365 Days of Women Writers

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Archive for October 2010

Day 44: The Summer People by Shirley Jackson

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This is a mundane story about a couple who decide to stay at their summer home after labor day and undergo a series of inconveniences: the kerosene man didn’t order enough kerosene to supply them with any for the next month, the grocery store stops delivering after labor day, their milk and eggs guy has gone out of town, their car breaks down…. And throughout, the locals all express shock that the couple would want to stay.

You might be thinking that this is barely worth being a story at all from my summary. What makes it stand out is that Jackson has made this rather pedestrian narrative into something that is very, very creepy. There is an underlying dread that is so skilfully done that it’s hard to even say if it’s actually there until she makes it explicit that the couple feels it too. But even then she never picks a side; you never know if there’s any real cause, if the unlucky couple will go home after a cold and hungry night or if something more sinister is waiting for them because they dared to stay beyond their welcome.

Written by Chance

October 31, 2010 at 9:16 pm

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Day 43: Libyrinth by Pearl North

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When I was a kid we used to go to a bookstore called Buck a Book. (It went through lot of names but to us it was always Buck a Book to us.) Down in the basement was the used book section where I used to pick up stacks and stacks books (paperbacks, mostly f& sf) and honestly, it barely mattered what the content was. Most of them were pretty bad, and nearly all of them were basically forgettable.

This book reminds me of those days. I doubt I’ll remember what happens in this book tomorrow.

You’ve probably noticed the super twee title, so that’s strike one (though it is a book with a POC protagonist and a POC on the cover). Anyway, it’s a fallen world SF novel (that might as well be fantasy) that references our literature throughout the novel (strike two)

There is a super massive library where Haly can hear all the books talking to her. She turns out to be the chosen one of a cult whose mission is to eradicate all the books on the planet. Because of her powers, she uncovers a plot for the head librarian to betray the rest of them to the eradicators.

Written by Chance

October 30, 2010 at 11:48 pm

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Day 42: Delcroix Academy: The Candidates by Inara Scott

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This came in the WFC big bag o’ books and I think I would have enjoyed it had been the first third of a book that I think the plot warranted. At 300 pages it simply could not support the content, and much of it was predictable, if generally pleasant.

What I enjoyed the most was that the main character didn’t want to use her super power and made herself completely part of the woodwork in her high school to prevent herself from wanting to use it.

Dancia has a super power where she can make stuff happen and she’s suddenly been invited to attend an elite boarding school. Here’s all the things you need to know:

Is there something creepy and wrong going on at the school? Yes.
Do the two cute boys both like her? Yes.
Does she have the most superest of super powers ever? OF COURSE!

Written by Chance

October 30, 2010 at 2:37 am

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Day 41: Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless by Gail Carriger

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One lesson I really need to learn is that just because some is good, it doesn’t mean that more is better. There are times when there’s that nagging little voice that tells me that (at least for me) the concept is going to be played out after one book. (see also: Temeraire and Sorcery and Cecelia)

Soulless is the love child of urban fantasy, steam punk and comedy of manners. (hey it’s a book, it can have three parents). I was intrigued when I heard about the story open where Alexia is attacked by a vampire when they weren’t properly introduced, and worse, he didn’t even know that she didn’t have a soul so he couldn’t bite her anyway. I thought it sounded like a heck of a lot of fun.

And it was. Oh, there were the warning signs that I should have quit while I was ahead like the very predictable plotting and the use of overly silly names for characters and the repeated references to how Alexia was half-Italian and that society looked down on her for that (when no one actually does). Because it was fun and funny and not afraid to take the piss put of the genres it was playing with.

But like I said, I should have quit with one. All the things that bugged me in the first book bugged me times a million in the other two. Oh well, maybe next time I will learn.

Written by Chance

October 29, 2010 at 12:42 am

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Day 40: Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

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It’s a bit of a weird thing to read a fragment of an unfinished novel that you know will never be finished, never know where the author intended to go.  You never. Know if you will be letting yourself in for unending curiosity about where it might have gone and how it might have resolved.  Still, sometimes it’s worth that risk of diving in.

Come Along With Me is the novel Shirley Jackson was working on when she died. There’s only around 30 pages, so it never gets much beyond introducing us to the main character who has recently lost her husband and has sold her home and all her belongings and moved to the city.  She has abandoned her old life so completely. That she’s even  given up her name:

I though of Jean and Helen and Margaret, but I know people called by all those names, and perhaps I would not enjoy answering to them; I though of Gertrude and Goneril and I thought of Diana, which was dead wrong and Minerva, which was closer but silly. I knew I had to think of something right away, and I got a little chill at the back of my neck; what is really more frightening than being without a name, nothing to call yourself, nothing to say when they ask you who you are? Then it fell on me; I heard it: Angela. It was right, Angela was the name I had come all this way to find.y the end of the fragment 

The rest of it was easy. I had said it already. Angela Motorman. Mrs. Angela Motorman.

Angela Motorman is a really good name, and I bet it would have been a wonderful book.  Angela can see and hear things no One else can and by the end of the fragment she’d already held one dubious seance.

Written by Chance

October 28, 2010 at 12:49 am

Day 39: Melanie by Aliette de Bodard

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The world Sf blog is kicking off two months of free fiction and it starts with good friend Aliette de Bodard.

How can I possibly resist a story about studying to become an engineer, especially one where math is something mystical, casting an aura to those who have the second sight:

He’s staring at the other students–all shining, all gorged with light: the light of numbers and curves, the endless dance of the formulas that rule the world. And, as it always does, his gaze fastens on Mélanie.

[…]

She’ll be here next year, Erwan thinks, his heart sinking. There’s not an engineering school that will open its doors to her, not an entry exam that she’ll pass–not with so few numbers, so few equations trapped within her. It’s as if the maths had washed right over her, forgotten as soon as she’s read them.

And if you like this story, you should know that she has a book out today.

Written by Chance

October 26, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Day 38: Bitterdark by Eljay Daly

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I’m always a bit fascinated by what editors choose as the pull quote for stories. The pull quote for Bitterdark is:

Mizein had become a summer queen, clad in brilliant color: a gown of iris petals, deep blue veined in purple; ropes of lapis, amethysts, amber; hair as brown as wild earth.

Which for me on the do-I-want-to-read-it scale is a pretty decided “meh.”

I’d be more compelled by the story open:

The faerie sleep only a little, a few sluggish heartbeats in bowers of pine and slate—but once-kings not at all.

Aelyn lay awake in his mortal wife’s bed while she snored. He counted the tiny countries bordered by eggshell cracks in the ceiling—six hundred and three, never more, never less.

But if I were picking I think I’d go for:

These mortals had their own magic: loud voices and fists and bluster. Mizein didn’t like them at all. They were worse than the Bitterdark, these brutish old women.

In the actual pull quote we mostly learn that this is going to be a story about fairies. There are a lot of stories about fairies, and lots of stories about summer queens. The descriptions aren’t particularly memorable and there isn’t really a reason for me to click on the story.

In the story open, I think there’s more to draw you in. That fairies don’t sleep is new to me, and I like the juxtaposition with the mundane activities Aelyn occupies himself with during the night.

Why do I like my chosen pull-quote? I like the sense of a human magic made up of utterly mundane things I like the idea of a not-mortal creature being a bit cowed by them. It nicely turns on its head the usual relationship of fairies and mortals, and I like the slightly petulant tone of it. (ok, if it were really a pull quote I wouldn’t know they were fairies, but I would soon.)

I enjoyed the first half of this story because of the interaction of Aelyn and his mortal spouse. But there’s a twist and it’s one that doesn’t go for me, so the ending fell flat.

Written by Chance

October 25, 2010 at 8:04 pm