Book blog – March 2021

This is a brief book blog post, as I’m going to try and write about three books that I absolutely loved this month. I say “try and write” because it feels like I never quite say all the things I want to about the books I love (and I don’t review the books I didn’t like, because the author doesn’t need to hear my negativity, and it might not have been a book meant for me. Yes, it could also be a BAD book, but that’s often a subjective thing.)

So, to begin : Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor.

I’ve read the first Binti book, and I was enthralled. People have advocated for voices other than “old, white, male” in Sci-Fi for years, and this is why. A different grounding, a different perspective, a different experience, all these things come through in a story of a future that is only semi-familiar. Language is used differently (from my experience, obviously) and the locations are not the tired old usual suspects of New York and London. I haven’t been to the African continent at all, and my education (in a comprehensive in the South East of the UK in the 1980’s) was not packed with either the history or the geography of that assembly of nations. We did once discuss Ouagadougou in a geography lesson, but I could not have pointed it out on a map even then.

Remote Control reads like mythology that has grown together with sci-fi. The central character, Sankofa, is described as the “adopted daughter of Death” and it felt to me like a tale from long ago, like an Anansi story (something I learned about from an older, white Sci-fi writer, of course…). But she is this way because of an alien artifact. Her mission is something she has assigned herself, not something that has been ordained for her, but it’s no less onerous for that.

The characters are real, and they move through environments that come alive through the pages. I’ve never seen these places, but I could feel them as I read. The story is short, but satisfying, even as it ends with a setup that could lead to future tales.

I’ve been following Sarah Gailey on Twitter for quite a while (and if you haven’t read “River of Teeth, what the heck are you doing HERE? Go get it now, cowboys on Hippos in the American Wild West? GO, GO, GO!) so when I saw this book pop up on the “Just Ordered” section of the library, I was intrigued. This didn’t seem like traditional Gailey Fare. After all, the last one I read was “Magic for Liars” about a detective investigating a murder in a magic school.

But then you read the summary and discover this is about a scientist who discovers the woman her husband left her for is a clone of herself – moreover, a clone conditioned to be more compliant, using techniques the scientist herself has pioneered. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, because the twists are awesome, I didn’t see ANY of them coming, and they’re beautifully done. But here’s what I thought when reading the first chapter.

Reading literary fiction, I compared it to wine: There’s a whole industry around analysing it, teasing out the ingredients and influences, and some people love it, and some don’t. Also, like LitFic, every time I try wine, it’s worse than I expected, I can’t understand the appeal, and I’m left with a nasty taste in my mouth.

Most of the stuff I read is like craft beer. Not as lofty as the Wine Set, but still requiring skill to create with the correct ingredients. Some of it doesn’t hit the spot, the way those oddballs who add fruit flavours to beer don’t really know what they’re doing, but in the main, I like my pint relatively simple but well-made. It’s not a can of Bud Lite, is my point.

But reading “The Echo Wife” felt like sipping brandy, or a good rum (both of which I have done in my time, with a cumulative four years of bartending in my past). Maybe port is the better comparison, since I drink that more enthusiastically than the other two. The whole thing felt rarefied, distilled, and utterly perfected. Not as pretentious as some new red wine from somewhere, but something with the weight of experience and craft behind it. Just breathtaking, beautiful writing.

Anna Meriano has written the “Love Sugar Magic” series, about which I know nothing, but I am sure I have seen mention of it on Twitter (where I spend more time than is healthy, obviously.) I picked up “This is how we fly” because my family and I went to the Quidditch Global Games when it was held here in Burnaby back in 2014, and I wrote about it here:

This is a story set in the real world (and having read Anna Meriano’s bio, it’s a world she is VERY familiar with), so the Quidditch played is on the ground, and while it’s important, it’s not the plot. The real story is Ellen’s struggle to get through the last summer before she starts college, as friends from High School drift away, and her home life becomes even more stressful. I admit I had more sympathy for Ellen’s stepmom than Ellen did, because she makes the very good point that she should not be the only one cooking, and cleaning and taking care of the kids (Ellen has a younger stepsister) but she also doesn’t try to accommodate or remember Ellen’s veganism, is suspicious of Ellen’s political activist views, and is also more than a little homophobic. Since I have three kids, one of whom is non-binary, I’m familiar with Ellen’s frustration with accepting the status quo, with inaction over climate change, over the abuse of trans folx, the refusal to accept all kinds of love, all identity choices as valid (and the use of the word “choice” there is a whole other conversation too, obviously – some things you don’t choose, you just are.) The fact the book manages to fit all these issues in without every one of them reading like a lecture is proof that the story has been worked on hard, for a long time – the author mentions six years of redrafting in the excellent notes at the end. It’s a great story, well told, and while some of the teen antics are painful to read, the resolution is right, fitting and realistic. The book even mentions the issue of appreciating Quidditch as a sport for all while acknowledging the problems around the original Harry Potter Franchise, thanks to JK’s anti-trans sentiments of late (and the other things that have come out about characters in the books and the latest round of movies.)

I borrow a lot of books from the library, because I’m there every day. It’s still rare to get three in a row that are a pleasure to read from cover to cover. I have no problem with recommending these three books.

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