dichroic: (oar asterisk)

I have been reading Victor Kloss’s Royal Institute of Magic series – a somewhat depressing endeavor, since I just finished book 5 and he died (tragically, of lymphoma at age 35) while writing book 6. They are fun, though there are klunky bits the size of speed bumps throughout. One question I’m left with is, why does everyone in the vignettes from Queen Elizabeth’s time speak and write in a completely modern style? Even a house furnished in the late 1600s and deserted since then has “all the modern conveniences”. Also, since most of the book is set in modern England, why is everyone white, cis and able bodied?

A thing I’m liking about some children’s books today is that more and more are second-stage diverse. What I mean by that, is that it always seems like when authors are trying to introduce more diverse characters, the first stage is always “I’m ____ and that’s the central issue of my story,” where the fill-in characteristic could be poor, Black, geeky, fat, gay, Jewish, unathletic…. whatever. Those books are important and I’m not putting them down; they serve a needed purpose for broadening the world of literature, for providing representation to readers in those groups and for letting other readers step in the shoes of people not quite like themselves – or maybe surprisingly like themselves. But they’re not what I want to read, at least not as a steady thing. And they have a danger: read too many and you might start thinking that being (poor, Black, geeky, fat, gay, Jewish, unathletic, trans…. whatever) is in itself a problem.

What I want are the second-stage books, and I’d like to see even more of them. If I’ve got an old book that starts with a few (probably white, cis, reasonably prosperous) children in 1903 or 1955 or 1978 finding a magic amulet or garden or creature and having Adventures, and a somewhat newer book that starts with “It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. ” (like one Amazon just recommended to me) then what I want to read is where young Rose Lee in 1955 gets that magic and those adventures. I don’t want her to become a Nesbit character with brownwashed skin, either; she’s got real problems in her life, and no Psammead or half-magic coin is going to change the entire Civil Rights movement. But she’s still a kid, and still deserves Adventures. Maybe along the way they change a few minds in her town, or fortify her to face what’s coming in the next few years. Or maybe it’s a different kid in a fictional setting with fictional challenges, but whose ethnicity or gender identity influences who they are and how they defeat their particular bad guys. I’m flexible that way. 🙂

For some concrete examples, Rick Riordan does a nice job – more so with each new series – of having kids with a variety of backgrounds fighting fictional guys. I can’t think of a good example of a “Rose Lee Carter the sharecropper’s granddaughter gets magic” sort of thing, though I’d love to hear of one. The closest things I can think of are Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog or maybe Chris Moriarty’s Inquisitor’s Apprentice – don’t ask me what it is about inquisitors! Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic and Delia Sherman’s Freedom Maze do the opposite, sort of, using magic to send a modern girl into the rougher parts of her family’s history. Kate Saunder’s Five Children on the Western Front turns my question around, showing what happens when Nesbit’s privileged children face some real adversity. (Also, though I wouldn’t credit the series with very diverse characters, I was amused by a moment in one of Victor Kloss’s Royal Institute of Magic books where a character wonders if he’d have issues dating a half-elven girl.)

For adults, diversity might be a step ahead. I can think of a number of examples of characters who have some trait lower on the privilege scale being involved in fantasy adventures that happen more or less in our everyday world – the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series has a bunch. Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson is a native American MC, Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant is biracial, and I know there are a couple different lesbian superheroine stories in my Kindle’s to-be-read folder. Kate Daniels doesn’t live in our current Atlanta but hers is a direct descendent of ours and the population is realistic. It took me a few minutes, but I thought of a few historical (or alternate history) fantasies involving characters who are unprivileged in the worlds they live in- Gail Carriger has a trans character who shows up in a couple of her series (and Lord Akeldama, who might be gay, but doesn’t really count – he’s rich and powerful enough to never have to deal with prejudice). And there’s Sherwood Smith’s Coronets and Steel trilogy, especially the third book with its biracial heroine (and her Jewish friends) in Napoleonic Europe).

It has occurred to me more than once, though, that the above paragraphs can be summarized as “Sure, I’ll read books about diverse characters … as long as they’re exactly the sort of thing I already like.” I have no defense, except that they’re not the *only* kinds of books I like. But I do like them when I find them!

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

After reading the latest of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books, The Hanging, Tree, I started over from the beginning of the series to refresh my memory of the details, and also because it got me thinking. In this series, which is written in the first person, Aaronovitch does a thing that’s rare in US and UK fiction: every time Peter Grant meets someone new, he mentions their race or ethnicity in his description – including if they’re white. This makes sense: Grant himself is not white and neither is his London. It’s a diverse place and assuming any sort of ‘default’ human would just be silly. Another thing Aaronovitch does well: Grant is mixed race, and his mom is not generic African; she is Fulani, from Sierra Leone, and this shapes who she is and thus who her son is. (His dad’s most salient defining feature is not his ethnicity, but his musical genre: jazz.)

But because of all that, and because of the way Aaronovitch reflects England’s current population into its traditional mythology, he solves a wider problem for me. A lot of American Anglophiles have sort of a cognitive disconnect: this might not be a problem for those whose thing is Swinging London and Mod fashion, but if what you get off on is Sherlock Holmes and his gasogene, or Lord Peter and his brother planting oaks; or if you’re a mad partison of York vs Lancaster; if you find the Cavaliers Wrong but Wromantic; if you’re still rooting for Hereward and his Saxons against the Normans; or wondering what it would take to wake Arthus if WWII didn’t do it; then you’ve got a bit of a problem. Because however much you think there’ll always be an England, it’s plain that the England you see today is a different place – and not in a bad way. So there’s a cognitive dissonance, because on the one hand you can applaud the NHS and the vibrance of today’s England, you can be wondering if the heart of Logres still beats, if Kipling’s Puck is still there and feeling nostalgia for a magic that is so pervasive in fiction that it must have existed, at least a little.

(Maybe I should be saying “London”, more specifically, since that’s specifically where the Peter Grant series centers, and because all that diversity still centers in the cities, though it’s changing some.)

Grant reconciles those two worlds; in fact, he does what England has always done with its waves of invaders, settlers or refugees. The land absorbs the newcomers and doesn’t close over them, but adds their weave into its tapestry. Maybe that should have been completely obvious, but since the last major one wave of incomers was a thousand years ago, it wasn’t clear if that would still work, but in Aaronovitch’s England it does – fortunately involving a lot less sheer misery than the Norman conquest. The clearest example is the parallel river spirits, though to avoid spoilers I can’t go into more detail.

And clearly I am a hopeless Anglogeekiphile because that disconnect was something that always troubled me in the back of my mind, so this all actually makes me feel a bit better.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

One of the books I’m recently read is Fallen Into the Pit, by Ellis Peters. She’s best known for Brother Cadfael, but this one is an Inspector Felse mystery (contemporary, published 1951). Lately I’ve been reading a lot of BritLit from WWI to just after WWII (DE Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Cadell), and in the past I’ve read lots more from then and earlier: Miss Read, Sayers, Christie, Tey, Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman (Dr Thorndyke mysteries), Gaskell, Dickens, Trollope, etc, etc. I can only conclude that English writers up through the 1950s or so just really don’t like Jews. At best, you get a Jewish character who is not too bad, or alien-but-really-a-decent-person, like a couple of Dr. Thorndyke’s clients or the jewel dealer Lord Peter Wimsey works with. This book is really about the only one I can remember that has a completely sympathetic portrayal of a Jew.

She’s a German Jew, a Holocaust survivor who had made her way across Europe, ended up in England, married a farmer and lived a very quiet life. Her whole family were killed by the Nazis. Peters does a remarkable, sensitive job in imaging what her inner and outer life would be like, how she might think about her past, how she could be able to reach toward happiness again. It’s also good to see that she is completely accepted by not only her husband and their shepherd but all the locals. There is some anti-Semitic ugliness, but it’s from an intruder, a German POW still in England, and Peters means it to be ugly and intrusive – it’s not shown as ‘normal’ or OK in any way, and it’s not accepted by her family or the neighbors. Even Felse, the local police inspector, offers his support once he finds out she’d been harassed, though it’s too late at that point.

It’s a very pleasant change from having to shut your eyes and hurry past the icky bits in Sayers and the rest of them.

Only problem is, I liked this book a lot but now I’m not sure I want to read the read of the Felse mysteries, because from reading reviews I get the feeling she switches focus to other locales and to a grown-up Dominic Felse, and doesn’t really develop this setting or these characters further.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

Perhaps not the best combination: reading Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth while my workout audiobook is Connie Willis’s Blackput. Death and destruction in all directions 🙁

And I keep hearing the refrain, “For, Willie McBride, it all happened again, and again and again and again and again.”

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

(See previous post for context.)
These books are absolute time travel crack, but they move along so damned fast, apparently, even the author can’t keep up. Just a few of the continuity errors, behind a cut because spoilers are unavoidable though I’ll try not to be too specific.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

I really like The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor; the first book was a bit awkward, as first books so often are, but they’ve smoothed out. There are faults, of course – a ton of minor characters not adequately fleshed out (one reason for this post), way too much plot crammed into the first couple of books especially (another reason), but they’re just way too much fun not to read. (The audiobooks, read by Zara Ramm, are also excellent, except for the minor problem that they keep making me laugh out loud while I’m erging. ) The series is up to 7 books now, and is desperately in need of a wiki – in particular, I can’t keep track of the historian corps in each book. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be one; I’ve found a few sites listing the books and stories in internal chronological order, but that’s about it. So, for my own reference, and for the use of anyone who wants to set up a wiki someday (warning, probably spoilers below). Character lists are not complete I’ve just tried to include the ones who actually have personalities.

The Very First Damned Thing
Short story. Prequel.
People: Introduces Dr. Bairstow, Mr. Strong, Major Guthrie, Mrs. Mack, Dr. Rapson, Dr. Dowson, Mrs. Cleo Partridge, Dr. Helen Foster, Markham, Thirsk Chancellor Evelyn Chalfont, Leon Farrell, and Max. (These characters are in every book, so don’t need to be listed again.)
Sites / Events Visited: Battle of Waterloo.

Just One Damned Thing After Another
Novel 1.
People:
Historian Corps in this book: Kalinda Black, Tim Peterson, Lower, Baverstock plus recruits Max, Grant, Davey Sussman, Nagley, Jordan, Rutherford, Stevens, plus Pathfinders (next set of recruits) Van Owens, Schiller, Clarke.
Other important characters introduced: Mrs. Enderby (head of Wardrobe), Big Dave Murdoch,’Weasel’ Whissell and Evans (Security), Dieter (Technical), Izzy Barclay and Polly Perkins (IT), Nurse Hunter, Sybil de Winter (Max’s teacher and occasional recruiter for St. Mary’s), Jamie Cameron (R&D), Clive Ronan
Sites / Events Visited: the building of Westminster Abbey, the Somme in WWI, Cretaceous Era, Library of Alexandria

When a Child is Born
Short story. Peterson, Guthrie, Markham and Max try to visit London in 1066.

A Symphony of Echoes

Novel 2
Historian Corps in this book: Kalinda Black, Tim Peterson, Max, Schiller, Van Owen, Clerk (same as Clarke from Book 1?), Pathfinders Prentiss, Hopwood, Dewar
Other important characters introduced: David Sands, Rosie Lee, Evans (different one), Pinkie, Knox, Katie Carr, Rosie Lee
Sites / Events Visited: Jack the Ripper’s London; a future St. Mary’s; assassination of Thomas a Becket; Hanging Gardens of “Babylon”; Edinburgh and the court of Mary, Queen of Scots;

A Second Chance
Novel 3
Historian Corps in this book: Tim Peterson, Miss Van Owen, Miss Schiller, Mr. Clerk, Miss Prentiss, Mr. Roberts, Miss Morgan, Kalinda Black (visiting from Thirsk)
Other important characters introduced: Professor Penrose, retiring from Thirsk, Joe Nelson
Sites / Events Visited: Isaac Newton at Cambridge, Troy, the Gates of Grief, Cretaceous, Battle of Agincourt

Roman Holiday
Short story. Max, Peterson, Van Owen, Guthrie and Markham visit Caesar and Cleopatra.

A Trail Through Time

Novel 4
Historian Corps in this book: Tim Peterson, Miss Van Owen, Miss Schiller, Mr. Clerk, Miss Prentiss, Mr. Roberts, David Sands
Other important characters introduced: Officer Ellis
Sites / Events Visited: the Great Frost Fair (London 1683); Thebes in ancient Egypt, eruption of Pompeii, the Tabard Inn in 14th-century London; finishing with the Battle of St. Mary’s.

Christmas Present
Short story. Max, Peterson and Markham visited Boudicca’s Colchester in AD60

No Time Like the Past
Novel 5
Historian Corps in this book: Tim Peterson, Miss Van Owen, Miss Schiller, Mr. Clerk, Miss Prentiss, Mr. Roberts, David Sands,
Other important characters introduced: Officer Ellis, Bashford (History), Elspeth Grey (History), Randall (Security), Miss Shaw (PA to Training Officer)
Sites / Events Visited: St. Mary’s during the English Civil War; the Crystal Palace Exhibition; Great Fire of London; Florence, Bonfire of the Vanities, Battle of Thermopylae

Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings
Short story. Max, Peterson and Markham in Ancient Egypt.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Novel 6
Historian Corps in this book: Tim Peterson, Mr. Clerk, Miss Prentiss, Mr. Bashford, Miss Grey, Mr. Roberts, David Sands. Trainees: Atherton, Hoyle, Lingoss, North, Sykes.
Other important characters introduced: the trainees
Sites / Events Visited: Valley of the Kings, end of 18th dynasty; Pleistocene / Ice Age; Herodotus; Joan of Arc’s execution, opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, 1864; Battle of Bosworth

Lies, Damned Lies, and History
Novel 7.
Historian Corps in this book: Tim Peterson, Mr. Clerk, Miss Prentiss, Mr. Bashford, Miss Grey, Mr. Roberts, David Sands. Pathfinders: Atherton, North, Sykes.
Other important characters introduced: Halcombe, Dottle, Matthew Farrell
Sites / Events Visited: Coronation of George IV; Wales, 6th century; presentation of Edward II as first Prince of Wales; King John; early Stonehenge circa 2300 BC, unidentified location

The Great St. Mary’s Day Out
Short Story. Dr Bairstow and most of the major characters visit a showing of Hamlet, complete with Sharespeare as the Ghost.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

windfall

Jun. 21st, 2016 03:03 pm
dichroic: (oar asterisk)

Good heavens. I’ve just gotten a credit on Amazon from the Apple price-fixing settlement … for a hair under $250. The time span the settlement covers falls within my expat years; I bought a *lot* of books in those years. What I’d liek to do with it is to keep it until September in hopes that a new Apple Watch will be released then – I’ve wanted one since they came out, but have been holding off in hopes of getting one with better battery life.

In some ways I’d rather be spending my money on paper books instead; I don’t really have any level of confidence that my e-books will still be with me and readable in 20 years. I have to admit, though, that I find reading on the Kindle a lot more comfortable than printed books, especially if I’m doing something else at the same time. (I usually am – knitting, eating, brushing my teeth.) Until someone invents a drone that will follow me around (that is, follow me one step ahead, like a cat) holding my book open and turning pages when I gesture, the Kindle seems like the way to go. Yes, I am in bondage to the Evil Empire of Amazon.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

I’ve been rereading the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. Their plots are very twisty, an I’d realized I was missing a lot of the connections when I read the books as they came out, a year or so apart (Seanan is amazingly prolific and the first few came out at a faster pace, but now she’s got several series running.) Reading the series in order is a much more immersive experience; whenever I put down a book, after spending a while in Toby’s head, it takes a few minutes to decompress and realize that no, I don’t have a propensity for putting myself and my friends in mortal danger, I don’t have accelerated healing or an affinity for blood, and I’m not a changeling. The sort of trouble I get in is not the same sort Toby gets in (good thing, as I don’t have her resources, though I wish I had her gift for gaining friends and allies). Total book hangover, and a thorough one.

I realized the other day that the world Seanan has envisioned here may be unique in my experience . If I lived in Toby Daye’s world and Faerie existed, I wouldn’t want to know about it (assuming I was fully human) – and this is the first series I can remember thinking that about. In that world, humans are shut out of magic completely; I can only think of a single example where a human intersected the Fae world and didn’t ultimately lose out (and even then it led to major upheavals in her life). I can’t think of anything more depressing than learning that yes, magic does exist … but you are barred forever from having any part in it or even really seeing any of it. Your kid might – but if so they will be taken away from you. Normally I’d want to know what’s happening even – especially – if it might hurt me, but I think in this case knowing might actually be worse than not knowing.

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

Weddings! We haven’t been to a wedding for a few years, but now all of a sudden we’re invited to two within a week of each other, both requiring travel. There’s one for a young cousin of Ted’s; I’d like to go, because it would be nice seeing all that side of the family, but I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea of planning travel to North Carolina right now.

Then yesterday we got an invitation to the wedding of a former coworker (Ted’s worked with him closely, I have just a bit). This one is less than a week later in the small Dutch city we used to live in. In an ideal world, we’d go to the one then hop over to the other, but vacation time is limited. I don’t know what we’ll do. (Also, coolest wedding ever. It’s an older couple (by which I mean, older than me) and the invitation is made to look like the cover of a Penguin Classics novel, with their photos on it.)

Also, I can’t wait until next week. ALL of the following are coming out inside 3 days:

Trials of Apollo – new series by Rick Riordan in the Percy Jackson-verse, May 3
Lies, Damned Lies and History – next book in Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series, May 5 (Someone commented that she found these repetitive, but I think they’re hilarious – also, both characters and the stakes at hand have grown through the series.)
At least 3 books by Angela Thirkell – May 5 (Someone commented in racism in her books, but I still haven’t seen it except in Trooper to the Southern Cross, where it’s clearly from the character. Otherwise, not even as much as there is in Angela Brazil.)

The next fertile release period I know of will be September – at the beginning of the month we get Seanan McGuire’s new October Daye book, then at the end there’s Trenton Lee Stewart’s new series (he’s the Mysterious Benedict guy); the next Flavia de Luce, which seems to promise a new direction in the series, and then the second in Rick Riordan’s ASsgard series. Yay books!

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

dichroic: (oar asterisk)

I’ve been enjoying rereading The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor; these are time travel stories, excuse me, descriptions of investigating history in contemporary time. They are “kitchen sink” books; there’s humor of both the slapstick and more subtle variety, suspense, romance, fantasy, you name it, in a quasi-academic setting that allows for a strong team relationship among the major characters – “we are St. Mary’s, and we never leave our people behind.” At least, not forever.

The author’s approach is definitely, “What can I do to hurt these characters this time?”, especially the MC, Dr. Madeleine Maxwell (Max) – she wrings them out and leaves them to dry, though each book tends to have a happy ending. Her historic research is impeccable, as far as I can tell, so you get to visit everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to the Trojan Horse along with Max.

Flaws: I thought the writing in the first book was a little clunky but that has smoothed out – except that Taylor is not very good at showing time passing. Max is apt to think something about having been at St Mary’s for years, and the reader is left thinking “wait, when did that happen?”. Also, every once in a while a dire situation is saved by something that skirts a little close to dea ex machina – though at least this particular dea is set up in context.

Here’s the full list of titles. The 7th book in the series, Lies, Damned Lies and History is due out in May. (May is going to be a really good month for me, in terms of book releases!)

Also, if you like this series, Neve Maslakovic’s Incident Series, starting with The Far Time Incident, is similar in many ways. It’s less funny and the MC is much less of an expert on history than Max as well as more conventional, but she has her own Minnesota charm..

Mirrored from Dichroic Reflections.

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