Paul Kingsnorth’s Beast is about a man who goes out on the moor to be alone. A storm hits and he becomes more alone than he anticipated. Though there’s some fixing of broken ribs and fashioning a splint, the challenges in this story are far more internal. Time passes strangely in a mostly uninhabited world. Uninhabited except for the beast, which proves elusive.
This is the kind of novel that pulled me along, not by plot but by language. And then it kept me thinking with vaguely delirious yet important digressions.
It doesn’t use made-up language like Kingsnorth’s previous novel, The Wake and generally feels like a haunted house story, or maybe The Prisoner with a less well-hinged protagonist.
This week I went to Netspeed, an Alberta library technology conference. I enjoyed myself and it was excellent to see Jessamyn West talk in person. Slidedecks from presentations are supposed to be going up at the librarytoolshed.ca if you’re interested in things more generally.
I think the biggest thing I took away from the experience was actually attending sessions with one of the people I work directly with. Our library is pretty good about not having a rigid distinction between what library assistants do and what librarians do, so having one of our main tech trainers attend was really helpful. After a session on constructivist approaches to maker education we brainstormed a bit about how to use some of those approaches in our much less makery “Getting Started with Android” (or whatever) classes. Doing it right then felt so much more useful than waiting to bring back “news from conference land.” That said, we had too many people from our library in the session on gamifying staff technology training, so I don’t think anyone attended anything else.
I went to the code4libYEG talk about the history of how they’ve set up the leaderless organization. This group was pitched as one of the good things happening in Edmonton before we came here, and now that I’ve been here a year I guess it’s time for me to start helping more instead of being a lurking leech on their good work. (Of course I say that a week before our baby is due when I’ll have tonnes of time to volunteer.)
So yes. Still here and doing things. I’m hoping that when I return to work in January after my parental leave that things will be different somehow. That I’ll be able to try things differently instead of being in the 1st year ropes course learning stage.
Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon has no lovestruck vampires. Instead, it’s the story of a dynastic Brazilian helium mining company/family on the moon, three generations into the colonization. I loved this book mostly because it doesn’t just deal with family power plays (the matriarch, the scheming brother, the loose cannon brother, the brilliant lawyer sister, the outcast, the fashionable next generation) but the economics of living in a harsh harsh world.
On the moon, there is no law, only contract. You pay for every bit of carbon you consume, every drop of water, your bandwidth, every breath you take. It’s AI-mediated anarchocapitalism with lawyers (and lawyer AIs) negotiating everything. Which sounds hellish to live in if you aren’t one of the people on top of the society. McDonald does a good job of if not romanticizing the economic concept, at least leavening it with some perspective of the working-class.
I couldn’t help but liken the resource-extraction hellpit that the moon is in this book (with nice bits for the rich) to Alberta. But the moon is socially libertarian as well. All sorts of sexual diversity is normal, the powerful aren’t all white people, there are ways to help one another. So while the plot was interesting enough, it was the bouncing around between ways of organizing people differently I really liked.
All in all, it’s a very good social science fiction book, and only wish it wasn’t the first in a series (I loved the ending and wish it actually was one).
Weirdo is about a British cold case investigator in 2003 looking into a witchcraft-connected murder from the 1980s. The story jumps between the two timelines so we see these teenagers’ lives in a tourist town get disrupted in the buildup to the big crime while we watch the modern investigators try to unravel what actually happened. It’s not too bad.
I came across Cathi Unsworth as an author in a list of “women writing noir” which I was very interested in, since noir fiction is so male-dominated. Weirdo, however doesn’t feel like a noir book. It’s a fine mystery, but didn’t have the je ne sais quoi I was hoping for. Maybe it was just the witchcraft angle (which is handled well) that put it more in the realm of Carrie or the X-Files for me.
Breakout was my first (non-graphic) novel I’ve read starring the badass criminal Parker. I’ve read some Parker stories in Darwyn Cooke’s great graphic adaptations, but never one of the Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) originals. This is what I imagine the James Patterson machines/Lee Childs of the world are wishing they were writing.
Parker is a badass (I may have mentioned this already). The book opens with a heist going bad and Parker being arrested. He immediately starts making a plan to break out of jail, but he needs a crew. So he makes one, but to get one of the people he needs he has to agree to a job later, which leads to… well a plot that just keeps on ticking over. Even if things don’t feel uber-realistic they feel very appropriate for the story. The sentences are simple and the action is clear, never super subtle, but it’s just somehow so much better than an Alex Cross story.
If you like crime stories, you should really give one of these a try (and the Darwyn Cooke comic adaptations are also great).
Charlie Jane Anders’ debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky is great. The main characters start off as a couple of weird kids, one who talks to birds and another who builds a two-second time machine, and the story is about how they, well, interact is a clinical word, but it’s an appropriate one. Each of them embodies a different way of looking at the world off-kilterly, one through nature-magic and the other through mad-science.
It’s really good, but don’t expect it to feel realistic. For the first third of the book I was unsure why this wasn’t marketed as a more science-fictional Eleanor & Park. As kids there’s an assassin sent to deal with them but he’s not allowed to directly kill minors so he becomes their guidance counsellor and becomes really well-liked in that role. Then there’s a time jump to adulthood and the fate of the world starts to become an issue (and it loses some of that YA romance feeling). Later in the book it feels much more like The Magicians, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Makers or Seveneves.
One issue might be its optimism in the face of the end of the world, like there’s going to be an escape valve that we’ll actually all be okay. I think it walked the line well, but your mileage may vary.