Tag Archives: Archivist Wasp

Book Review: Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Archivist Wasp is a strange and beautiful story that still managed to be somewhat disappointing to me. I liked it quite a bit, but I didn’t love it the way I thought I would and I’m not sure exactly why except that I feel somewhat misled by an enormous amount of good reviews that were terribly vague about what this book is. At the same time, I do like that Archivist Wasp defies any neat genre categorization. It’s a book that is many things, but mostly it’s hard to describe without giving away the whole story. In any case, I’m not sure exactly what I expected from this book, but what I got wasn’t it, and I can’t say that my expectations were challenged or unsettled in any positive way. I just feel weirdly neutral about the whole thing.

After about a week of trying to figure out why this book just didn’t sit right with me, I think it’s largely because, while it’s a thematically strong work—dealing with issues of identity and choice and the ways in which people can be susceptible to bad ideas—there’s just not a whole lot of actual story. The whisper thin plot might have worked if Nicole Kornher-Stace made up for it with particularly beautiful prose or great characters or a good sense of the setting, but that’s not the case. Kornher-Stace’s prose is just workmanlike; Wasp is kind of a wonderful character, but she’s not enough to carry a whole novel; and the setting seems to be shooting for almost mythic—a journey through an underworld—but fails, and at the same time is a post-apocalyptic dystopia of sorts—but without any details to give it any specificity or to ground it in a plausible future.

It seems to be somewhat in vogue these days for authors to skirt the line between science fiction and fantasy, and genre-bending is a common buzzword of recent years that I’d heard used to describe Archivist Wasp. That may be the case, but to me it felt more noncommittal than purposeful in its failure to decide what it wanted to be. Wasp’s abilities seem to be mystical in nature, and this isn’t entirely at odds with a world that appears to have been shattered by a human-caused apocalypse, but there’s really no explanations for either of these things. Certainly, there isn’t nearly enough explanation given to even begin to explain how the world shifted from the one that produced the super soldiers whose ghosts Wasp interacts with to the world in which Wasp has been raised.

It’s not always necessary to explain this stuff, and sometimes it’s actually better if authors don’t bother—too many potentially good books have been ruined by over-explaining—but the society that Wasp is part of is so alien that it’s difficult to imagine how it happened at all. If I’m being very generous, I could say that this makes the book original, and it is, as far as that goes, but in the absence of any common genre tropes, it becomes the responsibility of the author to make sure that the reader has all the information they need to grok the book.

I suppose that in the end, though, it’s not so much that Archivist Wasp is hard to understand; it’s just deeply unsatisfying. While I can appreciate what I suspect is the author’s aversion to holding the reader’s hand, just a little more explanation would have gone a long way towards making this a much more enjoyable read.

The SF Bluestocking 2015 Fall Reading List

I didn’t read as much this summer as I’d hoped to, but I think I’m finally coming out of my reading slump. With my daughter back in school, my days are my own again, and I’ve already been able to start reading and writing more. I’m not 100% certain about what I’ll be doing this fall, as I am beginning to look for a new day job after a couple of years of staying home, but right now my fall reading plan is pretty ambitious, mostly because there’s just an amazing amount of great stuff coming out over the next few months.

Currently, I’m finishing up Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest, which was on my summer reading list. I should be done with it in a day or so, and then I’ll be moving along to Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last so I can be sure to have it finished and post my review prior to its September 29 release date.

After that, I’ve got an ARC of An Apprentice to Elves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette that archives on NetGalley on October 13th, so that’s kind of a priority. I didn’t realize that one was the third book in a trilogy (I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover, mostly), so I’ll probably have to read the first two books as well. Unfortunately, I’ve recently read some negative reviews of the first two books that make me think this series might not be my cup of tea. If I do read these, it will be before the end of September, but I might not.

Probably my biggest plan and the thing I’m most looking forward to this fall is to read all of Tor.com’s new novellas that are being published one every week or so between now and November. The one I can’t wait for is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m excited about all of them. There are ten in total, with publishing dates from September 1 to November 17. The big question, for me, is do I want to collect all the paperbacks or do I want to just buy the ebooks, which are much cheaper, and only get paper copies of my favorites?

In any case, the tentative plan (in the hopes that I really am out of my slump) is that I want to read one novella plus one or two novel-length works (or sometimes graphic novels/comics) each week between now and Thanksgiving. On the list so far:

Comics/graphic novels:

  • The Wicked + The Divine
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Ody-C
  • Rat Queens
  • Lumberjanes

A few leftovers from my summer reading list that aren’t necessarily priorities but that I do intend to read soonish:

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I am also super stoked about the Nightmare Magazine Queers Destroy Horror special issue in October. Queers Destroy Science Fiction was really excellent, and I loved all of last year’s Women Destroy issues, so I expect this one to be up to the same high standard. And just in time for Halloween!

My fall list isn’t quite as diverse in terms of authors as my summer one was, but it’s a good mix of different types of books. I’m really looking forward to having some comics in the mix as well. It’s going to be a good season, I think.