28 May 2015

The Tempest Challenge: Catching up on my reading

Hello all! You’ll excuse me if I seem a little out of it today—it’s been a long, long week. Slammed at work, sick kid, wife attending BEA with all the concomitant schedule-related higgledy-piggledy that implies. All of it has cost me sleep and left me loopy. Also, higgledy-piggledy is an awesome hyphenate that should be used more often. But I digress. Suffice to say that I didn’t get much sleep last night and my brain is all sorta WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE(crashes into pillow)ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. So this oughta be fun.


I’m now several weeks into K. Tempest Bradford’s reading challenge, wherein if you’ll recall Tempest challenged people to spend a year reading authors other than cis white male ones. Since I had a look at my bookshelves and confirmed that, yep, it’s pretty pale and male there, I thought it would be a more than worthwhile endeavor. I had actually already been trying to expand my reading horizons in my own small way, but this way I am holding myself to a specific baseline and not falling back on familiar habits because they’re, well, familiar. I figure the pale males will still be around for me to read next year. They’re reliable like that. Though they are hard to pick out against a snowbank.

. . . WHAT.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been reading the last several weeks, and my reactions to same:

The True Game, by Sheri Tepper—This is an omnibus collection of Tepper’s “Peter trilogy” from her True Game series: King’s Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard’s Eleven. I enjoyed these quite a bit, thought the second book bogged down and went in what I felt was a couple of odd directions. Of the three my favorite book was the first. It had a lovely otherworldly atmosphere to it, and Peter’s narrative voice matched this very well. It had the feel of true terra incognita, and I felt like I was feeling my way in the world right along with Peter. The later books did not achieve this as well, partly because Peter was more confident and assured, and partly because Tepper herself seemed to be hedging her bets a bit more in the second and third books. In all honesty by the time I got to the third book the series was being carried by Tepper’s strong characterization of Peter and his supporting cast. The story itself had by then become basic good-vs.-evil stuff, with the ambiguities of the first volume largely given a pass in favor of Big Moments and a clever if obvious love story where Everyone But Peter Sees It Happening. And the second book, while it has a lot to offer, sort of swallows itself up with its own weirdness while providing backstory for the world Peter and co. live in. Overall I enjoyed these quite a bit, though I will admit to hitting diminishing returns by the time I got to Wizard’s Eleven. Ursula Vernon mentioned to me on Twitter that her favorites in the series are the Jinian Footseer novels, so I will seek those out to see how I like them at a later date.

Next up was Dendera, a translation of a novel by the Japanese author Yuya Sato. This was a grim, enthralling tale about a society of old women discarded by their former village and sent to die at the top of the nearby mountain once they reach a certain age so as not to be a burden. Some of the women break this cycle, choosing to continue their lives on the other side of the mountain rather than accept death and move on to whatever paradise awaits (if any). Eventually they begin to rescue other women sent to the mountain, not always with consent, and the story centers around the last woman rescued in this wise. Complicating matters are a plot to attack their former home, a mysterious plague in their midst, and most dangerous of all, a marauding bear. Sato weaves this into a compelling, if decidedly bloody novel, that features strong characters, taut action, and very visual prose. If the novel has one fault it lies in its excessive anthropomorphization of the bear, but this is forgivable in light of the work as a whole. It occurred to me as I was reading it that if Cormac McCarthy was going to write a novel about elderly Japanese women, this would be it. I don't know how to put it any better than that. 

And now we come to my most recent read: Daniel José Older's Half-Resurrection Blues. And . . . wow. Wow. I can't even begin to tell you how excellent this book is. H-RB is the story of Carlos Delacruz, an "in-betweener"--someone who is half dead and half alive. Carlos works for the New York Council of the Dead as a supernatural troubleshooter and blunt instrument, and he's very good at his job. One winter night Carlos is called upon to eliminate the troublesome Trevor--and for the first time Carlos realizes he's not alone in the world. Trevor is an in-betweener too, and their brief, violent encounter tumbles Delacruz into a dark shadow world of sorcerers, demonic imps, and the most beautiful woman he has ever known. All of this coming together will threaten the line between the living and the dead. And if you think that sounds pretty cool, let me tell you that you don't know the half of it. I said this on Twitter last week and I'll say it again: Reading Half-Resurrection Blues is like taking a master class in the art of the novel. Everything--the characters, the plot, the moments big and small--are deft and keenly observed. There are scenes in here that made me grin, just grin with delight, as I was reading them, and higher praise than that I cannot offer. The prose pops and fizzes across the page, equal parts Walter Mosely and Nuyorican poetry and driving soca beat, and holy shit is it good. Like the food from the bodega around the corner that's your neighborhood's best kept secret is good. I'm not much for urban fantasy because so much of it is of a piece, but I enjoyed the hell out of this book, mostly because Older has put such a distinctive, personal stamp on the genre, and given his novel a genuine sense of place. His Brooklyn is Brooklyn, and his love for it shows. Older has a new book coming out at the end of June, a YA book called Shadowshaper, and I am seriously looking forward to that one as well. I cannot recommend Older's work highly enough.

And here, right here, is why the Tempest Challenge ought to be taken: Had I not done so I might never have encountered Older's work, or might never have taken a chance on it if I had. But I did, and so doing I found an author whose work I will immediately go out and buy more of. That, my friends, is a rare gift to a reader. I have been taking the Tempest Challenge for just a few short weeks, and already it has borne major dividends. I can't wait to see what's next. Because coming down the pike are Kate Elliott, Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler, Oscar Hijuelos, Maria Dhavana Headley, Wesley Chu, Walter Mosely, Ilana C. Meyer, and oooohhh hell yes I can't wait!

But first, I need a frickin' nap. 

Remain In Light!

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