I managed to finish two whole books since last week. A mixture of both being fast to read, and having a bit of extra reading time over the bank holiday weekend.
- Ninefox gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (yhlee). (c) 2016 Yoon Ha Lee, Pub Solaris 2016, ISBN 978-1-78108-449-6. I read this because friends were enthusiastic about it, and in hope of voting in the Hugos, and I'm really glad I did because it's great. Disturbing, but great.
Ninefox Gambit has more or less the structure of MilSF, in that nearly the whole book is about a battle to capture a space fortress, commanded by a fairly junior soldier who gets a sudden promotion. I personally was less interested in the battle than in the worldbuilding behind how the battle came to be in this form. It's a really original and cool setting, though certainly having lots of exciting plot doesn't hurt.
The writing is certainly good and I'm glad NG is in consideration for a Hugo. But it's really morally hard, not just because of the detailed descriptions of the use of far-future technology for the purposes of hurting people as nastily as possible. Also because the viewpoint characters are fighting for a civilization that is not only militaristic and expansionist (so far so normal), but completely dependent on regular torture of some of its citizens. So it's an Omelas narrative, and suitably ambiguous about whether the Hexarchate is in fact the good guys. But in addition to that, Jedao, the near-immortal military genius who rejected the torture based system, did so by means of almost randomly killing a million people. NG therefore shares with Ender's Game the deep moral problem of making a mass killer sympathetic, but I think it's more conscious and subtle than the Card. I'm interested to read the sequels anyway.
I loved Cheris a character and the little details of how her culture and that of the Hexarchate work. And I loved her interaction with Jedao who exists as a kind of possessing spirit, sharing her body and mind. For me it was definitely worth pressing on through the gory stuff and the morally disturbing implications.
- Moll Cutpurse Her True History by Ellen Gatford. (c) Ellen Gatford 1984, Pub Stramullion Co-operative Ltd, ISBN 0-907343-03-1.
This was an afikomen present from my brother, and I picked it up because I was in the mood for something light after NG. Basically it's a book about a cross-dressing criminal and her lesbian lover, based on a historical character from the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century. It's delightfully silly and fun.
Moll Cutpurse is very vividly written. The setting is an interesting mix of historical research into the customs of the period, and wish-fulfillment for 1980s feminists. It's kind of ridiculously Royalist in its sympathies, treating Queen Elizabeth I as a feminist icon and vehemently against the Puritan movement. The language is not fully period but uses a smattering of older vocabulary to give a flavour of the setting. And generally it just doesn't take itself too seriously, though it is certainly making a political point by writing about lower class, gender-non-conforming, mostly female characters.
The book's gender politics seem sort of dated. Not so much due to the distance between the seventeenth century and now, as between the 1980s and now. Moll is seen very much as a butch, whereas a more modern writer might at least question whether she was transmasculine or NB. Instead we get this odd scene where she meets her partner, an apothecary, through asking for a potion to turn her into a man, and Bridget the lesbian feminist apothecary talks her out of this, remarking that she only thinks she wants to be male because she has internalized society's sexist values. And certainly butch / masculine women who are not in fact trans do exist, but some readers might be bothered by the insistence that Moll was "really" a woman.