bloodygranuaile: (we named the monkey jack)
It's been almost two weeks since I read A Conjuring of Light and I kind of forgot what I was initially going to say about this? I've got a really bad habit of starting series and then being so excited for the remaining books in the series that I sort of put them off forever 'cause I want to save them or something, so I'm honestly not sure what to make of the fact that I immediately put in for the next one at the BPL each time I finished one of these. Clearly I was having a lot of fun but not getting too hung up on ~appreciating~ it as ~literature~. It had an extremely high body count, which was fun, and a lot of angst, which was kind of fun too. We get a lot of interesting backstory on Holland, who somehow winds up being the most fascinating and least hateable character. Osaron, the bit of magic inexplicably imbued with consciousness that now thinks its a god, is a great villain, not because he is genius-ly villainous but because he is deeply infuriating to witness, the sort of puffed-up dipshit wrecking ball of a creature that thinks being able to destroy things real good is a sign of strength and not just an acceleration of the natural direction of the universe toward entropy, and who is too undisciplined to notice that maybe the reason his worlds all keep getting wrecked is him. I think he's a metaphor for industrial capitalism or toxic masculinity or something. At any rate, the dynamic is familiar.
 
This book is a bit longer than the others, and it could easily have been trimmed down, but it wasn't, and I'm OK with that? It slows down the pacing a little but I liked a lot of the random side characters who got little bits of perspective. The King and Queen, who were pretty tertiary figures in the earlier books, get a lot of interesting backstory just in time to make it interesting when they die heroically. There are all sorts of fun adventures like a secret black market of incredibly magical objects that is also a ship. Combined goblin market and pirate ship tropes is very up my alley.
 
Rhy also comes into his own with being kingly and useful, especially when he literally rides out to collect his people that have survived the shadowy brainwashing fever thing Osaron is doing. If you survive the shadowy magic brainwashing fever, you are then immune and your veins turn silver, which is another one of those things that would work great on TV if done properly. And might also be a metaphor. Magic stuff is always a political metaphor to me because magic is power and politics is also power. (Some authors write explicitly political fantasy and I think I find those fun to read because it's like, it's already there so I don't have to work too hard on reading it into it.)
 
Anyway, I think I might have messed up on book club tomorrow by reading the whole series, so now I've got to remember what was in which book, wish me luck. Also it's going to be 80 degrees so I can't even wear a fabulous coat to book club. ::sadface::
bloodygranuaile: (ed wood)
 Still catching up on my Mark Reads Discworld stuff; for some reason I'm burned out on poker Twitch streams and so this is now my work listening. After The Truth I went backwards and listened to the book before it, The Fifth Elephant, which I keep accidentally typing as The Fifth Element even though that's the joke.
 
This is a Watch book, in which Vimes, along with Sybil and Carrot and Cheery and Detritus, are sent to Uberwald on a mission of Diplomacy, which Sam has approximately zero training in. The event that requires diplomacy is the crowning of the new Low King of the Dwarves, which is currently a bit contentious due to factionalism within the dwarf community over the status of the dwarven emigrant population in places like Ankh-Morpork and the weird city habits they adopt when they leave their traditional enclaves. To make things worse, the replica of the Scone of Stone--the sacred dwarf bread that the king sits on at his coronation, much like how in our world the monarchs of Scotland sit on on the Stone of Scone, what a coincidence--has gone missing from the Dwarf Museum in Ankh-Morpork, which is just weird, and may or may not be connected somehow to a Dastardly Plot involving the real Scone of Stone back in Uberwald, because this stuff gets real complicated real fast, especially considering it's harder for me to follow things when I'm listening rather than reading.
 
Despite my occasionally losing some of the details in the plot, I still found this very enjoyable. One plotline involves Angua running away to Uberwald to confront her terrible, terrible werewolf supremacist family, and Captain Carrot and Gaspode the Wonder Dog go on a hilarious buddy road trip thing to follow her. With all these Watch folks in Uberwald, Fred Colon becomes acting Watch Commander, which goes so incredibly terribly wrong that it culminates in Nobby trying to unionize the police force (I don't know if British police unions have any of the same Problems as American police unions, so this was still funny). Lady Sibyl saves the day on multiple occasions by doing stuff like measuring the embassy house for carpets and knowing a lot about dwarf opera, because Lady Sibyl is the best. Cheery Littlebottom's new mode of expressing her gender causes some waves in traditionalist Uberwald, as does her collegiality with Detritus. Lord Vetinari sends an assassin to accompany Vimes & co. to Uberwald in the guise of a clerk. Between the lot of them, they manage to figure out bits and pieces of the bizarre plot to undermine the new Low King. There are many bizarre hijinks that are nevertheless imbued with great sociopolitical analysis and good life lessons, or occasionally just with hilarious references to other things, like when Vimes gets caught nearly naked in the countryside outside of Bonk and winds up on the estate of three melancholic young maidens lifted straight out of Russian literature, who lend him the gloomy and purposeless trousers of Uncle Vanya in exchange for getting them out of their cherry orchard and a trip to Ankh-Morpork.
 
The title has to do with an old legend about an elephant crashing into the Disc and eventually becoming where the fat mines in Uberwald come from (Uberwald has fat mines, by the way, but Roundworld used to have whaling so I guess how weird is it really). It is made to tie in more or less with the themes of the book, which are predominantly about how identity is constructed and expressed--what does it mean to be part of a race or nation or ethnicity; what does it mean to express your gender in various cultural contexts; as always, there's a side order of the meaning and responsibilities of having and wielding authority. In short, it's classic Discworld--it's deep and there are puns, and sometimes even the puns are deep.
 
I'm probably going to get hopelessly mixed up on the order of things as I continue to reread (re-listen to?) this series, but oh well. Good thing I've read them all before!
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
The Truth was my very first Discworld novel, and it's been a long, long time since I've read it.
 
I remember being a bit lost the first time I read it, since it's the 25th Discworld book, but I enjoyed it enough to go back to the beginning of the series and start it properly. I read it again a few years later once I'd worked my way through the series in order, and I recall it being just as much fun, and that I was definitely better situated in the story. This time, I reread it because it's the most recent completed book that Mark Oshiro is reading over at Mark Does Stuff, which I've sorely neglected ever since he finished reading the Tortall books. But I've been listening to the videos at work a bit as a way of avoiding checking the news when editing dull things (success has been mixed thus far).
 
The Truth is the one where they invent the newspaper, and it's full of hilarious observations from Terry Pratchett's time as journalist that are all even funnier to me now that I work in a newsroom. Our protagonist is William de Worde, the son of a rich family full of dreadful people, who has basically run away from his heritage and makes a living writing letters for hire (often for members of Ankh-Morpork's robust community of Dwarven immigrants), including a monthly gossip newsletter that he sends to a number of notable nobles for a subscription.
 
When a bunch of dwarves moves into Ankh-Morpork with an eldritch* new machine — a movable type printing press — one thing leads to another, William's monthly gossip letter rapidly blossoms into The Ankh-Morpork Times, the city's first daily newspaper, and William finds himself rather suddenly in the role of Ankh-Morpork's first investigative journalist.
 
While much of the news is really "olds" — human-interest stories about civic clubs and accounts of locally grown humorously shaped vegetables — there is one headline-grabbing case going about: Lord Vetinari appears to have tried to stab his clerk Drumknott to death (he succeeded in the stabbing but failed in the killing him bit, which doesn't sound like Lord Vetinari at all), and then attempted to flee the city on a horse laden down with a ton of money. (Not quite a ton, perhaps, but a lot, anyway. A heavy lot.) The Watch is suspicious that something's not quite right here, but are having a bit of a tough time figuring out what it is, considering they've got Vetinari and Drumknott both safely and uselessly unconscious in custody. This is where William comes in, using his family connections, lack of being bound by Watch procedure, newly discovered right of freedom of the press, and entitled jerk attitude from having grown up rich to nose about the city bossing people into giving him interviews. He also develops an anonymous source called Deep Bone, who is definitely Gaspode, and through him conducts one of the best interviews in the history of fictional journalism.
 
William's right-hand woman at the Times is one Sacharissa Crispslock, a highly respectable and pragmatic working-class young lady who serves as the Times' human-interest correspondent and copy editor (editorial roles at the Times are a bit flexible, though). Sacharissa is a bit judgmental, possibly a bit sheltered, very detail-oriented and with a much better head for financial stuff than William, probably because she ain't rich. She's definitely relatable and I was so proud for her when she finally got to threaten someone with a gun and swear at them.
 
Other excellent secondary characters include the vampire iconographer Otto von Chriek, who periodically collapses into a pile of dust when his camera's flash goes off; Goodmountain, the long-sufferingly sensible dwarf who brought the printing press to Ankh-Morpork; Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip, a duo of stock bad guys, one of whom is trying really hard but failing to develop a drug habit; and Commander Vimes, who is always a treat to see from someone else's point of view. He's much less likable as a secondary character than as a protagonist, but since most readers have also seen him as a protagonist in other books, it's extra fun watching him and William needle each other.
 
In this era of fake news, anonymous leaks, and people named after Italian commedia dell'arte characters being White House Comms Director but only for a week, The Truth is an especially timely reread. The tech has changed since the printing press was invented, but humans and their unfortunately malleable relationship to information haven't. Pratchett gives us a witty, compassionate, absurd, and insightful accounting of the sausage-making process behind what "they" let into the paper and the valiant struggles of the truth to get its boots on by the deadline.
 
*"Eldritch" means "oblong," right?
bloodygranuaile: (carmilla)
 I borrowed N. K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate from Andrea after we read The Fifth Season, and vowed I'd finish it before The Stone Sky comes out this summer. And for once in my life, lo and behold, I did.
 
The Obelisk Gate continues the story of the orogene Essun, formerly Syenite, formerly Damaya, as a devastating Season wreaks havoc on the Stillness's civilizations. Essun is temporarily staying in a community house in a giant underground geode, where she has temporarily had to suspend her search for her daughter Nassun, who is traveling southward with her orogene-phobic father, in order to continue being trained by her former mentor Alabaster, the guy who started this apocalypse. Alabaster is slowly turning into stone and being eaten by his companion, a Stone Eater named Antimony. Before he's entirely gone, he needs to teach Essun to control the giant obelisks that float around in the sky, so that she can open the Obelisk Gate and catch the moon. According to the myth told at the end of the last book, returning the Moon to its proper orbit will stop the tectonic shenanigans that characterize life on the Stillness.
 
Most of the story is still in the second person, narrated by the "young" Stone Eater Hoa and addressed to Essun. Interspersed are chapters in the third person about Nassun's journey south with her father Jija, who had killed her little brother upon finding out he was an orogene. Nassun learns to manipulate her father into mostly only psychologically rather than physically abusing her, as he brings her to a sort of training camp for young orogenes run by rogue Guardians, near the continent's antarctic. The lead Guardian that takes Nassun under his wing is Schaffa, who was also Essun's Guardian. Jija thinks it's a camp where young orogenes go to be "cured," because sending your children to camps because you're a bigot is a sadly not unheard-of occurrence with humans.
 
In this book we learn more about the world and its history and how orogeny works (which turns out to be not quite how the Fulcrum thinks it does), including the great mystery of what's on the other side of the planet from the Stillness. We also explore a lot about power and danger and fear and morality and responsibility, and about if it is ever OK to hurt people, especially when there's no way to avoid hurting people, and about bigotry and family and love. So it's deep. But it's also exciting and weird and terrifying and sometimes hilarious. Even the terrible characters are sympathetic but not in a saccharine way, and the good characters are abrasive and dangerous and kind of creepy.
 
I hope in the next one, Essun and Nassun catch the fucking moon and live happily ever after, but I'm sure Jemisin's got something unpredictable in store for us.
bloodygranuaile: (wall wander)
 Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence is too good.
 
Two Readercons ago I got a lovely signed first edition of the fourth book in the series, Last First Snow, after hearing Max talk about getting chased by bees in China (I don't remember what the panel was about, but I went to a panel about bees the following Readercon just to hear him tell it again). I read it in the cabin on the lake in Maine, which is the best place to read anything, and so I always prioritize bringing the books I'm most excited about there.
 
Last First Snow takes place in Dresediel Lex, the creepy mashup of Tenochtitlan and Las Vegas, several years before the events of Two Serpents Rise. The protagonist is the priest Temoc, who as a viewpoint character comes off a little bit more like a functional human and less like Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy than he does in 2SR.
 
The plot of this book hinges on fire insurance, which I suppose is what I get for trying to write a fantasy book where the plot hinges on fire insurance and never finishing it, and now if I do finish it it will be both derivative and nowhere near as good at this one. This book is about gentrification and protest and conspiracy and all that other horrendous neoliberal capitalist crap, and as someone who lives in a rapidly gentrifying city (VERY RAPIDLY) (coincidentally, Max Gladstone lives here too!), I can see echoes of local housing battles and Occupy encampments in the movement to save the Skittersill from developers.
 
Because this is the Craft Sequence, the Skittersill, a slum district in Dresediel Lex, isn't a slum district for any of the normal reasons, like having been cut off by deliberately shitty bridges. Instead, it's under some sort of magical ward that designated the area as a "divine protectorate," which basically seems to be a sort of giant community land trust that keeps it safe and affordable but doesn't provide anyone the resources or authority to stop it from falling apart--land can't be bought or sold, and the gods that protect it are dead. The wards are also decaying, also because the gods are dead, and developers smell an opportunity. One developer, a Skittersill native who made good, got out, and has turned into a real estate bro, hires Elayne Kevarian of the necromantic law firm Kelethres, Albrech, and Ao (Tara Abernathy's future boss, and also just an all-around boss) to help him figure out a land deal that will be acceptable to the city's judges. But the city's judges won't accept any land deal that's not acceptable to the giant protest movement that's sprung up in Chakal Square.
 
This book also features everyone's favorite emotionally immature coffee-drinking skeleton, the King in Red, who despite being a terrifyingly powerful magical skeleton is also every douchebag executive who can't be reasoned with and goes nuclear whenever anyone challenges his authori-tah, making him easily manipulable. There's also several appearances by baby Caleb, who I honestly like better as a small child than I ever did as an adult. You can see why he turned into the sort of adult he did, though.
 
The first half of the book is about negotiations and stuff within a tense but peaceful protest movement, and it all seems to be going relatively well! There are a few insurrectionary-minded assholes on both sides that seem to really want things to get violent, most notably some arsehole known only as The Major on the side of the protestors, but they get talked down every time they go about vomiting their revolutionary vanguardism all over people whose goal is to not have their houses destroyed. A sabotage-via-food-poisoning plot is foiled. But eventually, all this success makes for anticlimactic fiction, so eventually one of the sabotage conspiracies works. An act of violence destroys the entire equilibrium and instantly turns the protest movement into urban warfare. Elayne and Temoc are now in the unenviable position of having to win the battle, protect the citizens of the Skittersill, talk down a bloodthirsty King in Red, and uncover the conspiracy to figure out who Bloody Sundayed the negotiations and why.
 
Final takeaways: Real estate developers are slimeballs, community solidarity is powerful, maintaining nonviolent discipline in a mass movement is harder than besuited TV pundits think it is, and late-stage capitalism is an unnecessarily complicated trashfire of a system so you should be thankful it doesn't literally involve magic. Also, support your local fantasy authors.

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