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picklish@books.theunseen.city

Joined 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I read largely sff, some romance and mystery, very little non-fiction. I'm trying to write at least a little review of everything I'm reading this year, but it's a little bit of an experiment in progress.

I'm @picklish@weirder.earth elsewhere.

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Remnant Population (Paperback, 2003, Del Rey) 5 stars

For forty years, Colony 3245.12 has been Ofelia's home. On this planet far away in …

Remnant Population

4 stars

I read Remnant Population from the #SFFBookClub backlog. I had a lot of fun reading this. This is a first contact novel with the main character being an older woman in her seventies. At the start of the book, Ofelia is living with her only remaining adult son and his wife. When the colony she is on loses their contract and evacuates, and she decides to hide and stay. It turns out that the planet had undiscovered intelligent life, and these aliens come to investigate her. In the end, she's caught in the middle between these friendly aliens and returning humans.

I think what I most appreciate about this book is the wry internal perspective and character development of Ofelia. She is an old woman who has put in the work, and whose primary character trait is that she's just tired of putting up with other people's expectations and attitudes. …

Remnant Population (Paperback, 2003, Del Rey) 5 stars

For forty years, Colony 3245.12 has been Ofelia's home. On this planet far away in …

But the linguist was leaning closer, confiding now, as if Ofelia were a favorite aunt or grandmother.

She did not want to be Bilong's mother, or her grandmother. She had done with these roles, with being a good child, a good wife, a good mother. She had put seventy-odd years into it; she had worked hard at it; now she wanted to be that Ofelia who painted and carved and sang in an old cracked voice with strange creatures and their stranger music.

Remnant Population by  (Page 276)

Servant Mage (Hardcover, 2022, Tordotcom) 4 stars

Servant Mage

3 stars

This is a fantasy novella about an indentured mage named Fellian, trying to keep her head down but gets inextricably caught up in a civil war between rebel liberationists and monarchists. I definitely appreciated that both sides seemed not especially trustworthy and everybody is keeping secrets.

Not that there aren't interesting things here with the aether realm and wraiths, but I was a little turned off of another "here are the five elements" magic system. This book also has some feelings of Dragon Age-esque mage persecution (although more political here than in Dragon Age, and mechanically NOT having mages seems actually more dangerous).

The conclusion to this novel feels very true to Fellian's character, but also not substantive enough closure for a novella. Were this part one of a novel, I'd be excited to keep reading, but it doesn't quite stand enough on its own. I felt like there wasn't …

Anarchic Agreements (2022, PM Press) 4 stars

A new world is possible and not just in our hearts. Anarchic Agreements is a …

Anarchic Agreements

4 stars

Anarchic Agreements is a non-fiction how-to book about organizing in leaderless groups. It focuses on creating explicit "consensual, changeable, and conscious" agreements (via constitutionalizing), ways to make coalition building between groups more effective, and various examples of declarations and statements, and finally a few worksheets. I wish there were some more small examples (A group had B problem and discussed in C way which resulted in D changes) but for a short book there's only so much it can do.

For me personally (who doesn't have a lot of extra background in this sort of thing), this was a much more thorough follow-up answer to the concerns of The Tyranny of Structurelessness in that it presented many questions to ask to interrogate about how decisions are made, how to communicate, and how to make sure to reduce barriers and think about power differences between members in a group.

Ink Blood Sister Scribe (2023, Penguin Random House) 4 stars

Joanna Kalotay lives alone in the woods of Vermont, the sole protector of a collection …

Ink Blood Sister Scribe

4 stars

Ink Blood Sister Scribe is a standalone novel about magical books, families, and secrets. Overall, this was just a fun ride. Plenty of action, fun worldbuilding reveals, good foreshadowing but also a few reveals I didn't see coming.

The three main characters that it follows all are sort of trapped in their own way by their family. Joanna (who can hear magic), is trapped protecting her family's magic book collection after her dad has died. Her estranged half-sister Esther is trapped on the run, following (until she doesn't, kicking off the plot) her dad's wishes that she move every year on November 2nd so that her mom's killers don't catch up with her. Nicholas is trapped by his overbearing father and his assistant Maram for his own safety after several attacks. They all in some way work towards their own freedom and untangle secrets about the past and each other. …

The Salt Grows Heavy (2023, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

After murdering her husband and burning his kingdom to cinders, a mermaid joins a strange …

The Salt Grows Heavy

4 stars

I quite enjoyed this dark fairy tale / body horror novella about the relationship between a mermaid and a plague doctor, as they investigate mysterious violent children in the woods in the thrall of three surgeon saints. I enjoyed the prose quite a bit, but I am also a sucker for stories about monsters and bodies, broken and (re)constructed.

(Also seriously though, I will content warn for on page violence, death, and gore. Various characters are eviscerated several times on page.)

The ebook that I read also included the short story "And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice", which can be read here: www.thedarkmagazine.com/daughters-find-voice/

It's possible that I'm slow on the uptake, and so I didn't twig to the fact that the mermaid in The Salt Grows Heavy having her tongue cut out (losing her voice, in other words) was a riff on the little mermaid story. This short …

The Salt Grows Heavy (2023, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

After murdering her husband and burning his kingdom to cinders, a mermaid joins a strange …

Mermaid. A word that demonstrates the ineptitude of human language, and the species' predisposition for infantilizing the unknown. I have seen the woodcuts, the illustrations, the portraits of bare-breasted women with voluptuous tails, both equally ill-suited for the deep water. But palatability is prized over accuracy. It easier to market a nymph than a viperfish.

The Salt Grows Heavy by  (Page 59)

reviewed Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go (2006, Vintage International) 4 stars

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were …

Never Let Me Go

3 stars

Content warning premise spoilers

The Core of the Sun (2016) 2 stars

Set in an alternative historical present, in a "eusistocracy"--An extreme welfare state -- that holds …

The Core of the Sun

2 stars

I read The Core of the Sun because it was on the #SFFBookClub backlog.

This book is about a woman in a (gender-)dystopian Finnish society that puts public health above all else. Applying eugenics, gender stereotypes, applying science like the fox domestication experiments to humans, this society divides everybody into men and women, and further into H.G. Wells-esque eloi/morlock categories, all based on childhood appearance, behavior, and health. Eloi women especially are forced into extreme feminine stereotypes. The main character has been secretly educated but pretends to be eloi.

I think the most weird and delightful part of the book for me is the focus on chili peppers and capsaicin. It's been made illegal (along with alcohol and tobacco), and so a lot of the book is focused on the main character getting her chili fix, illegal pepper drug trade, and the transcendental experiences from having too many scovilles. The …

The Core of the Sun (2016) 2 stars

Set in an alternative historical present, in a "eusistocracy"--An extreme welfare state -- that holds …

We’ve heard about a lot of arrests. Even shots being fired.

Jare finds something every now and then—a jar of sambal oelek or some vindaloo paste—but all the real stuff is off-limits. You can’t open the jars—they have to be sold whole; you can’t take a cut for yourself.

The Core of the Sun by , (Page 28)

reviewed Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot (2011, Random House Publishing Group) 3 stars

Midnight Riot

2 stars

I gave this a read because it was the only 2023 Hugo Best Series nominee I hadn't read any (or all) of, and my library hold finally came through. This is a magical cop urban fantasy. The main character talks to a ghost and gets sucked into being a magical cop apprentice and tracking down a mysterious string of murders.

In short, I think ultimately this is just not for me.

The characters all feel pretty flat and this is a plot-first rather than character-first book. The fact that the main character has too much lecherous male gaze going on is only exacerbated by two female characters who seem interested in him (somehow, why). If I wanted to be positive, I think it's got a lot of good plot threads to pick up in the future for other books, and I'd be interested to hear more details about the magic …

Midnight Riot (2011, Random House Publishing Group) 3 stars

Sometimes I wonder whether if I’d been the one that went for coffee and not Leslie May my life would have been much less interesting and certainly much less dangerous. Could it have been anyone, or was it destiny? When I’m considering this I find it helpful to quote the wisdom of my father, who once told me, "Who knows why the fuck anything happens?"

Midnight Riot by  (Page 10)

reviewed Chlorine by Jade Song

Chlorine (2023, HarperCollins Publishers) 4 stars

In the vein of The Pisces and The Vegetarian, Chlorine is a debut novel that …

Chlorine

4 stars

Chlorine is the tale[*] of Ren Yu, a Chinese American teenager who longs to become a mermaid and becomes obsessed with competitive swimming. It's told retrospectively from her perspective in the future after she has become a mermaid and has transcended human concerns. It's not quite a coming of age story, although it is about Ren being a teenager and growing up. It's also not quite a fantasy story, although there is a mermaid transformation. If anything, it feels like a dash of magical realism ambiguity over a large helping of body horror.

The tone of this book is a dispassionate look back from future mermaid Ren. This deadpan is wielded as a dissociative narrative device to describe awful events as matter of fact; Ren writes off pain ("mermaids relish pain"), creepy coach Jim touching her ("beautiful things demand touch"), and her father leaving to go back to China ("grudges …

Chlorine (2023, HarperCollins Publishers) 4 stars

In the vein of The Pisces and The Vegetarian, Chlorine is a debut novel that …

Mermaids swim in chlorine, thrive in locker rooms, and dive under and over lane ropes. Mermaids sprout thick and luscious body hair, until shaved off for aerodynamics. Mermaids would rather eat four bowls of pasta than a man--though a man does taste good, mermaids prefer not to waste precious stomach volume on such non-nutritious fare, for a man is not sustenance but an occasional dessert. Mermaids are not born. We are made.

Chlorine by  (Page 9)