Tag Archives: The Dinosaur Lords

The SF Bluestocking 2015 Summer Reading List Report

Well, perhaps predictably, I have not managed to finish my own summer reading list. Best laid plans, and all.

Breaking my foot back in May and being laid up with that most of the summer sounds like the sort of thing that would have given me all kinds of extra time to read, but instead I’ve found myself in a bit of a reading slump and spent most of the first half wallowing in pain and self-pity. The last month or so since getting my cast removed has been a significant improvement. Though I’m still not 100% better, I’ve started working out again, and this week I think I’m going to start walking daily to try and work back up to doing 2-3 miles a day like I was before the broken foot–ideally before it gets too cold and unpleasant for me to be out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to enjoy the last bits of summer that are left, going to outdoor plays, checking out food festivals, hitting farmer’s markets, and just generally trying to be out of doors as much as I can.

The good news is that I think I’m coming out of the funk I was in most of the summer. The bad news is that I’ve so far been doing other stuff besides reading, and I’m also behind on some writing stuff as well. While I’m finally catching up on my reading some, I’ve not yet gotten back on track with writing book reviews, though that’s changing as well. I should have reviews coming out this week and next for The Fifth SeasonNimonaRat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery, and The House of Shattered Wings. By then, I should also be done with The Dark Forest, and hopefully that will get me more or less back on track with what I’d like to be doing in terms of output.

So, here’s what I did manage this summer:

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – This one was on my list, and I finished it. Review here.
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton – List, finished. Review here.
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – List, finished. Review here.
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – List, finished. Review here.
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – List, finished. Review soon.
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – List. Currently reading.
  • Spindle by W.R. Gingell – Self-published by the author. ARC received through NetGalley. Finished. Review here.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Borrowed from my 12-year-old. Review here.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery – Not on my original list. Review soon.

I actually didn’t do too bad, all things considered. Fifteen books in the last two months. Ten of the fifteen from my original reading list, plus five that weren’t on there. Of the five books that I didn’t get to, one I’ve sort of lost interest in due to mediocre reviews (The Invasion of the Tearling), one is an ARC that I will definitely be reading within the next month (The Heart Goes Last), two are more literary works that I really could read anytime (Station Eleven and The Buried Giant) and one (The Magicians) is the basis of a tv show that I’m looking forward to, but that won’t be starting until at least February of 2016, so it’ll keep, too.

Probably a couple of these will make it on to my fall reading list, which can be looked for this week as well. It looks like I probably won’t be as lucky with ARCs this fall as I was over the summer, but there are plenty of upcoming releases that I’m pretty excited about that I’m sure will keep me busy. Which doesn’t even touch on the new fall shows I plan on checking out, which will be another separate post in the next week.

Book Review: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

DinosaurLordsCover**Trigger Warning: Discussion of Rape**

The Dinosaur Lords is being sold as “a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones,” which sounds pretty rad. I like dinosaurs, and I like medieval fantasy so, even though Victor Milán’s previous work was (apparently) libertarian sci-fi (which would normally be a dealbreaker for me), I decided to give this book a try. It helped that it’s got an absolutely gorgeous (if absurd) cover and that the black and white interior illustrations are similarly lovely. This is also a novel that has been getting an enormous amount of buzz. Its got a quote on the cover from George R.R. Martin, the concept for the book is fun, and the author has done a ton of guest blogging and self-promotion in addition to heavy promotion for it at Tor.

Unfortunately, the concept, packaging and advertising for the book are the best things about it. The Dinosaur Lords is by far the biggest reading disappointment I’ve had this year. To be fair, I probably should have known better than to give this book and its author the benefit of the doubt, but I really, really wanted to read about knights riding dinosaurs. And there was supposed to be an allosaurus as a point of view character!

So (spoiler alert!) the “allosaurus as a POV character” thing was vastly exaggerated in the promotion of the book. In reality, Shiraa’s point of view amounts to just a handful of paragraphs near the beginning and end of the novel. Also, it turns out that dinosaur POVs are boring as shit and even these few paragraphs are more than the book needed of that experiment. This is basically the least of The Dinosaur Lords‘ sins, though.

To be honest, I’m not sure what makes me most angry about this book: its rank misogyny or that the misogyny doesn’t even make much sense. Like, Milán really has to bend over backwards with his storytelling and world building to shoehorn his particular brand of woman-hating into the book. It would end up being laughably bad if it wasn’t too busy alternating between offensively nonsensical and viscerally unpleasant.

The book opens with an author’s note clarifying that Paradise isn’t/wasn’t/will never be earth, which is weird; Milán wanted to make it really clear that this wasn’t a book supporting young Earth creationism. It comes off as really oddly defensive about something that I kind of feel like no one actually cares about, and it’s a, frankly, bizarre way to start a novel. Milán actually touches on this in a guest post over at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, where he brags at some length about his lazy world building. Apparently, he just sort of chose ideas that he thought sounded “cool” and tossed them all together along with some ideas calculated to increase book sales.

I won’t say that the world building in The Dinosaur Lords is completely atrocious because it’s not. Sure, Milán has shamelessly cribbed from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, but he actually has some good ideas of his own. Unfortunately, it all just becomes completely bogged down in absurd contradictions that just get worse and worse as the book goes on.

So, Paradise is, from what I can gather, a cultivated world akin to Pern where humans presumably traveled some several hundred years in the past, seeded the planet with plants and animal life to make it suitable for human habitation, set up a kind of inexplicably feudal society, and decided (also inexplicably, because it’s a terrible idea) to keep the whole thing in place by passing down their plans and rules in the form of kind of sacred texts that explain the world and tell people how things are supposed to be run. All of this I could forgive, even though there’s no reason I can think of that any spacefaring species would be attempting a form of government/economy as inefficient and iniquitous as feudalism.

The thing is, The Dinosaur Lords isn’t a story about a scrappy group of underdogs fighting to overthrow an oppressive regime. It’s not even like Game of Thrones, where there are a wide variety of point of view characters who largely exists in the margins of their society and whose stories are interesting studies of complex individuals. Nope. The Dinosaur Lords instead expects us to spend four hundred-odd pages inside the heads of the oppressive regime, with POV characters (besides the allosaurus) including a self-absorbed yes man of a knight, a naive and sheltered imperial princess, a sort of mercenary lord who has lost his lands and army, and a supposed everyman character who spends much of his time thinking about how admirable the right kind of nobility are. Of these characters, the princess is the most interesting, but most of the problems I have with this book come from it’s depictions of female characters.

Paradise is a world that truly is wonderful for its inhabitants. People live for hundreds of years, there’s almost no disease, and any injury that doesn’t outright kill someone will heal in a matter of days. However, women still die in childbirth, I guess because the author doesn’t actually know much about childbirth. Also because it was convenient for him to have Princess Melodia’s mother dead so he wouldn’t have to write about her. So, that’s a thing in this book. Admittedly, I have a special hatred for the Missing Mom trope, but it’s used in an especially lazy manner here, where by the rules of the fantasy world death in childbirth ought to be vanishingly rare.

The way that gender and sexuality is portrayed in the book is just bizarre, in general. Paradise is a world where nudity is no big deal, but women can apparently still feel naked and vulnerable because of their gender. It’s a world where women are sexually “liberated” enough that they can freely have sex with men and each other, but where rape culture continues to thrive and rape is relatively common and no woman is safe from it. Women in Paradise can choose their sexual partners (unless they’re raped), but they still have to get their father’s permission to marry who they want. It’s a world where homosexuality is normalized to the point that one of the most elite military groups in the world is primarily made up of gay and bisexual men but where “boy-fucker” is still an insult. It’s a world where we’re told that women can be fighters as well as men, but with the condescending caveats that to actually participate in warfare is “beneath a noblewoman’s station” and that they have to learn fighting styles that accommodate “woman’s relative lack of muscle.” Also, I think that there is precisely one named female fighter in the book, even though it’s implied that there are many.

Over and over again, the book tells us that women are equal to men but shows that this isn’t really the case. In Paradise, women are decidedly subordinate to men in a disappointingly familiar patriarchal landscape, and they are similarly marginalized in the fabric of the novel. The first female character we see in the book is a random old lady who gets killed while looting bodies after a battle, and Melodia is the only female point of view character besides the allosaurus. It seems promising early on that Melodia is surrounded by so many other female characters, but her ladies are largely a pack of unpleasant catty stereotypes. Even to the degree that they are likable, Melodia and her ladies read like a male fantasy of the way groups of women interact together, and there is nothing particularly real or relatable about them whatsoever.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the treatment of women in The Dinosaur Lords is the prevalence of rape. I find it disgusting how ubiquitous rape still is as a cheap plot device and an easy way for authors to add some grimdark seasoning to their settings, and rape is used in exceptionally sickening ways in this book. The worst, though, is Melodia’s fairly graphic rape at the hands of a scheming courtier, and what makes this the worst is that the way it’s written is more like a sex scene in a romance novel than a rape.

The set up for the rape starts about two thirds through the book when Melodia spends an evening dancing with the guy who will eventually rape her. She seems somewhat attracted to him, but then the magic of the evening wears off and she realizes that she’s still devoted to her absent fiance, but not before having to be rescued from this dude because he almost rapes her right then. We’re then treated to an absolutely vile discussion between the rapist and another dude, where they talk about what a cock-teasing bitch Melodia is in one of the grossest scenes I’ve read in any book in a long time–made even more sickening because on some level the reader is supposed to identify and sympathize with the rapist guy.

I about quit reading right then because I was so certain that Melodia was going to be raped by the end of the book, but I kept reading against my better judgment. And there was no rape for a while. Just when I’d been thinking that maybe it wasn’t going to happen after all, though, it did. Melodia is imprisoned and raped by the guy that it was heavily telegraphed she was going to be raped by. The thing is, Milán is so coy about it. The way he writes the actual rape manages to be graphic enough to be so unsettling that I almost vomited, but it also reads like the penultimate sex scene of a romance novel, complete with the fade to black that is normally intended to allow the reader to use their imagination.

After the rape, the word rape is studiously avoided, Melodia seems curiously immune to the normal trauma of being raped, and by the end of the book she seems to have forgotten all about it. All in all, is a singularly awful representation of rape on every level. It doesn’t make much sense that rape is so rampant in the fantasy world as its described; the use of rape culture rhetoric to justify the rape is presented in a way that seems intended to make the reader sympathize with that misogynistic reasoning; the rape itself is sexualized and written in a way that feels like it’s supposed to be titillating; and the experience and aftermath of the rape and its effects on Melodia’s character are minimized and ignored.

I have some other issues with this book, too, like the sheer stupidity of feudal systems, the cliché religion of the Eight Creators (which is also poorly described throughout the book), the regressive sort of “divine right of kings” politics of characters like Melodia and Jaume, the way that Karyl loses his hand but then grows it back immediately because magic, the inconsistency of Rob’s feelings about the aristocracy, the way that much of the exposition feels like it would be more at home in a D&D campaign setting (Paradise would actually make a pretty cool D&D setting), and so on. But the rape of Melodia is the thing that is a dealbreaker for me. Everything else could have been chalked up to the book being somewhat silly, but it still might have been a fun read. But the level of simmering hatred towards women that pervades this novel isn’t fun for me at all.

As far as I can tell, The Dinosaur Lords is little more than a cynical cash grabbing mash-up specifically and explicitly designed to extract money from the pockets of readers who enjoy a good summer blockbuster. In that sense, I suppose, the book is a success. Much like most summer blockbusters, however, The Dinosaur Lords is terribly light on actual substance and heavy on bullshit. Ultimately, I found it to be deeply unpleasant and alienating. I won’t be reading any more of the series.

The SF Bluestocking 2015 Summer Reading List

I feel like breaking my foot in May derailed everything I’d planned for the summer, and I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump ever since that wasn’t helped by dealing with Game of Thrones and a nice bout of straight up depression that has left me just constantly exhausted. However, I think that’s mostly over now. The cast should be coming off my foot soon, I’m mostly recovered from Game of Thrones, and I’m ready to get back to some of what I had planned to accomplish.

This is still a slightly tentative list that might change order or expand if I get through things faster than expected, but here’s what I’ve got in my queue right now.

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
I finished this one today, so it’s not technically “in the queue” I suppose. A proper review will be incoming in the next day or two. Annihilation won the Nebula for Best Novel a few weeks ago, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you follow awards. I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I sat down to read it, but it’s definitely something special.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
I just got approved for an ARC of The Heart Goes Last from NetGalley, and I’m super stoked about it. I love Margaret Atwood with a deep and abiding passion, but I never did get around to reading her Positron shorts on Byliner before it went bust. This is apparently those, but rewritten and with more. However, I’ve got til its release date (Sept 29) to read and review it, so I’m not in a huge rush. I figure it will end up filling in sometime this summer when I’m in between other things.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tabir
I’ve mostly gotten away from reading much YA stuff, but this book has gotten a good deal of positive buzz. It’s apparently a standalone novel, although I see that there is a sequel in the works. I’m hoping to burn through it in a day or two so I can move along to some of the more exciting new releases that are coming up.

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton
Jo Walton’s The Just City was one of the first books I read this year, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating its sequel since January. It comes out tomorrow, but I probably won’t reasonably get started on it until the weekend. Apparently there is also a third book planned in this series, which has me all aflutter, even though there’s no cover or release date for it yet.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
This is the second of the very few YA works I intend to read this year, and it’s another book that has been getting a ton of advance praise. Urban fantasy isn’t my usual thing, and I’m a little skeptical of anything that is being so heavily compared to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, but I try not to put too much stock in that sort of thing. Promising Caribbean magic in Brooklyn and with an absolutely gorgeous cover, there’s basically no way that I ever wasn’t going to read this book. It comes out tomorrow along with The Philosopher Kings, which means I have a tough decision to make about which to read first.

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
I had a hell of a time dealing with the ridiculous name of the heroine (“Kelsea”) in The Queen of the Tearling, but I ended up rather liking the book in the end. I won’t say I’m particularly excited to dive back into this series, but I have a hard time leaving any series unfinished. I figure this will also be a nice, easy read in between some of the more difficult stuff on this list.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven won the Arthur C. Clarke and was a 2014 National Book Award finalist. It also comes highly recommended by George R.R. Martin. It’s got a ridiculously long description on Goodreads, which would normally make me think that it’s either going to be big and beautiful and complex or an overambitious mess. With its awards nominations and general critical success, though, my expectation is very much that it will be the former.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Speaking of Arthur C. Clarke, I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. As part of my general wanting to become more well read in the genre, I’ve begun sort of slowly working through the SF and Fantasy Masterworks collections. While my progress in this has really been very slow, Childhood’s End became a priority when SyFy announced their miniseries adaptation of it. While there’s no air date yet for the show, I want to be sure to finish the book before then, so I can’t put it off too much longer.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
I’ve been putting off reading this series for years, mostly because I, frankly, haven’t been that excited about it in spite of all the attention it’s gotten. It just sounds like a hipper, edgier Harry Potter for adults. I’m a little old to have ever really gotten into the Harry Potter phenomenon, so that’s always been more unappealing than otherwise to me. However, this is another book that’s being adapted for television (SyFy again!), and the first trailer looks pretty good.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
I liked Never Let Me Go quite a bit, and I find it fascinating when more mainstream literary authors dabble in genre fiction. As a longtime fan of Arthuriana, I’m also very interested in the post-Arthurian premise for the story.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I read this self-published gem earlier this year already, but I loved it so much that I’d like to reread it and give it a proper review in time for the hardcover release of it on August 13. I still can’t decide if I love or hate the new cover, though. It’s very pretty, but it looks so serious for a book that is actually quite funny. I really think I prefer the sort of pulpy charm of the original’s spaceship illustration, but the book is so great that I’m mostly just happy to see it getting a bigger release.

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán
This book has a knight riding a dinosaur on the cover, and it’s a medieval fantasy based on 14th century Europe. It’s a book by a man who is known for writing libertarian science fiction, which would normally be a huge turn off for me. However, there is no universe in which I’m not going to always read a medieval fantasy called The Dinosaur Lords with a dinosaur-riding knight on the cover, because that is rad as hell. If you agree about the total radness of this cover and the book’s premise, it comes out on July 28.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book forever, even though it’s probably only been a year. N.K. Jemisin has been one of my favorite authors since I first read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I can’t wait to see what she’s got for us this time around. Just judging from the book description, it sounds pretty epic. The Fifth Season hits shelves on August 4.

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
I really liked The Three-Body Problem, so of course I will be reading the second book in the trilogy. I don’t read much translated fiction, and The Dark Forest has a different translator than the first book did so I’m curious to see how much difference that makes. I’m also looking forward to the promise of more action in The Dark Forest as that’s basically the one thing The Three-Body Problem could be said to lack. The Dark Forest will be available on August 11.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
I think I read something that Aliette de Bodard wrote a couple of years ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. So I was thrilled to rediscover her this year when I read her fantastic On a Red Station Drifting. I followed that up with her Obsidian and Blood trilogy, a sort of noir detective story in 16th century Mexica, which was a ton of fun and a really refreshingly original setting. I’m very excited about The House of Shattered Wings, which will  be released on August 20.