Tag: reads

Your hemi-semi-weekly Vietnamese proverb

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“Tèo cao, té nặng”: “the higher you climb, the greater you fall” (“climb high, fall heavy”). As lapidary as usual 🙂

Not much progress those past two weeks, other than listen to tapes (parents away on holiday). I can confirm my written comprehension is fairly good as long as we’re talking basics (asking people’s names, ordering in a restaurant, managing train tickets, etc.). However, oral comprehension still sucks (mostly, people are talking too fast for me to parse). Continuing my drills with the FSI tapes, and hoping that something clicks at some point.

In other sort-of-related language news, I finished Huỳnh Sanh Thông’s An Anthology of Vietnamese Poems, and his translation of Nguyễn Du’s The Tale of Kiều (Truyện Kiều), one of the major works of Vietnamese literature. Kiều was particularly interesting, because it’s a bilingual edition that’s heavily annotated, and it was really interesting to see the notes and compare with the text (not, you know, that I understood more than a few words here and there, but I could see some of how it was all pieced together). Huỳnh Sanh Thông’s scholarship is fairly impressive, and it’s full of fascinating tidbits (also very fascinating to see how the novel echoes the original Chinese work while clearly forging its own specific identity). Also, even though it’s a metaphor for scholars (the woman who doesn’t know who to entrust her fate to represents the scholars unsure of where their allegiances should lie), it’s really nice to have a woman main character in a tale. In many ways, it reminded me of Dream of Red Mansions;: the content is very different, but it’s also ostensibly focused on domesticity and the upheavals in daily lives in a way that the more martial novels aren’t.

Also, at some point I will post a report of the Bucharest event, once I have actually sat down and written it…

Recent reads: Deathless and the Quantum Thief

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Deathless: I loved Catherynne M Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but was never really convinced with the other adult book I attempted from her (Palimpsest). This, however… is glorious. It’s a retelling of a Russian fairytale (the Death of Koschei the Deathless), though that doesn’t really matter for your enjoyment of the book (I only found out about this afterwards).
Set in Communist Russia before WWII, Deathless tells the story of Maria Morevna, who sees more clearly than everyone else the cracks around the world: this destines her to be the bride of Koschei, the Tsar of Life, locked in an endless war with Viy, the Tsar of Death. It starts out like a fairytale (three birds transform into men and come for three brides), and then very quickly becomes something else, a mixture between myth and history: the creatures of myth are also affected by the rise of communism, and one of the book’s best sections is set in Leningrad during the war, chronicling the slow decline of a city under siege. Valente uses the narration to question several of the fairytale tropes, from the submissive and erased women to the role of villains (I loved Baba Yaga’s role in the denouement). And the writing is utterly lovely without being too purple, a thing of beauty from beginning to end. Very much recommended.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi: many things in there are rave-worthy–top-notch worldbuilding, brimming with ideas, sizzling plot… It’s set in a future version of our Solar System, dominated by the AI-like Sobornost. Jean le Flambeur is one of the greatest thieves, but he was caught by the Sobornost and put in a Dilemma Prison, fighting endless duels against copies of himself until his mind has been wiped into compliance. He hasn’t expected Mieli: working for the Pelligrini, a mysterious goddess-like entity, Miele has need of a thief–and she breaks Jean out of jail.
Their quest will lead them to Mars, to the Oubliette, which overthrew its rulers in a bloody Revolution, and is now one of the main enclaves free from the Sobornost. As I said, lots of cool ideas. I loved the concept of gevulot, the privacy settings of the Oubliette: if someone doesn’t open their gevulot to you, you might not even see them, and contracts rule everything from how you see people to the sharing and recording of memories. Plus, it’s full of geeky tidbits, like the keys being generated from the root node of a tree, and robots that can steal time…
But what actually fuels my deep, abiding love for this book are the Arsène Lupin references. I grew up on a steady diet of stories of the gentleman-thief (and I loved those as much as I loved the Sherlock Holmes books), and the book is full of them. One of the main characters, Isidore Beautrelet, is actually taken from Maurice Leblanc’s L’Aiguille Creuse, and the plot has regular references to Arsène Lupin scenes, such as the Christian Uruth episode, which, as I dimly recall, is a mash between two short stories (can’t remember the first, the second is “Herlock Sholmès Arrives Too Late). And there’s Thibermesnil and Raoul (d’Andrésy) and Raymonde (de Saint-Véran), and Paul Sernine, an alias of the protagonist who hands out nine Watches to nine friends (among other things, Lupin’s alias Paul Sernine Prince Rénine, a near-copy of other alias Paul Sernine, is the male protagonist of a collection of short stories called The Eight Strokes of the Clock)… I’ll stop gushing now, but this is very much awesome stuff, and I’m so glad it’s in an SF book! (and it has a sequel! Which I’m so waiting for now.)
From a quick google search, I’m kind of surprised how few review sites picked up on that angle, though, which is glaringly obvious to me (and anyone who’s read L’Aiguille Creuse). I was wondering–how well known is Arsène Lupin in the UK/US? Has Maurice Leblanc been translated into English? (here, he’s practically a household name).

Master Urban Fantasy List

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So, one of the things I’m doing at the moment is trying to read books with a similar vibe to the Jade in Chains project–which can be a bit tricky when you don’t know what said vibe is. However, a number of things I already know about it are: it’ll be set in a modern-day, real-world city (Paris), will feature magic and magicians, and few magical creatures living among humans (especially, no vampires, no Fae, and no werewolves). It’s… well, difficult: most UF books I’d read failed the “few magical creatures” test, and so I turned to my twitter followers to get suggestions of books (I specifically added that ghosts and gods were acceptable, and left it a bit vague on the other kinds of magical creatures).

Here’s what they came up with: I filtered the books that were obvious mismatches, but I didn’t check everything (it’s a long list, and some of those books sound like they have more than a few “non-standard” magical creatures around). I also left some books in there that didn’t fit the criteria (like The Night Circus) because something in the description appealed to me.

Without further ado, and in case anyone else is looking for that kind of UF:

-Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho (the story has vampires, but vampires aren’t central to the plot)
-Peter S. Beagle, Sleight of Hand (note: short stories)
-A. A. Bell, Diamond Eyes
-Holly Black, the Curse Workers series
-Leah Bobet, Above
-Maurice Broaddus, the Breton Court trilogy
-Orson Scott Card, Enchantment
-Carolyn Crane, the Disillusionist trilogy
-A Dellamonica, Indigo Springs
-Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town
-Rosemary Edghill, Speak Daggers to her
-Greg van Eekout, The Norse Code
-Neil Gaiman, American Gods, Neverwhere
-Alan Garner
-Laura Anne Gilman, Cosa Nostradamus series (note: plenty of supernatural creatures, but no fae/werewolves/vampires)
-Kate Griffin, the Midnight Mayor series
-Karen Healey, Guardien of the Dead, The Shattering
-M John Harrison, Things that Never Happen (note: short stories)
-Trent Jamieson, the Death Works series
-Maureen Johnson, The Name of the Star
-Caitlin R Kiernan, The Red Tree, The Drowning Girl
-Ellen Kushner, Holly Black (ed.), Welcome to Bordertown
-Megan Lindholm, Wizard of the Pigeons
-Charles de Lint
-Haruki Murakami, Wild Sheep Chase (note: more fantastical lit than fantasy)
-Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (note, not modern-day, but it has magicians)
-China Mieville, Kraken, The City & The City, King Rat
-Jeff Noon
-Diana Peterfrund, the Killer Unicorn series
-Tim Powers, Last Call, Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather, Declare
-Tim Pratt, the Marla Manson series
-Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Shadow of the Wind
-Cat Valente, Palimpsest
-Liz Williams, Snake Agent series (the Asian/Chinese worldbuilding is way off though)
-Stephen Woodworth, Through Violet Eyes

Many many thanks to everyone for the suggestions! And any other recs in the same vein are very much welcome (especially more non-US and non-UK works). Also, if you’re one of the people who gave me recommendations: I was at work or sleeping for a significant portion of the discussion, and twitter sucks at threading discussions over several hours, so it’s entirely possible that I didn’t manage to write your recs down. Feel free to ping me again if you think I’ve passed you over.

State of the writer

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Brainstorming for Jade in Chains continues: I’m now at the stage known as “index cards”, aka, write down my ideas on little bits of cardboard, align them on the big living room table, and stare until drops of blood congeal on my forehead. Hmm.

Reading some UF for research purposes (and for fun): I finished Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon over Soho, and enjoyed it a lot (even though I saw the ending coming halfway through the book). Wonderful voice, and a rather neat take on magic within London that mostly doesn’t feature vampires (OK, I lie. There are vampires, but they’re not at all dark and brooding and handsome).

Also read: Charles Stross’s Rule 34 (kindly donated by the author), and Halting State. They’re both thrillers taking place in an alternate future where Scotland is an independent republic, and struggling to find its place with respects to its British neighbour. They’re also both told in alternating second-person, which is the sort of thing you’re always advised against as a writer, though Stross makes it work wonderfully; and they’re very gritty (especially Rule 34, which has a spate of gruesome murders, and a POV character who is a total psychopath). There’s things I love and things I don’t love about them–the plot crackles along, they’re full of amazing inventive ideas (like, robbing a bank in an MMORPG? awesome!), they have strong main characters, especially strong women characters; but I have to confess they’re a little too gritty for my tastes? (I’m a bit of a squeamish reader. Yes, I know. I write fantasy in which the main character commits blood sacrifices. And I’m squeamish. I never pretended to be coherent) My favorite Stross novels are still the Bob Howard/Laundry novels and short stories, especially some of the short stories (The Concrete Jungle is awesome fun).

And a French book, too, Shadow of the Prince by Tran-Nhut, a detective story featuring the recurring team of Mandarin Tân and his sidekicks Scholar Dinh and Doctor Pork. What can I say? I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, and this one was set in Ancient Vietnam! [1] (and written by a duo of Vietnamese-French sisters) Tân has to deal with a serial killer who may or may not be trying to topple the current dynasty, while facing some of the demons of his past–the dark deeds that led to the death of his school comrade, Prince Hung, more than twenty years ago… Chock-full of meaty details, of plot twists, and (more importantly) of good food. I’ve got the next volume, The Black Powder of Master Hou, which is set in Hạ Long Bay. Sounds nice.

In other news, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and go running, in an attempt to do some sport. I’m learning lots of things about our new neighbourhood–so far, I’m down to three Asian groceries (a mostly-Chinese one, a mostly-Vietnamese/SE Asian one, and a mostly-Japanese one. And there’s a Korean one a bit further down, too), one Russian takeaway (which has the H intrigued), one Picard (they specialise in frozen food), and one dry-cleaner (less interesting on an immediate basis, but very handy). Not only do I get some exercise, but I also discover new things!


[1] I’m a little puzzled as to when it’s set: the scenes that frame the narration tend to indicate that the story itself is set in the Lê dynasty, but the capital is referred to as “Thăng Long”, which is a name Hà Nội hasn’t had since the 11th Century (to be fair, every one in there is a scholar, so they possibly referred to it by its poetic name rather than by the prosaic name of “Đông Kinh”?) Later volumes make it clear that this is taking place in the mid-16th early-17th Century, right before the Trịnh–Nguyễn War, so definitely the Lê dynasty.

Linky linky

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-E. Sedia on copyright law and intellectual property. Seriously stuff worth reading and mulling on.

-Edroxy (Roxanne) has a series on French Female Writers Through the Centuries: her latest review is of Marie NDiaye’s Three Strong Women, here. Whole series is worth reading, but this has some interesthing thoughts about NDiaye herself, and her sense of identity, or “truncated mixity” as she calls it, and handling what people expect her to write vs what she actually writes.

-Nancy Fulda on Readers, Feedback and Good Stories. One of the hardest lessons I learnt as a beginning writer is that you can’t please everyone (probably because by temperament and by upbringing, I tend to be nice to everyone)

Women in genre

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Following excellent posts by Nicola Griffith and Cheryl Morgan on Women’s invisibility (if you missed the twitter storm, this started off as a Guardian article asking people to name their favorite SF–which mentioned more than 500 books in the comments, out of which only 18 women…), it’s high time I play my part in redressing the balance…

Part of the problem, as Cheryl and Nicola both point out, is that best-of lists tend to be made by men, and that it’s been proved that while women will read men and women equally, men tend to read and remember men (and women tend not to volunteer for voting or for making such lists in the first place). So it’s a vicious circle in which men continue to predominate on awards lists, and to be enshrined in history while women mostly slip by the wayside.

Accordingly, I’m making my list of favorite novels written by women. Pretty much no criteria (I’m no good at Golden Age SF, since the only authors in that batch I read were Asimov and Zelazny; and I came very late to fantasy): only that I read and enjoyed the book. Here you go, my recs:

SF
Dust, Chill and Grail, Elizabeth Bear
Moxyland, Lauren Beukes
Miles Vorkosigan series, Lois McMaster Bujold
Golden Witchbreed, Mary Gentle
The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin
China Mountain Zhang, Maureen McHugh
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
The Snow Queen, Joan Vinge
Empire of Bones, Liz Williams

Fantasy
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (as Kari Sperring points out, the history in this one is rubbish. Nevertheless, as a revisionist version of a well-known myth from a female POV, it’s definitely seminal)
The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
Crown of Stars series, Kate Elliott
Tamir trilogy by Lynn Flewelling
Ash, Mary Gentle
The Liveship Traders, Robin Hobb
Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones
Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner
Cyrion, Tanith Lee
The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Patricia McKillip

What about you? What are your favorite genre books written by women? Feel free to make your own list! (whether you’re a woman or not, BTW. We need more people celebrating women in the genre)

ETA: additions suggested in comments:

SF
Virtual Death, Shale Aaron
Happy Policeman and Brother Termite, Patricia Anthony
Catherine Asaro
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
All the Windwracked Stars and sequels, Elizabeth Bear
The Darkover series, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (and other books)
Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh (and other books)
The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins
The Mount, Carol Emshwiller
Sarah Canery, Karen Joy Fowler
C.S. Freidman
Slow River, Nicola Griffith
God’s War, Kameron Hurley
The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Lear’s Daughters duology, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg
Nancy Kress
A Different Light, Elizabeth Lynn
Dragonriders of Pern, The Talent series, Anne McCaffrey
The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon
The Healer’s War, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Virtual Girl, Amy Thompson
Star of the Guardians, Margaret Weis
Uncharted Territory, Connie Willis
Looking for the Mahdi, N Lee Wood

Fantasy
Blood and Iron and sequels, Elizabeth Bear
The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susannah Clarke
Deverry series, Katherine Kerr
The Farseer trilogy, Robin Hobb
The Fox Woman, Kij Johnson
His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik
The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula Le Guin
Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin
Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
The Riddle-Master trilogy, Patricia McKillip
The Folding Knife, KJ Parker (assuming KJ Parker is indeed a woman)
The Orphan’s Tales, Catherynne Valente
Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner

Reading report: King’s Dragon and Prince of Dogs

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In other news, devoured King’s Dragon and Prince of Dogs, the first two volumes of Crown of Stars by Kate Elliot. And wow. It’s amazing. I’ve bitched before about the lack of historical realism in fantasy, but this book gets so many things right I don’t know where to start. It’s got depths, and a real sense of a world with a complex history, and many cultures interlocked. It’s got a very real religion, which is omnipresent in everyday life, and not continually questioned by 90% of the characters (one of my favourite characters, Alain, is a devout man). And the matter-of-fact inversion of genders is fascinating: in Elliot’s world, inheritance can go through the female line–a concept supported at all layers of the society from village to kingdom, and also in religion. You feel it as something organic which naturally derives from the societal structures, and not as an abstract thought experiment that doesn’t fit in with anything else (there is nothing that annoys me more than anachronistic feminists, probably because I’m prone to the fault; and I love the fact that it’s so natural for everyone that it’s not even discussed).

Fortunately, there are more volumes in the series 🙂

Rereading “Dream of Red Mansions”

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Rereading A Dream of Red Mansions (紅樓夢) in a slightly different translation than my first read (first read was the Penguin edition, the new one is Foreign Press). It’s rather interesting to discover, erm, explicit passages: the fight in the clan’s school, for instance, appears to be because it’s a hotbed of hormones and boys are seeking to nab boys and/or girls, often both–which I totally missed in the first read. So either I wasn’t paying enough attention on the first read (which is possible, especially since we were in Spain at the time and I was rather under the weather); or the new translation is rather more explicit than the other one…
I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s entertaining, and I’m saving all my complaints-credits for sentences such as “By now, Jia Dairu had arrived with Jia Daixi, Jia Chi, Jia Xiao, Jia Dun, Jia She, Jia Zheng, Jia Cong, Jia Bin, Jia Heng, Jia Guang, Jia Chen, Jia Qiong, Jia Lin, Jia Qiang, Jia Chang, Jia Ling, Jia Yun, Jia Qin, Jia Zhen, Jia Pin, Jia Zao, Jia Heng, Jia Fen, Jia Fang, Jia Lan, Jia Jun, and Jia Zhi.” (it’s probably way easier in Mandarin because of the various characters, but in English or French all those syllables really look alike. Plus, I’ve got a rough idea of who some of those people are, and admit to utter cluelessness about 75% of them).

Also, it looks like they made a TV series–now if I could get my hands on a subtitled version…

Quick weekend update

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(yes, lest you wonder why I’m online so early: I’ve taken my Friday afternoon off, and am currently in a train, headed for a weekend break. Ah, holidays…)

So, what’s up. Not been doing much: writing Master of the House of Darts pretty much wiped me out; so I took a 2-3-week post-novel break, wherein I did nothing much but read Agatha Christie novels. Which, incidentally, are wonderful things. Very relaxing–purely intellectual puzzles with very little violence. I hadn’t appreciated till now the need for a quiet space, and if you’d told me a few years ago that I was going to read Christie for fun and relaxation I’d have laughed at you. But there’s something infinitely soothing about her books–partly, I guess, because they’re about an idealised bygone time that cannot possibly concern me except in the remotest of senses; and partly because they’re puzzles more than thrillers, which means there is little stress and little incentive to GET THE ENDING NOW. Now I know where my tendency for dialogue-and-interviews-as-plot comes from…

I also read Elizabeth Bear’s Dust, the first volume of her Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, and fell in love all over again. It’s a blend of Arthurian mythos, Zelazny’s Amber, and Bear’s awesomely lyrical and mythic language. Think backstabbing family politics, on a generation ship. With swords and knights and angels, except everything is slightly askew, and there’s a peculiar weight to having all that mythology–a generation ship is pretty much a self-contained universe, and it’s interesting to see how the inhabitants are shaped by their ancestors’ belief systems and foibles (in many ways, it also reminded me of Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which also has SF with mythic tropes, the tropes having been set by the original colonists/passengers in order to establish a system by which they could profit). Very good, with cool characters. I thought two of them were under-used; but then I got my copy of Chill aka book 2, and I saw they were going to be the protagonists in that book. What more could a girl ask for? 🙂

Next up is revising MHD, and starting up work on the next project, on which I have very vague ideas–thinking of a Chinese/Vietnamese generation tale on a space station, but it’s all very nebulous. Before I commit to any plot, I need to reread Dream of Red Mansions, which I intend to use as my model for this. Should be interesting.

Cooking-wise, not much–it was a decidedly Vietnamese week, with phở, green mango salad (gotta work on the salad dressing though), and xá xíu (what can I say, I had 1.1 kg of pork, a big oven dish, and rather too much time on my hands. Good thing the thing freezes easily. Also, the H likes xá xíu). I really need to get down with the caramel recipe and work out how not to fail dismally at it, but the week was rather too busy for that…

Mind Meld on SF books, and misc.

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I was asked to take part in a Mind Meld over at SF Signal: name Science Fiction Books That Should Be in Every Fan’s Library. Go check out my answer, as well as that of the other worthy folks who’ve participated.
(I’d have put more recent books in the pile, if I’d actually read them. In SF, I’m still catching up on years of not really reading…)
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Currently in the middle of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (right after the battle of Red Cliffs, which is interestingly not at all like the movie version…). You know that Chinese proverb that says the young shouldn’t read Water Margin because it teaches disobedience, and the old shouldn’t read Three Kingdoms because it teaches guile? Well, after almost 60 chapters, I get it… Three Kingdoms is just this long list of people shifting sides, trying to find the best way to betray each other, kill each other, deprive each other of influence. Very, very pragmatic view of war and power struggles–a giant free-for-all…

Also, this blog is currently under massive attack by spammers for a reason I can’t pinpoint (I choose popularity, but I’m not convinced…)

More later. Right now, I need some sleep.