Title: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Published by Saga Press
Published: October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Format: Trade Paper
Time’s arrow is the loss of fidelity in compression. A sketch, not a photograph. A memory is a re-creation, precious because it is both more and less than the original.
Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).
Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices.
Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read, period. It’s rare for me to read a short story collection and find something to enjoy and marvel over in each story, but I did with this one. I think the only other one that matches that ‘I love every story in this’ is Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. After finishing The Paper Menagerie, I just wanted so much more, and I’m so looking forward to reading his Dandelion Dynasty series.
I think the thing I liked most about this collection of stories, aside from Liu’s deft skill at writing in and blending several different genres, is that so many of the stories focus on the idea of storytelling and what that means for us as people and as a society. In the collection, you’ll read about the ways in which species across the universe record their stories for the present and the future (“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”), the ways in which society tells us stories to keep us controlled and how difficult it is to break the illusions (“Perfect Match”), the literal power of words (“The Literomancer”), and the literal preservation of memory to be “read” and its upsides and pitfalls (“Simulacrum”).
This solid collection has fiction in all genres, and one of the heaviest stories to read was “The Literomancer,” because while it’s got a flavor of magic and magical realism, it’s firmly rooted in history, and it’s difficult to read about and stomach the atrocities people can do to one another, and it adds another layer of heaviness when the story is mostly from a child’s, an innocent’s, perspective, because we’re watching that loss of innocence unfold before us. I also really liked “The Waves,” and I found it one of the strongest recent science fiction stories I’ve read in a while.
Part of the joy of short story collections is the discovery within the covers, so I don’t want to go into too much detail about the stories themselves. But I will recommend this to you and everyone you know because it’s just that good.
Title: Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
Published by Modern Library
Published: October 18th 1851
Genres: Classics, Fiction
Format: Trade Paper
There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.
First published in 1851, Melville's masterpiece is, in Elizabeth Hardwick's words, "the greatest novel in American literature." The saga of Captain Ahab and his monomaniacal pursuit of the white whale remains a peerless adventure story but one full of mythic grandeur, poetic majesty, and symbolic power. Filtered through the consciousness of the novel's narrator, Ishmael, Moby-Dick draws us into a universe full of fascinating characters and stories, from the noble cannibal Queequeg to the natural history of whales, while reaching existential depths that excite debate and contemplation to this day.
The Modern Library Classics edition contains original illustrations by Rockwell Kent.
Introduction by Elizabeth Hardwick.
What can I say about Moby-Dick that hasn’t been said already? If you would have told me several years ago that I’d read this book out of pure curiosity rather than out of obligation for an assignment or something, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It’s been on the peripheral to-read list forever simply because it’s considered one of the greatest American novels, and I probably would have read it just for that alone, but after discovering some of the history behind the novel and about the author, I had to read it for myself.
From the beginning, I was drawn into Ishmael’s recount of his adventures in pursuit of the great white whale, drawn into Ishmael’s deep friendship with Queequeg (to the point of me asking myself is this actually happening several times, especially when Ishmael and Queequeg lounged in bed with legs thrown over each other’s), and drawn into Captain Ahab’s nautical quest to dominate a perceivably indomitable whale.
I can just imagine Ishmael scribbling this narrative out on the ship by oil lamp, during the drudgeries of the day-to-day ship life. Technically, he probably didn’t, if you really want to get into semantics, but the idea of a man in that white-hot writing groove writing about whales and ship life and Ahab’s history and all of the things one does on a ship in the middle of a vast ocean is more thrilling than I could have ever imagined it to be.
And, honestly, I think I read it at a pertinent time in my life. Had I read it before I learned the history of the narrative, the novel, the American novel, religion and its function in the American novel, the personal lives of Melville (and by extension Hawthorne), and postmodernism (and one can argue whether or not this novel is considered postmodern, but it’s different than anything else I’ve read from the time period and knowing how postmodernism works in a literary setting adds to my own consumption and enjoyment of the novel on some level because its lucidity is very much like James Joyce’s style), I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I do now. It’s a hefty novel, a undertaking, but it’s so incredibly worth it.
Here’s another little list of reviews! There isn’t a theme to this list this time, but they’re all books that I’ve been reading on and off for a long time that I’ve finally finished!
Title: Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: September 6th 2016
Beloved author Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) returns with this long-anticipated new novel, a beautifully bittersweet tale of passion, enchantment, and the nature of fate.
It was a typically unpleasant Puget Sound winter before the arrival of Lioness Lazos. An enigmatic young waitress with strange abilities, when the lovely Lioness comes to Gardner Island even the weather takes notice.
As an impossibly beautiful spring leads into a perfect summer, Lioness is drawn to a complicated family. She is taken in by two disenchanted lovers—dynamic Joanna Delvecchio and scholarly Abe Aronson — visited by Joanna’s previously unlucky-in-love daughter, Lily. With Lioness in their lives, they are suddenly compelled to explore their deepest dreams and desires.
Lioness grows more captivating as the days grow longer. Her new family thrives, even as they may be growing apart. But lingering in Lioness’s past is a dark secret — and even summer days must pass.
Peter S. Beagle can spin a fantastic, beautiful phrase, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work (can you believe I’ve never read The Last Unicorn??
). However, Summerlong
didn’t do it for me. I feel like I might have approached this book differently had I know about the mythological twist that reveals itself in the last third of the book, because without having known it, I felt that the fantastic elements of it led to a disconnect between the story that I had become familiar with and the story it ended up being. I don’t recall reading anywhere about the ties to Greek mythology, so it was definitely a wait, what??
sort of moment. I think my lack of enjoyment of the story is completely on me, because I was expecting something more fantasy driven than the contemporary character driven story it is. I felt like I didn’t relate to any of the characters, and it took a long time for me to get through a relatively short novel. If you enjoy stories about coming to life, as it were, after the summer of your life has passed, I think you’ll find this novel right up your alley!
I received a review copy from Netgalley and Tachyon Pub; all opinions are my own.
Title: Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda, Rus Wooton
Series: Monstress #1
Published by Image Comics
Published: July 19th 2016
Genres: Graphic Novel
Format: Trade Paper
The illustrations in this are amazing and worth it just to peruse it for that, but I found the story incredibly complex and a little unforgiving to casual reading. Not every graphic novel needs to have the ability to just pick up and go, but this is something that will require rereading (either after a first read or while reading it [the latter of which is irritating to me because I really don’t like having to backtrack through a short-form story to find clarity]), so maybe it’s ultimately not the thing for me? The story did become clearer about halfway through once the pieces came together, and I think I’ll read the next ones, but it’s not on the priority list for me at the moment.
Title: Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A Strauss, J. Richard Gott III
Published by Princeton University Press
Published: September 29th 2016
Some of this stuff went way over my head, but it was interesting! And definitely better read in sections as each chapter is essentially a lecture! I liked the structure of it, though. Each chapter built on the one before it, and while it was challenging at times to understand the concepts, I feel like each of the three author’s thoroughly explained the concepts and their relativity (heh) to other concepts in the knowledge we have of our vast universe.
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: February 24th 2015
Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will. But Kell knew it came from the blood.
Kell is one of the last travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King--George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered--and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London--a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. If red was the color of magic in balance—of harmony between power and humanity—then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint.
As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.
I feel like there are so many reviews and praise of this book everywhere that I am going to make a list of all the things I like about this book.
- The writing. It’s concise, sharp, witty, and engaging. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading a book word for word, but Schwab manages to make reading absolutely effortless and a heck of a lot of fun.
- LONDON. Like I mentioned in my last post, if there’s a book set in London, I’m sold, please give it to me to read, and this series has FOUR LONDONS. FOUR!!! The world building never seemed confusing to me, didn’t seem forced, and I found it one of the most effortlessly magical worlds built in my recent reading experiences!
- Kell’s magical coat. I want a coat with that many sides and that many pockets. Just think of the snacks and books I could carry with me if I had a coat like that??
- Lila’s lifelong dream of being a pirate. Who doesn’t want to be a pirate?! And her missing eye? Is she possibly an Antari?? omg
- It’s violent and stabby and bloody.
- The magic. It seems simple and not very complex on the surface, but by the end of this, I feel like so much more can be explored in the scope of the magic, and I hope it is in the rest of the trilogy!
- The characters. They’re so varied and engaging and sassy and everything I like to find in a cast of characters.
I waited to read the second until the third one was released, and now that I have all three, I’m reading the rest of the trilogy this year! It’s an incredibly hyped trilogy, but I find it’s well deserving of the hype it receives.
Title: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Series: Worldbreaker Saga #1
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 1st 2015
Format: Mass Market
And some of us believe in freedom of the individual over the tyranny of the common good.
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.
Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father's people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise - and many will perish.
After reading Kameron Hurley’s Stars are Legion, I immediately wanted to read everything else she’s written. I picked up The Mirror Empire at work because it was the only other thing aside from Stars are Legion that we had in stock by her at the moment, and I started reading it as my first pick for a Tome Topple read-a-thon this month. I wasn’t disappointed, and it was one of the best epic fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time.
The Mirror Empire subverts the popular tropes found in epic, patriarchal fantasy. While not as visceral and gross as Stars are Legion, this world Hurley has created in The Worldbreaker Saga certainly skeeved me out at times. Some of the buildings are organic, some of the weapons are organic (and attached to bodies by way of seeds in the wrists, of which I imagined coming out much like Wolverine’s claws???), some of the magic is blood magic. It’s the sort of fantasy with the perfect balance of violence and horror that gives you chills and thrills down your spine.
The story is complex and ambitious and takes a little while to get used to because nearly everything about the worlds in The Mirror Empire is different from our own familiarities. It calls into question our own ideas and expectations of gender, gender roles, family structures, and “how things have always been done.” The way in which Hurley does this is subtle. The questions and observations about our own society are covert but become a series of questions you as a reader begin to ask yourself as you explore the lives of the main characters in the story. For example: why is it generally acceptable to us as a society for women to be kept small, beautiful, and always ready for (male) consumption, but when it’s subverted and the men are kept small, beautiful, and always ready for (female) consumption, it’s striking and odd? I enjoyed the trope subversion immensely, and I want to keep reading the series to see where she goes with it next.
It’s certainly a mirror that reflects the best and worst of the expectations of the fantasy genre and our society, and if that’s an intentional pun, I like it. I think if you like epic fantasy and are looking for something new and different in the genre, you should check this one out!