Short month, short list.
A Desolation of Peace by Arkady Martine. It took me the first hundred pages or so to find my footing in this sequel–like A Memory Called Empire, there are idiosyncrasies of the text (so many italics!) as well as the Teixcalaanli culture to get acclimated to, and this time there’s no fish out of water POV character to guide you through. But the book is faithful to its internal logic, and I hit my stride at some point and absolutely devoured the book to its finish. Like the first, it is science fiction as imagined by an anthropology major–and in this case our anthropologically-minded ambassadors are thrown into a life or death first contact scenario.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers. But Sara, you protest, you hated Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance! Why would you read the most recent novel by a privileged author working through his climate doomerism phase? And the answer is that it is a short novel, and it was available at the library, and because I do feel compelled to know what he’s up since his recent books have been getting traction on climate fiction roundups. So now I have, and can attest that the writing is lovely and the view of humanity is bleak. It is, in some ways, a pandemic novel that does not take place in a pandemic: it seems to be set in a not-too-distant future in which the last president has retaken power, and most of the action (such as it is) takes place between a widower and his young son, negotiating their planet of two amidst their grief for the boy’s mother and for the planet. It’s also very nearly a novel in flash, and the short scenes of the family are intercut with very short descriptions of planets in other galaxies where life might exist. These are astonishing, and made me keep turning the pages. But I remain dismayed that the most acclaimed and discussed eco-minded novels are books like these: already mourning a world which we still have a chance to repair, skeptical that humanity is even worth saving.
I also got a gig reviewing books for Publisher’s Weekly, which is something I have always wanted to do! I’m currently on a memoir beat. I probably can’t offer my opinions here when I am posting reviews there, but these are the books I was assigned this month:
Fly Girl: A Memoir by Ann Hood
The Arrangement: A Love Story by David Winkler
The Crane Wife: A Memoir in Essays by CJ Hauser
My ecofiction book club on Rewilding Our Stories voted to read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin next, which I am pretty excited about–obviously I read a lot of contemporary ecofiction but I feel that there are gaps in my knowledge of the classics. I’ve just gotten started.
At the same time, I’m hosting a very informal writing circle on the Discord, taking exercises from Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s not too late to join if that interests you!
Elsewhere on the Internet
Just really enjoyed this bloggy Atlantic post about the colors we imagine our solar system to be.
Working for a puzzle publishing company was one of the worst jobs I ever had, but they did have a hilarious wall of shame featuring crossword puzzle errors and scandalous words that made it into the word search grids. So obviously I loved this: The Surprisingly Messy Culture Wars Within The New York Times Crossword Puzzle
Fledgling is indeed a strange, unsettling book, but as with so many of Octavia Butler’s books, strangeness is skillfully wielded to examine human relationships. I enjoyed this thoughtful, sensitive revisiting of the novel.
And I got to chat with Sidequest folks about video game companions.
What to say about February? I worked too much, not taking enough time off from either of my jobs. I wrote disappointing stories for my writing workshop and had to keep reminding myself that at this time last year I despaired of writing anything worthwhile at all, only to have a little creative burst in the spring. As if trapped in a negative horoscope, I received perplexing and unsettling communications from old and new acquaintances; one day, the vibes were so bad that my neighbor and I lit my mugwort smudging stick and waved it around.
On the other hand, there were days I laughed so hard my ribs hurt. I had excellent conversations with strangers. I walked to Pokemon gyms and traded Pokemon with my neighbor. I posted a couple of pieces about my favorite park: learning why it floods and why it has to be re-landscaped, and learning about when nonnative plants are considered invasive. I rewatched Practical Magic with a virtual watch party close to Valentine’s Day and now I want to revive all the 90s fashions I miss–velour, floral prints, black ribbon chokers, the works.