Welcome to another year of the Roll-Your-Own Reading Challenge! Last year’s RYO was nothing short of amazing and we have reason to believe that this year’s will be even better. Why? Well, it looks like we’ve got most everyone back from last year already and you guys and gals are already coming up with some great new challenge themes. And, of course, most of the crop of challenges from last year are back for another go ’round. And let’s not forget the handful of challenges that are continuing from last year as well. It’s never too late to join in those too.
But you all know us well enough to know that we’re not just going to run the same RYO over again without some improvements. Unfortunately we’re still wrapping up the new features – the flu season kicked our asses and we’re still trying to recover. But rest assured you’re going to like the new features when they come – and don’t worry about waiting for us to catch up. Join in the challenges that float your boat as you will. The new stuff will dovetail right in seamlessly and give you some new options to modify your challenge schedule down the line.
If you are a challenge host be sure to create a discussion thread for your challenge participants to congregate in. We had some pretty good threads last year with folks planning strategies, discussing books, finding recommendations and ultimately exercising their bragging rights to finished challenges.
We hope we can up the participation this year and there’s those new features mentioned above to add fuel to the fire. If this is your first chance to try the RYO there are lots of experienced folks around here to answer your questions and advise you. You’ll note right away the “gaming” that goes on with challenge participants hunting down those books that will meet requirements for multiple challenges. I seem to recall one WWEnder finding a single book that counted for 7 challenges! It’s great fun and allows you to dip into more challenges than you would think possible. We had several members who jumped into over a dozen different challenges last year and this year will be much the same. There are just so many compelling themes (30 so far!) to pick from, how can you choose just one?
Lastly, I want to take a minute to offer our sincerest thanks to everyone who participated last year and made it such a joy to organize, especially our Uber Users! In the last year they’ve entered over 5,000 books into the WWEnd database with the majority of those being user requested books for the RYO. They’re making the RYO work and we could not do this without them. Our hats are off! Thank you. So much enthusiasm and effort went into adding, reading and reviewing books that we were just blown away and we really appreciate the camaraderie and support everyone shared. It certainly has helped us build a better community here and we hope that we will just continue to grow and grow. There are some great people here and you might just find some new friends – even if they’re on the other side of the planet!
Thanks everyone and Read On!
I have to admit that Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was quite an enjoyable read. There are dragons, there is murder, there is intrigue and there are secrets. And our protagonist, Seraphina, finds herself in the middle of it all while trying her hardest to not be noticed. Why does she not want to be noticed? Because Seraphina has a dangerous secret that makes her feel an outsider within her world, a secret that could bring her world crumbling down.
Seraphina is an intriguing character. She is a wonderfully talented musician and has a strong and forthright personality. She lives in a society where humans have been living in peace with dragons, for forty years. The dragons live amongst them and maintain a human form. But a story of easily maintained peace would likely be a boring story, wouldn’t it? So when a much loved member of the royal family is found dead, with the cause of death looking suspiciously like dragon, the four decades of peace become threatened and our story unfolds.
Ancillary Justice is a complex novel. There are a lot of good ideas and fun plots strewn around it. There’s the twist to the AI computer has a nervous breakdown plot, there’s the evil empire, there’s the noir-ish assassin, there are the subjugated people assimilated into the AI’s human network, and finally there’s the part that everyone’s already reviewed the heck out of: the language without gender. It has all the makings of a terrific novel, but to me, it just fell flat.
There is so much to this novel that it’s hard to give a synopsis. I’ve already listed most of the plot lines, but I’ll try to wrap it together in a few sentences. Breq is an AI, inhabiting a single body. She used to be a ship with hundreds of human bodies acting as tentacles, or ancillaries, all part of her collective (yes, a little like the Borg from STNG). She is on a mission to assassinate the Lord of the Radche. The Lord of the Radche has ancillaries too, but some have been infiltrated by an alien race. On her way, she encounters and helps a former captain who has OD’ed on a frozen planet. Together, they try to find the LOTR (heh) and destroy her before she destroys the empire.
A while back, I had myself a Legend of the Seeker marathon. The show was tastefully cheesy, fantasy fun and I enjoyed it enough to finally read its source material. Consequently, this will be as much a review of The Wizard’s First Rule, as it is a comparison to Legend of the Seeker.
Both book and show begin in much the same way, with a beautiful woman escaping the clutches of nasty soldiers. Woodsman Richard Cipher witnesses this and comes to her rescue, only to learn that she really isn’t a mere damsel in distress. Though he doesn’t know her true nature, when she touches one of her attackers and he turns on his companions, Richard realizes that Kahlan Amnell is no ordinary woman. From there, Richard takes her to see his old friend Zed, whom Richard believes can help Kahlan find the wizard she seeks. Low and behold, Zed has been that wizard all along, and as identities and destinies are partially unraveled, Richard accepts the Sword of Truth and becomes the Seeker, destined to join Kahlan and Zed to stop the evil Darken Rahl from taking over the world.
We choose our friends, not our family… but what of our neighbors? Those non-blood non-friends with whom we share geography and often nothing more, who force awkward small talk at the mailbox, whose kids’ bike tires streak the driveway, who happen to be there when the ambulance arrives. We hold them in an arms-length intimacy– ‘I hate cleaning after your messy pine tree, but I might need you if I sprain my ankle on my jog.’ (But how many ugly pickups do you really need?)
The Dervish House is a story about neighbors: a small, diverse Istanbul community, which populates an aging, neglected plaza that once housed an order of dervishes. Its inhabitants are as varied and complex as the city itself, where a cataclysm of worlds, cultures, and ideas collide and spill over the Bosphorus strait. At Adem Dede, the dervish house, rival tea houses stare each other down, old Greek immigrants gossip and argue, an art dealer prowls for religious artifacts, a pothead hides from his family, and a precocious nine-year-old with a heart condition explores the world through his bitbots (the coolest toy ever!).
Clifford Simak‘s City won the 1953 International Fantasy Award, which was awarded to a science fiction or fantasy book. This book is more the latter, despite its later inclusion in later collections such as the SF Masterworks, Easton Press Masterpieces of Science Fiction, and the Locus Best SF Novels of All-Time.
Yes, this book is science fiction, and contains references to space and dimensional travel. Despite one of the stories being set on Jupiter, these are only references. This book focuses more on human development over a very long scale. It was originally published as a series of short stories in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. These stories are collected with interspersed brief commentaries from scholars of a future dog civilization.
Packed into his landing module and jettisoned from an interstellar spacecraft, Kris Kelvin heads towards Solaris. Solaris is a watery planet that has been under Earth’s observation for over a century. The consensus opinion holds that the ocean covering its surface is a single intelligent life form, but any detail of its nature or of the possibility of human communication with it has remained open to question. Over the past decade or so, interest in the planet has cooled among all but the most dedicated or obsessed Solarisists. The observation post on the planet was designed to house dozens of scientists. Kelvin will add a fourth to the three that are currently on board.
Kelvin lands on a strangely desolate facility. Even the robots are inactive. His one friend among the scientists on board has committed suicide. The others he believes are possibly insane. And they are not alone. A caricature of an African tribal woman stalks the hallways and the living scientists appear to hide living beings in their quarters. I associate Stanislaw Lem with the brainy comedy of his short fiction, but the opening chapters of Solaris are as unnerving as any horror novel I have ever read.
Intended Audience: Adult
Sexual content: Explicit
Ace/Genderqueer characters: yes
Rating: R for heavy sexual violence, suicidal characters and disturbing imagery
Writing style: 5/5
Likable characters: 4/5
Valerie has never met a Gammadian bland before, but when Tedla is found half-dead in an alley, Val is called in to make sense of this sexless being. Tedla’s life has not been easy, not least of all because blands are treated as a nonhuman slave class by the males and females of Gammadis.
I had misgivings about this book when I first heard the synopsis. Would this be another story in which a sexless asexual “non-human” would become human through discovering sexuality and gender? Given that so many becoming-human stories have such a discovery or relationship as an important milestone, I was worried this would be the same, and thus invalidate Tedla’s identity. I also balked at the name “bland”, since this seemed like just another instance of thinking that nonsexual means boring. And yes, this is another story in which the sexless characters are referred to as “it”. This serves the double purpose of not sexing the blands but also illustrating their nonhuman status in the eyes of the other Gammadians.
Gail Carriger‘s The Parasol Protectorate novels are like delicious, ridiculously decorated little petit fours of books. I read Blameless in under twenty-four hours, mostly in two sittings. I went through two cups of lavender Earl Grey tea, one glass of wine, two espressos, and one cup of vanilla black tea while reading it. The espresso is not very Parasol Protectorate-ish, but Alexia was in Italy for that portion of the book.
I was a little afraid going into this book, because the end of the last book was very heavy, and also Conall was absolutely terrible, so I was afraid that in order to provide conflict throughout this book, he would continue to be a jerkface and then I wouldn’t be able to be happy about him and Alexia getting back together (which was basically the inevitable ending). Luckily, things weren’t as bad as I feared on that front, since (a) the book only takes place over a few weeks, and (b) apparently Conall deals with his feelings by getting sloshed off formaldehyde and then the mess he created continues because he can’t sober up for weeks, not because he is continuing to actually have dumber-than-a-brick opinions about the whole mess.
The Telling (2000) is Ursula K. Le Guin‘s eighth (and currently last) novel in the Hainish series. It won the 2001 Locus SF Award. I recently read a 2013 interview with Le Guin in which she says “Maybe, as I’ve gone on, what I’ve learned as a writer is that you do as little as possible. And part of it is leaving a lot of it up to the reader. And a lot of it is realizing you don’t have to do that much if you do the right thing. That’s enough. So my writing has tended to be shorter and more allusive than it used to be.”
Le Guin follows her own advice in The Telling. In this age of enormous page counts and authors who are now “too famous” to be edited, the hardback edition of her book is 264 pages (with a nice, big font and very comfortable margins). In many ways this book reads like an Eastern koan: Le Guin never explains; she never tells the reader what to think. She presents contrasting ideas in beautiful language and lets the reader decide what it all means.