two main ones are the Grobal (the ruling caste) and the Imbati (functionaries and servants) and that was the reason I thought of aliens – because the ruling caste tend to see their servants as if they were somehow less than human. So, for people like Tagaret to ascend socially, they must be slaves to a whole host of rules and rituals.

Virtually everyone in Varin is a slave to this system, which is obviously flawed. For instance, even if homosexuality is not exactly forbidden, it’s frowned upon and dismissed as mere play. And, if you have any claim to a modicum amount of power, for instance, you should not play – something that only adds stress to the tortured character of Nekantor. 

Maybe the harshest part for me is the description of a character with a neuroatypical condition. Being a father of an atypical girl, I admit I was very moved with Juliette’s description of Nekantor’s behaviour, which seems to be Asperger’s. I confess I felt a bit shaken by the fact that he (at least in this first volume) is a kind of villain in the narrative, and that reminded me on another SF classic. In Dune, Frank Herbert makes of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (who is very fat, probably atypical and definitely gay) the villain, in opposition to all the other characters, which are all straight, thin and (on the surface at least) typical. Fortunately, Juliette is much more deft than Herbert, because she balances this with many other characters who are far from being straight. In fact, most of the men in Mazes of Power show at least a pronounced sensibility that is very refreshing and most welcome in our particular SFF universe.

What Juliette Wade has done here is another powerful statement, a political one. You know that everything is political (and if you don’t know that, you really should), and even the funniest space opera of yore that some of you enjoyed reading as children and teens (as I did) also issued statements, usually by absence – absence of people of color, of QUILTBAG characters, of female characters with any agency. When a new author enters the scene showing us a whole world with people of color (very few people in Varin are white according to the Caucasian color scheme, if any), she does justice to lots of awesome writers, like Ursula K. LeGuin and N.K.Jemisin, who gave us more representation, and therefore more real life to the fantasy of fiction. And I thank Juliette Wade very much for that.

Thanks also to Alexis C. Nixon, Juliette’s publicist, for making the eARC available to me via NetGalley.

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Books I Read in January

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, Lawrence Block

The Burglar in the Closet, Lawrence Block

The Burglar who Liked to Quote Kipling, Lawrence Block

The Burglar who Studied Spinoza, Lawrence Block

The Burglar who Painted Like Mondrian, Lawrence Block

Mazes of Power, Juliette Wade

The Burglar who Traded Ted Williams, Lawrence Block

The Burglar who Thought he was Bogart, Lawrence Block

Prince Valiant, the comic strips (1943), Hal Foster

Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Thomas Bernhard

William Gibson (Modern Masters of Science Fiction), Gary Westfahl

Archangel, William Gibson

Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley

The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe


I’m also halfway through William Gibson’s The Peripheral, but I’m not counting it. I started the year reading crime fiction (another of my passions, in which I’ll probably going to indulge more often along the year – I still have the rest of the Bernie Rhodenbarr stories to read, after all. I read the beautiful first novel by Juliette Wade to write a review – expect in on my blog in the book’s birthday, Feb 4th – and the Huxley to write a report for a Brazilian publisher who wants to republish it here. The Wolfe novel was, naturally, for my Gene Wolfe Rereading at Tor.com, and both the Foster and the Gibson were solely for pleasure (but I loved reading all of them, of course).

Reading Now

What I’m Reading Now

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, Lawrence Block – I must have read three or four Bernie Rhodenbarr books years ago, in Brazilian Portuguese translation. Two weeks ago, I found a huge sale on Kindle, and I bought all eleven Rhodenbarr novels (in English, I hasten to add). I decided to begin the new year reading mysteries instead of science fiction. I love how Block write dialogues.

The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe – Even though I’m planning to read more of other genres, the Gene Wolfe Rereading takes precedence over everything else. I started to read the Book of the New Sun for the second time, and I’m finding this last book (in the tetralogy, of course – there’s still the coda, The Urth of the New Sun) quite different from the other three, as if Wolfe had matured along the process – of course he did, since this fourth novel was written approximately three years after the first. But you’ll know more about what I have to say at the end of January, here.

lists

2019 – The Books I Read

As I said precisely one year ago, I started writing yearly lists of books approximately thirty-five years ago. Alas, I don’t have most of them, and the few I have are on paper in a trunk at dad’s house. As far as I can remember, though, the first list had less than thirty books. Eventually, as my reading speed gained traction, the lists came to show around 100 books.

Sadly, I’ve not been able to keep this three-digit number. In 2018 I finished only 39 books. But, in 2019, I did much better, finishing 73 books. I’m still not listing unfinished books. If I did that, I’d have approximately 100.

But 2019 was a VERY atypical year. For starters, Brazil (the country where I was born and, aside from a brief period in Europe, still live) has become pretty much a fascist country, due to the election of extreme right-wind Jair Bolsonaro. Things are deteriorating fast here, but I won’t elaborate on that. Suffice it to say that these are hard times to be a lefty, as I am.

So. Here’s the list:

Dreamsnake – Vonda McIntyre

Babylon Berlin – Volker Kutscher

Condomnauts  – Yoss

The Vinyl Detective – Victory Disc – Andrew Cartmel

Tentacle – Rita Indiana

Aqui, no Coração do Inferno – Micheliny Verunschk

O Peso do Coração de Um Homem – Micheliny Verunschk

O Amor, Esse Obstáculo – Micheliny Verunschk

Buddhism Without Beliefs – Stephen Batchelor

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

Cocaine Nights – J. G. Ballard

High-Rise – J. G. Ballard

Sherlock Holmes – The War of the Worlds – Manly Wade Wellman

Miniatures – John Scalzi

There Are Doors – Gene Wolfe (reread)

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein – Farah Mendlesohn

The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal

Peace – Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe – 14 Articles – Michael Andre-Driussi

The Devil in a Forest – Gene Wolfe

The Space Vampires – Colin Wilson (reread)

Exhalation – Ted Chiang

Rosewater – Tade Thompson (reread)

Fanfic – Braulio Tavares

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson (reread)

Danilo Kis – The Legend of the Sleepers

Richard Kadrey – The Grand Dark

The Survival of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson

Between Light and Shadow – Marc Aramini

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories – Gene Wolfe (reread)

Prólogos – Jorge Luis Borges

Castle of Days – Gene Wolfe

The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe (reread)

The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe (reread)

The Sword of the Lictor – Gene Wolfe (reread)

Lexicon Urthus – Michael Andre-Driussi

Hero: David Bowie – Lesley-Ann Jones

Prince Valiant: 1937 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1938 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1939 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1940 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1941 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1942 – Hal Foster

And Shall Machines Surrender – Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Gigantes Pela Própria Natureza – Nelson de Oliveira

A Telepatia São os Outros – Ana Rusche

Astounding – Alec Nevala-Lee

Mister Miracle #1 – Tom King

To Be Taught If Fortunate – Becky Chambers

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s Vs. The Universe – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Focus – Daniel Goleman

This is Not a Novel – David Markson

Vanishing Point – David Markson

The Last Novel – David Markson

Ideias para Adiar o Fim do Mundo – Ailton Krenak

Orbitsville – Bob Shaw

Carl Seelig – Walks with Walser

Comendo Bolacha Maria no Dia De São Nunca – Manuel Carlos Karam

Mary Beard – Women & Power

O Melhor do Cortella – Mario Sergio Cortella

O Marido do Meu Irmão, Vol. 1 – Gengoroh Tagame

O Marido do Meu Irmão, Vol. 2 – Gengoroh Tagame

New Model Island – Alex Niven

McMindfulness – Ronald Purser

A Song for a New Day – Sarah Pinsker

H. G. Wells – A Literary Life – Adam Roberts

Migrazioni e Intolleranza – Umberto Eco

 

Lately I’ve been giving some thinking about the speed of reading – in fact, about the speed with which I have been doing things, especially along this last year. For the past couple of months I’ve been focusing more on my writings: I’m beginning 2020 actively involved in four projects, and with the university as well, I will need that focus more than ever, so I think I will be reading neither as fast nor as much as in 2019. Priorities. But I will try to write here more often to talk about what I’m reading. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Reading Now

What I’m Reading Now

The Sword of the Lictor, Gene Wolfe – for my Gene Wolfe Rereading at Tor.com. I already posted the first installment here. As in the previous novels of The Book of the New Sun, I’m doing it in three parts. Although this is not my favorite novel of the saga, it’s surely the one that terrified me the most (because of the alzabo, what else?)

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker – I’m reading this book slowly because I’m in love with it. This is what cyberpunk should be these days, instead of dull adventures with boutique punks (this is how we call faux punks in Brazil). This novel has none: this is not a post-apoc scenario, but a post-terrorist one, where people cannot be seen in groups anymore and music concerts are banned in the US. But if you want to rock, there is a literal underground scene for you.

Awards · eligibility

a very small eligibility post

2019 was a very busy year to say the least. I couldn’t find time to post anything here – but that’s about to change, since I deactivated (temporarily, I think) my Facebook account, which was gobbling up most of my spare time. In a month or so I will post a list of books that I read along the year. For now, I would like to recommend two things of my recent production for any awards, since the eligibility season has opened:

First the fiction category: I have been very focused on writing bigger pieces in these past months. Aside from two or three short stories in Portuguese, I wrote two novellas in English. One of them has just been rejected, and I’m seriously considering turning it into a novel, so I guess I’ll be with my hands full these summer (South Hemisphere) holidays. Nevertheless, I managed to break in one market: Daily Science Fiction! But A PSA for Time-Travelers is a very, very short story (less than 300 words), so I don’t think it will be really considered for any short fiction award. But I put it here (to quote the immortal words of George Mallory) because it’s there.

This year, though, I have something bigger to show in the Non-Fiction category. It’s the Gene Wolfe Rereading that I’m doing at Tor.com. So far I covered Wolfe’s early books (except for Operation Ares), and right now I’m halfway through The Book of New Sun. I’ve been having lots of fun writing this articles/reviews of his work. I hope you like it – and nominate it!