A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

39863238Publication Date: 26 March 2019
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 464
Word Count: ~130,00
ISBN: 1250186439

Summary: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, an previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: 

Although it is New Years Eve 2018 as I write this review, I think I can confidently claim that A Memory Called Empire will be my favorite debut novel published in 2019. This book not only checked every box for me: unique and interesting worldbuilding, likable and complex characters, a plot that kept me on my toes, and a sapphic main couple, it also added a new box: dissing your political opponents through passive aggressive layered poetry.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

18423Publication Date: 1969
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 300
ISBN: 0441007317

Summary: A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

***

Review:

I read The Left Hand of Darkness as a buddy read with my friend Richard from RichardReads. This was a book that’s been on both of our TBRs for a fairly long time now, but personally, I don’t think it lived up to my expectations.

I was initially interested in The Left Hand of Darkness because of its exploration of gender roles in society, or how society would be impacted if its race is not sexually dimorphic. That is to say, the aliens, the Gethen, that live on the planet Winter are all of one gender. Once a cycle, they enter a fertility period where their bodies will randomly become the equivalent of male or female for reproduction, then revert to a genderless state until the start of the next cycle. We explore this society through the eyes of Genly Ai, a male human who’s been sent by his people to act as an envoy to the Gethen.

While I think the concept of a genderless society was interesting, I think the execution of this book was lacking. And I think that largely has to do with the way those ideas were presented being a product of its time. The Left Hand of Darkness was originally published in 1969, exactly fifty years ago. Now consider how much we as a society have progressed, especially when it comes to our views on gender and sexuality. As such, I found that many of the ‘revolutionary’ ideas presented in this book either a commonly held view today or simply outdated.

The biggest disappointment I had with this book was how the Gethen, this genderless race, were portrayed. Genly Ai initially struggles with how to interact with this race because he struggles to see them as anything but male, using male pronouns to refer to everyone he meets. However, what really bothered me as I read was that in chapters that come from a Gethen’s perspective, male pronouns were still used.

I think it’s reasonable to say that for most fantasy, especially adult fantasy, readers, we are used to reading books with entirely male casts, used to books where the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ are rarely, if ever, used. For a lot of us, ‘male’ is an ingrained default. Therefore, by Le Guin’s choice to stick with male pronouns, or ‘default’ pronouns, we the reader are allowed to slip into back into a comfortable mindspace, where our views on gender or how a genderless society would function aren’t challenged. Instead, we can subconsciously view the Gethens as male and proceed as normal. With a simple switch to ‘she’ or a made-up pronoun, this concept would have left a much harder impact. (as a side note, the choice of a default ‘she’ is why Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is so fascinating)

Besides the pronoun choice, I also didn’t really like the pacing. The book is very cleanly split into three parts: world building, court politics, and survival story, with choppy transitions. Personally, I didn’t find the world building nor the court politics sections all that engaging, aside from the chapter that read like a scientific paper describing the Gethen. Like the planet of Winter itself, I found those sections rather bland and uninteresting. I did like the survival section, but I think that was because it was the one section that really focused on the relationship between Genly and his Gethen friend Estraven, and the only part where Genly actually begins to see the Gethen as more than an all-male race.

Overall, I rated this book a 3/5. While I’m sure it was revolutionary during the time it was published, reading it in 2019 left me wanting.

T5W – Independent Ladies

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here.

Topic: Independent Ladies – favorite leading ladies who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest (they can still have a romance subplot – this is going to be subjective based on what you think would be ~too much~)

Enne Salta from Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

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Ace of Shades was one of my favorite YA books from 2018 and a large part of that was because of how well written the main female lead was. Enne starts off naive to this world of fantasy Las Vegas in a search to find her missing mother. What I loved was seeing her development as she learns to navigate land manipulate this new world she’s been thrust in a feminine manner that I find somewhat rare in YA these days. She has her love interest Levi, but I really liked that she always put her own quests and goals before “getting the guy”.

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Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859Publication Date: 20 January 2019
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 304
ISBN: 136801335X

Summary: To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

***

Review:

This is probably the most disappointing review I’ve written in a while and it really pains me to do so. Those who follow me will know how much I adore Lee’s other series, Ninefox Gambit, and his short story collection. When I saw the announcement that he’d be writing for part of Rick Riordan’s expanded mythology series, I was ecstatic. Percy Jackson was my childhood and I couldn’t wait to see how Lee would introduce middle schoolers to Korean Mythology like I had Greek. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the hype for me.

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T5W – Nostalgia Ships

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here.

Topic: Nostalgia Ships – Discuss the first fictional couples you ever got butterflies over, or couples you used to be really into when you were younger

Like several of my previous T5W posts, this is going to be almost exclusively manga/anime because I really have no recollection of having shippy moments with books as a kid.

Zoisite/Kunzite from Sailor Moon

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Why yes, I do love shipping my murder-happy villains, even from the tender age of ten. I remember waking up early Sunday mornings so I could watch AMVs of this ship on YouTube. This was back in the era where fans still made their own dedicated web pages dedicated to their ship and hosted their own fanfiction. Mind you, I never watched the English dub of Sailor Moon, only the Japanese, so I shipped these two as a gay couple, not the one where Zoisite was turned female because 90s American family purity. It’s pretty indicative of how my life turned out.

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T5W – Hyped 2019 Releases You Don’t Care About

so this list could have been all the generic sounding beauty and the beast but this retellings (or just fairy tale retellings in general) but I tried it make it a little more creative

4 Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

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i’m cheating a little with this one because I’ve already read it but all the advertising I see for it makes it seem like the NEXT BIG YA FANTASY and it’s just… not. Like seriously, it’s not. The characters are bland (though some are intentionally bland), the romance is contrived, and the worldbuilding was seriously just thrown together without any consideration towards logistics of how the damn country would actually function when you’ve got one tiny island producing food for an entire country without using electricity while the quadrant over is rocking maglevs and test tube babies. /endrant

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T5W – Top of Your TBR

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here.

Topic: The top books of your TBR!

Yes this is being posted on Friday and not Wednesday because I’ve been lazy and put off writing this

Vengeful by VE Schwab

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this uh… this has been on my TBR for a really long time and I’ve been lazy. eventually, one day, I shall actually get around to reading it

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YARC 2019 + 5 Asian-Author Book Recs

As if the /r/Fantasy Bingo wasn’t enough, I’m announcing my participation in a second reading challenge: The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge! The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2019, or YARC 2019 for short, is a year-long reading challenge hosted by CW, Lily, Shealea, and Vicky with the express goal to read as many books by Asian authors as possible. All books by Asian authors are fair game, any format, any genre. The only rule is that the book must have been started and finished in 2019.

The organizers have also put together a series of super cute badges you can collect for the number of books read. I’m currently aiming for the Giant Panda (31-40 books). It’s a little ambitious but I think I can do it! The abundance of Chinese web serials I recently discovered is sure to help.

For more information about this challenge and to sign up yourself, check out Shealea’s post.

I’ll be keeping a running progress tracker on my blog, which you can check out here. I’ve also got a dedicated Goodreads shelf, which you can view here.

To celebrate the kickoff of this reading challenge, I’m recommending five books written by Asian authors that I loved!

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

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A Korean-inspired Sci-Fi series with some of the most imaginative worldbuilding and compelling characters I’ve come across, with beautifully math-y writing.

 

The Story of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

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A collection of thought-provoking short stories that make you contemplate math, linguistics, and life, including the short story that inspired the movie Arrival.

 

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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A sapphic Beauty and the Beast retelling with set in a post-apocalyptic Vietnamese backdrop with a side of morbidly trippy alien technology. Covers themes of motherhood and the significance of children leaving the nest.

 

The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (魔道祖师) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (墨香铜臭)

2980391bfdb389f26a2f4aca82081514

A translated Chinese wuxia epic fantasy web serial, equal parts a comedy and tragedy, following the (mis)adventures a necromancer summoned from the dead and his lover who’s been pining for the last thirteen years. Read it here!

 

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

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A YA novel set in feudal Japan that reads literally like an anime (kitsune MC, edgy male lead half possessed by a demon sword, A GUY WITH WHITE HAIR (RIP)) that had me screaming and cheering as I read.

Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt et al

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Publication Date: 16 October 2018
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 266
ISBN: 1440353387

Summary: Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:
Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction (dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi). Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

*****

Review:

I’ve never reviewed a non-fiction book before so here goes nothing. Are you a fucking nerd? Is your roommate a fucking nerd? Is that one friend of a friend who got brought to a Friendsgiving dinner but isn’t really close to anyone else a fucking nerd? Congrats, this book is for all of you! All jokes aside, I’ve never seen a book more quickly capture the interests of a bunch of STEM majors and I know some pretty nerdy people.

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2018 in Review: Excel Edition

Now that 2018 has passed, I have a full year’s worth of fanfiction novel data to blab about. Let’s start with the basics.

Basics

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  • In 2018, I read a total of 46 books (I know the number on  my Goodreads account disagrees, I’ll get to that later) for a total of 5,051,121 words, with an average WC of 109,807 words/book
  • The longest book I read was Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson at 213,348 words. The shortest was All Systems Red, a novella by Martha Wells at 34,398 words. I’m excluding Extra Curricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee (14,255) because it’s really more of a long short story.
  • Author-wise, 26 books were written by female authors and 20 were written by male authors, for a 56/44 split. As a reader of almost exclusively SciFi/Fantasy, I’d say that’s a pretty good split considering the genre’s author demographics
  • Amusingly, the only contemporary romance book I read, Crazy Rich Asians, was written by a male author, Kevin Kwan

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