Tag Archives: Seven Surrenders

The SF Bluestocking Winter 2017 Reading List Wrap-Up

Spring has already sprung here in Ohio, both technically and actually, judging from the amount of allergy trouble I’ve been having the last couple of weeks, and I’m working on getting together my reading list for the next three months (look for it this week!), but I thought first I’d take a look at what I’ve read in the first three months of 2017. Last year was such a terrible year for me that I ended up struggling a lot to write much about what I read, though I read quite a bit. The good news is that this year I’ve been off to a pretty strong start, getting through most of my Winter Reading List and even reading a couple of things that weren’t on there. I’ve even written about almost everything I’ve read, even if it was just a short blurb and a star rating on Goodreads, although I am still finishing up my last few reviews of titles from my winter list.

This post, however, is about celebrating the best and most exciting of what I’ve read in the last three months.

29939303Best Fantasy Novel – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

Crossroads of Canopy is a gorgeously imagined book about a young woman’s political awakening when she’s forced to question everything she knows about her society and herself. It’s set in a marvelously unique fantasy world in which people live in cities built in the tops of trees in an enormous rain forest, and it’s worth reading for the inventive worldbuilding alone, but it’s also got a wonderfully difficult and complex protagonist in Unar. Crossroads is a story about the roots of a revolution, and I cannot wait to see what happens next in Thoraiya Dyer’s Titan’s Forest series. While it’s not as thrillingly groundbreaking as, say, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth SeasonCrossroads of Canopy is, for me, similar in the the sense that it’s exactly the sort of thing I think of when looking towards the future of the genre, especially as it broadens to include epic fantasy that isn’t set in some analogue or other of medieval Europe.

29939160Best Science Fiction Novel – The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

This book was a complete surprise to me in every way. I’ve always rather intended to pick up something by John Scalzi, but I’ve never quite gotten around to it as I seldom read work by white men and have been mostly interested in new books, standalone titles, and debut authors in the last couple of years. Tons of people I know love Scalzi’s work, though, and since The Collapsing Empire is his newest book and the first in a series, it seemed like as good a time as any to check him out, especially when I got a surprise early copy in the mail from the publisher. It’s really good and hands down the most enjoyable thing I’ve read so far this year, smartly plotted and fast-paced, with lots of snappy dialogue and a great sense of humor. I couldn’t put it down.

33775885Best Magazine – FIYAH Literary Magazine, Issue 1, Rebirth

The first issue of FIYAH is excellent from its beautiful cover art to its collection of perfectly curated short fiction. With evidence mounting up that black readers and writers aren’t being served and included the way they should be in genre publishing, FIYAH is a uniquely valuable space for stories by, for and about black people. My favorite story in this issue was “Chesirah” by L.D. Lewis, but “The Shade Caller” by DaVaun Sanders and “Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber” by Malon Edwards were also standouts. If I have any complaint about the magazine, it’s that I’d love to see more nonfiction content in it, but that’s purely a personal preference. Issue 2 will be out on April 1.

marapr17_issue15covermed-340x510Best Novella – “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker

I at least try to read all of Tor.com’s novellas as a matter of course, and they’re pretty prolific, so I would have expected one of those to be my favorite so far. However, the fine folks at Uncanny just published their first ever (short) novella in #15, and it’s wonderful. Sarah Pinsker’s story of a convention–SarahCon–for Sarah’s from thousands of alternate reality might be my favorite novella of the last several years, to be honest. It’s smart and funny and thoughtful in perfect proportions. It was enchanting from page one, and it’s a story and concept that has been often on my mind ever since I read it. “And Then There Were (N-One)” will be available to read for free online on April 4.

33964649Best Comic Book – Ladycastle #1 by Delilah S. Dawson and Ashley A. Woods

I only read one comic in the last three months, but it was a good one. Since the sad/infuriating circumstances that led to the indefinite hiatus of Rat Queens, I’ve had a definitively medieval-fantasy-comic-shaped hole in my life, and Ladycastle is the perfect thing to fill it with. The art is slightly more cartoonish than I usually prefer, but it grew on me as I fell in love with the story and characters. The only problem with it is that there isn’t more of it, and they seem to be working on a slow production schedule with a couple months between issues. I want it all now.

31216072Best Sin du Jour Novella – Idle Ingredients by Matt Wallace

Okay, so it’s the only Sin du Jour book published so far this year, but it’s awesome. And look at that cover! I always buy these as ebooks to save space, but the covers just keep getting better and better and I know I’m going to have to have them for my shelf. And this is why my dreams of getting rid of all my stuff and living some kind of minimalist backpacker lifestyle will always stay just dreams. Seriously, though you should be reading this series. They’re sharply written, laugh-out-loud funny, and have some of the best action scenes you’re going to find in print. This volume went a little heavier on character development, but in the last one a dude fought an evil Easter Bunny demon thing and it was rad.

31707853Best Non-SFF Thing I Read – Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I’ll just quote from my own review of this title to explain why I loved it so much: “The stories in this volume are, from start to finish, thoughtful, clever, funny, tragic and hopeful in turn. These stories are a rage-filled paean to the strength and resilience and weakness and fragility and everything in between of women. This is an ugly, heart-wrenching, beautiful book, and if Roxane Gay wrote three hundred forty-four more stories like this I would treat them like a devotional and reread them every year for the rest of my life.” There are a couple of stories in this collection that are slightly SFF, but for the most part this collection is deeply rooted in the real world and real women’s experiences.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Borderline and Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker – I skipped the first book in this series last year, but I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it now.
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty – A riveting locked-door mystery in space, with clones.
  • Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman – I loved this first book in a new gaslamp fantasy series by the author of Planetfall. Probably my favorite thing I’ve read yet by Emma Newman.
  • Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer – This makes me feel about sci-fi the way that Crossroads of Canopy and The Fifth Season make me feel about fantasy.
  • Tor.com’s “Nevertheless, She Persisted” Short Fiction Event – This is well worth reading, but it just didn’t fit into any of my other categories here.

Biggest Disappointments:

  • Windwitch by Susan Dennard – I liked Truthwitch quite a lot last year, but this book only magnified all the problems of worldbuilding and character that were only minor plagues on the first one.
  • Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey – I was hyped to finally read something by this author, but this book felt unnecessary and self-indulgent, without much to say for itself or about Shakespeare or The Tempest.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – I wanted to like this much-buzzed-about book more than I did, but I had a hard time getting past the casual normalization of marital rape, the villainization of the rape victim, and the trivialization of her eventual sad fate.

Book Review: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning was one of my favorite novels of 2016, and it was certainly among the year’s most unusual and ambitiously daring pieces of speculative fiction. Nevertheless, it felt a little unfinished, and anyone who loved it has no doubt been waiting with bated breath for the sequel that seemed necessary to complete what Too Like the Lightning started. Seven Surrenders is everything I thought/hoped it would be, with a vivid setting, intricate plot, high level philosophical and political ponderings and fascinating cast of characters, a truly worthy sequel to its brilliant predecessor and a powerfully compelling introduction to the conflict to come in the next book in the series.

The future that Palmer envisions is still utopian-seeming, though some of the shine was certainly worn off by the end of Too Like the Lightning. In Seven Surrenders, we get even more details of the organization of society, government and families in this imagined future, and many of the questions that Lightning left us with are answered. The relationships and interplay between the various Hives are more interesting the more one learns of them, and the ‘bash family unit is more fully explained in this volume as well. In short, everything makes more and more sense the more you read of this series. I love that Palmer doesn’t spend a ton of time on tedious exposition on these matters, which would amount to hand-holding, but a glossary, appendix or wiki could be highly useful.

That said, I read Lightning as an ebook but Surrenders in hardcover and I found it of great convenience to more easily be able to flip back and forward in the book to check information and reread sections to make sure I understood it. This is definitely a title that benefits from being read on dead trees instead of a screen, which I suppose is, incidentally, appropriate given the deliberately old-timey style of Mycroft Canner’s narration. Though I’ve largely transitioned to reading books digitally over the last few years, every now and then a title comes along that gives me a renewed appreciation for books as useful objects, enjoyable tactile experiences and beautiful artifacts. This is one of those books. If you can, get the hardcover. You won’t regret it, and it will look great on your shelf when you’re done.

Mycroft Canner continues to be one of the most challenging characters in the genre. After the revelations about his past crimes in Lightning, he begins Surrenders in something of confessional mood. Though many of the ugly details of Mycroft’s crimes have already been revealed, Surrenders gives us a much deeper understanding of why he did it. We also learn more about nearly all the book’s other characters as their murder conspiracy, which keeps the whole world at peace, is unraveled and falls apart. Mycroft’s relationships to the structures of power in this world are explained. Other characters’ secret identities and motives are revealed. There are plots on plots on plots that are uncovered over the course of four hundred pages that detail just a few days of events and a couple of legit miracles. It’s heady stuff. I suggest taking notes.

The big draw to this series, for me, is still the philosophy and the politics. I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly plausible future society, though that may simply be because I have a very difficult time imagining how we might evolve from here to there, but it’s a marvelous idea for how to organize a peaceful society. The political dynamics are complex and nuanced, and the Saneer-Weeksbooth conspiracy adds a great dystopian element to be explored. Palmer’s ideas about gender are somewhat less well-developed, although significant time is spent on gender in this volume. Mycroft’s use of gendered pronouns is inconsistent and the explanation given for Madame’s plot to reintroduce gender roles into society is less than convincing; frankly, I feel as if there is some huge complicated idea trying to be communicated that I’m just not quite getting. My hope is that this theme will carry on to the next books in the series, which promise to be about war.

Listen. There’s not a ton to write about this series without giving the whole story away, and it’s hard to discuss the ideas in it without it turning into a lengthy thinkpiece, and I can’t even guarantee that you’ll get the concept. But there’s nothing else like this series being published right now. Too Like the Lightning was a revelation, and Seven Surrenders shines even brighter than its predecessor. The stage is set for the next pair of books to explore what a war might looks like in a world that hasn’t warred in centuries, and you can’t possibly want to miss that. I know that this isn’t a series for everybody, but I still can’t help suggesting that everyone read it as soon as possible. It’s a work of rare and special genius.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an early copy for review.