So, I basically didn't read anything for the last six months due to being unable to do anything but what seemed absolutely essential in that time. This eventually came down to two things: 1) not dying, 2) not losing my internship. There were also a couple things that for whatever reason were more do-able, which were reading and responding to email (in 15-minute chunks, with hours or sometimes days or even weeks in between), watching TV (ditto), reading anything other than email (ditto), writing fiction (ditto) and… nope, that was about it.

However, before this I was reading normally, and so acquired a backlog of books I would have written up had I been capable of doing such things. Is anyone interested in probably-brief reviews, or rather impressions, of books that I may not recall accurately, given the circumstances? (You are of course more than welcome to comment with factual corrections.)

Poll #17235 Brief and possibly inaccurate review poll
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 91

Would you like to see me review...

View Answers

Frances Hardinge's "Cuckoo Song" (probably my favorite YA of the year)
50 (54.9%)

Handcuffed to the Bear, by Lauren Esker (Sholio), a charming paranormal adventure with romance
28 (30.8%)

The Space Queen books by Isla Sinclair, filthybadwrong noncon femdom porn with a Space Queen and a square-jawed hero straight out of the pulps, very very hot if you like that kind of thing
35 (38.5%)

Every Patient Tells a Story, by Lisa Sanders, inspiration for Dr. House. Not actually what it says on the tin.
24 (26.4%)

Nor Iron Bars a Cage, by Kaje Harper. Sweet fantasy MM h/c romance with an actual plot
26 (28.6%)

TS Joyce's "hillbilly bears" paranormal romance series. Believe it or not, these were actually my favorite PNR discovery of the year.
28 (30.8%)

Golden Witchbreed, by Mary Gentle (worldbuilding anthropological sf; re-read)
34 (37.4%)

Stephen King, The Long Walk. Flawed but vivid early book.
18 (19.8%)

Barbara Hambly's later James Asher vampire novels (repetitive plots, excellent atmosphere and characters)
26 (28.6%)

Amends, by Eve Tushnet. I beta'd this. Satirical literary novel about a rehab reality show but actually about larger social and psychological issues; really excellent prose.
21 (23.1%)

No Dreams Allowed, by Sonora Sheldon. Unusual take on the billionaire romance genre, very nice voice.
12 (13.2%)

Dragon menage romances by Terry Bolryder. Exactly what it says on the tin.
15 (16.5%)

Fool's Assassin, by Robin Hobb. I don't even know what to think about these books, they are SO WEIRD and just keep getting weirder.
35 (38.5%)

Penric's Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Slight but charming novella in the Chalion world.
26 (28.6%)

The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton. I REALLY wish I had written this up earlier, because it was extremely worth detailed discussion
31 (34.1%)

The Last Dive, by Bernie Chowdhury. Diving and disasters.
10 (11.0%)

Nine Minutes, Twelve Seconds. Detailed account of a plane crash.
12 (13.2%)

Flight 232. Another detailed account of a plane crash.
9 (9.9%)

The Light of the Moon, by Randy Styner. Ditto
5 (5.5%)

Rocannon's World, by Ursula Le Guin. Re-read
40 (44.0%)

I don’t often say this, but I regret reading this book, a collection of short stories by Lindholm (aka Hobb). Not only did I dislike nearly all of them, but many of them were creepy and unpleasant, full of child abuse, animal abuse, preachiness, and despair. In particular, two stories were largely centered around cat corpses. There’s a theme I can do without!

I got the book from the library because I love Lindholm’s Ki and Vandien series, and enjoyed almost all her novels written as Lindholm. (I see cheap used copies of Harpy's Flight
here.) I also liked Hobb’s first two “Assassin” and “Ship” books enough to read most of her other novels, even though the rest ranged from okay to terrible.

But I had forgotten, or traumatically repressed, that of the two Lindholm short stories I’d previously read, one was the charming Ki and Vandien adventure “Bones for Dulath” (not reprinted in this volume, probably because it’s too much fun,) but the other was the awesomely depressing lizard messiah story (which was reprinted, probably because it’s so full of DOOM.) It also contains my new nominee for the ultimate Never befriend a person with problems story.

“Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” is an exception to the doom parade. It’s a cute urban fantasy romance – a bit too cute for my taste.

“Finis” is a vampire story with a predictable twist ending.

“Drum Machine” is an annoying, preachy sf story about genetically engineered babies, the Horror of Sameness, and how if we eliminate mental illness, we will eliminate creativity. SIGH.

“Cut” is an annoying, preachy sf story in which the price of allowing girls to get abortions without their parents’ permission is that anyone over 15 can now make any bodily alteration without their parents’ permission, but parents can do anything to their children if they’re under 15. The heroine’s grand-daughter is going to voluntarily undergo female genital mutilation, and make her infant daughter do the same. This story was effectively manipulative, but when I’m being manipulated, I’d like it to be little less obvious. The foreword notes that “Cut” isn’t supposed to be an anti-abortion polemic, which is surprising given how exactly it reads as one.

The Inheritance

Cut for spoilers regarding DOOM, child abuse, dead cats, and the Lizard Messiah. )
Tanith Lee. She has a lush, romantic, gothic style that teeters on the edge of being overblown, and sometimes falls in. I like her short stories better than her novels, probably because that sort of style can become much of a muchness. Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer is worth checking out even if you’ve read lots and lots of revisionist fairy-tales; Lee isn’t so much about amazingly original ideas as she is about conveying intense, luscious, decadent atmosphere.

Megan Lindholm (AKA Robin Hobb) If you like small-scale adventure fantasy, unusual worldbuilding, and tough female protagonists who aren’t magicians or warriors, I can’t recommend Lindholm’s “Ki and Vandien” series highly enough. In the first book, Ki, a trader with her whole life contained in her wagon, takes down Vandien, a desperate man trying to steal her stuff, then pities and befriends him. For the rest of the series, Ki and Vandien wander the extremely peculiar world, having adventures and uncovering the secrets of Ki’s past. The character development is excellent and at the heart of the series, but Lindholm is also very good with depicting the varied cultures of the world. (Many of the inhabitants are basically aliens rather than anything fantasy-normal.) Unlike her “Robin Hobb” books, there is no whining and not a word wasted. The first and last books are my favorites in the series, but they’re best read in order. Harpy's Flight, Windsingers, Limbreth Gate (The Ki & Vandien Quartet), Luck of the Wheels. Click her tag for more reviews.

Elizabeth A. Lynn. I know I’ve read several of her books, so I’m not putting her in the “unread” list, but I apparently didn’t find them very memorable. I vaguely recall thinking that given their subject matter (martial arts and lesbians?), I ought to be more into them than I actually was.

Vonda McIntyre. Dreamsnake is a perennial favorite of mine: post-apocalyptic landscape, healer with bio-engineered medical snakes, and tender adoptive mother-daughter bonding between the healer and an abused girl she champions. Could do without the pasted-on villain unfortunately referred to as “the crazy.” But otherwise, I love this book to bits and pieces. I’m also very fond of her two original (not from the movies) Star Trek novels, and her sf novels. Dreamsnake and several others of her books are available in inexpensive ($4.99) e-book form here, and her space opera with polyamory, Starfarers, is up for free.

Patricia A. McKillip. She is great. I will rec one of her lesser-known novels, a perfect little gem of a book, which has the bonus of having one of the very few “a girl must choose between several suitors” plots which I actually like. It helps that they’re all worthy, sexy, and different… and that she picks my favorite. That being said, it’s not primarily a romance, but is more of a very atmospheric, magical coming of age story. After her fisherman father is drowned, teenage Peri hexes the sea in revenge, an impulsive act which sends out ripples of change into her fishing village, the surrounding kingdom, and the land under the seaThe Changeling Sea

Robin McKinley. She seems to have been left off accidentally, as she’s a major figure in the field. Her first book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, was published in 1978. It’s still wonderful, a quiet, cozy novel without villains, about family love, romantic love and the beauty of both magic and everyday life. I like the beginning parts, in which Beauty simply lives with her family in their little cottage, just as much as the parts set in the castle, with the Beast.

Pat Murphy. The City, Not Long After is about how San Francisco turns into a post-apocalyptic artist’s colony, and is saved from an invasion by a “war is awesome!” right-wing general by the power of art. Sort of. The climax seems to imply that only violence can defeat violence, which goes so completely against the message of the entire rest of the book that it felt as if someone had snuck into the room when the manuscript was almost done and scribbled, “PACIFISM IS TOTALLY UNREALISTIC” on it. Not bad, but I was unfairly irritated by the too-good-for-this-cruel world artists and started reflexively siding with the general.

Authors I’ve never read, L-P: Phillipa Maddern, Ardath Mayhar, Janet Morris, Sam Nicholson (AKA Shirley Nikolaisen), Rachel Pollack. If you’ve ever read anything by either of them, please discuss in comments.
Most Gratuitously Depressing Novel (involving an apocalypse)

I Who Have Never Known Men, by Jacqueline Harpman )

Most Gratuitously Depressing Novel (not involving an apocalypse)

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse )
Most Gratuitously Depressing Short Fiction (involving an apocalypse)

Most Gratuitously Depressing Short Fiction (not involving an apocalypse)

A Touch of Lavender, by Megan Lindholm, and The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant )
Most Gratuitously Depressing Dramatic Work (involving an apocalypse)

Wolf's Rain )
Most Gratuitously Depressing Dramatic Work (not involving an apocalypse)

In the Company of Men )
Due to p/o/p/u/l/a/r d/e/m/a/n/d one person's suggestion, I am reprinting two posts I first wrote on usenet here. I will edit and also update them a bit to add books I hadn't read at the time, but if they seem familiar, that's why.

Due to the success of the novels written under the name of Robin Hobb, the earlier novels written as Megan Lindholm are slowly but surely being reprinted. You can order them from

Whatever you feel about Hobb, be aware that Lindholm is extremely different: slim and pithy rather than fat and sprawling, far more tightly plotted, often dark and sometimes very dark but without lurid suffering, determinedly different rather than using standard fantasy tropes. Her knack with worldbuilding and characterization remains the same.

An urban fantasy set in a vividly pictured Seattle. Wizard is a homeless-- surprise!-- wizard, a loner Vietnam vet who performs small helpful magics while trying to make it on the streets. The portrayal of homelessness, while nowhere near what I'd call realistic, is still considerably grittier and less sentimentalized than in the usual (and, in my mind, rather unfortunate) genre of "magical street people.") It's also worth noting that this was one of the very first urban fantasies to deal with that terrain.

A very well-written and well-detailed book. A sequence where Wizard goes about his day, using the tricks of survival necessary to get so much as a cup of coffee and someone's leftovers and, almost incidentally, changing the lives of a father and son, is particularly striking.

Unfortunately, there is also a standard-issue fantasy plot involving a mysterious evil force chasing Wizard. Everything connected to it is forced, confusing, and unnecessary, and leads to a final confrontation in which I'm still not sure exactly what happened.

Was it like the end of A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, or like a traditional Evil Force overcome at great cost? I have no idea. Lindholm probably felt that she needed a big evil magic force in a fantasy novel, but I think the book would have been better without it. It's still a very good book.

Prehistoric fantasies that read as one book, more historical than fantasy. Well-written as usual, but perhaps because I'm not fond of the setting, I don't recall them well.

A terrific small-scale fantasy series, set in a peculiar world populated with inventive aliens/weird creatures and starring an engaging duo, the Gypsy-turned-trader Ki (how do you rebel against Gypsy heritage? By being as practical and straightlaced as possible) and her partner/boyfriend, the wild man and swordfighter Vandien. Ki and Vandien are great characters, and I'd marry the latter in a second.

A striking, intense novel, in which Ki is recovering from the loss of her _first_ husband and children. In a smoothly structured sequence of flashbacks/present day action, Ki stays with her late husband's family, which turns out to have some very weird secrets, and after that has disastrously fallen through, she braves the snowy mountains in the company of an unwanted passenger, a down-on-his-luck man named Vandien. The opposite of any save-the-world fantasy, and much better than most of those.

This one has its dark passages, and continues Lindholm's unsentimental characterization, but is lighter in tone and often funny. Ki discovers that her heritage is not what she'd thought as she undertakes a weird cargo assignment, hauling the disassembled pieces of a magician, and Vandien undertakes an equally peculiar mission to rescue a sunken chest from an underwater temple, with an even more peculiar team of rented amphibians pulling his wagon. Gripping, ironic, and often touching.

Ki's heritage comes back to haunt her, Vandien goes to the rescue, and we sojourn in a very eerie country like something out of C. L. Moore. A good solid story, but without the emotional weight of the others.

This one's apparently somewhat controversial. I think it's the best of the bunch. Ki and Vandien are forced by financial troubles to take on a passenger, an obnoxious teenage boy named Goat. Goat is much more dangerous than he seems, and is also entangled in a small-scale rebellion. The ensuing consequences are as dark as anything in HARPY'S FLIGHT, but, in the end, as life-affirming.

A sequence toward the end in which Vandien is forced into a brutal swordfighting contest, his solution to the either-way-he-dies situation that leads to, and a party with a bunch of samurai tiger-creatures constitutes some of Lindholm's most intense and blackly funny writing yet. Emotionally wrenching and very rewarding.

Lindholm's only sf novel. Like all her work, unusually small and personal in scale for a genre known for big sprawling important epics. In a somewhat dystopian future, the lives of a modern man who's been cryogenically preserved, two humans of the time, an unpleasant insectile alien, and a living starship, the Beastship Evangeline, become entangled. Absorbing and with an exquisite final page, but a trifle slow and dry.

A beautifully written, intense, and painful novel about a contemporary woman's relationship with a faun. I don't know if it actually is autobiographical in any sense, but it has the flavor of lived experience. The protagonist grew up a wild girl in wild Alaska, running with the dogs, butchering moose, and wandering the woods with her friend the faun. Now she's a grown woman, married to an all-American man and with a young son. But circumstances drag her and her family to stay with her husband's realistically dreadful family... and then the faun returns.

Lindholm's most emotional and unclassifiable novel, and maybe her best. If you're a mother with small children, you may not want to read it.

THE GYPSY. A collaboration with Steven Brust.

An oddball urban fantasy, not as good as either author's solo work. A cop tangles with figures from Gypsy legend. Neither characters nor plot are as vivid as one might expect, though the prose is good. The folk-rock-worldbeat soundtrack by Boiled in Lead can be purchased on CD, and I like it better than the book.


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