I read this Hugo-winner last year, so I'm writing this from an increasingly unreliable memory. It's also gonna be short.
Parts of this book I really loved, parts I really didn't.
The cultural aspects were gripping. You don't usually see this side of China in science fiction. I loved following the political machinations.
The actual science-fiction seemed dated and derivative. The virtual realities seemed like Gibsonesque 80s cyberpunk. The alien reveal wasn't much of a surprise, nor did it feel innovative.
Some of this is undoubtedly due to the translation and my unfamiliarity with Chinese literature, but the science-fiction parts read how older movies with bad CGI look. It was a little like watching The Lawnmower Man, only with compelling characters.
So, let's talk a little about comics. I had been getting a little bored with my pull-sheet and shook things up. (This will get around to 3D printing. Just hold on.) I stopped any of my usual books that no longer thrilled me and added a bunch of women-centric ones, be it creators or protagonists. Frankly, it's rekindled my love of comics. That's where much of the intersting stuff is happening.
Easily my favorite is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It's goofy, fun, and hilarious. I'm also a long-time Squirrel Girl fan. The most recent issue involved Asgard. Loki offered to do impressions and Cat Thor was requested. Loki spent most of the remaining pages dressed as Thor, with a huge cat head. It was glorious! At one point, he struck down a foe with his mighty hammer
Mewnir! Mewnir is Mjolnir, with cat ears and a cat face drawn on one of the long faces of the hammer.
Here's where we get to the 3D printing. I was pushing up against a work deadline, and was feeling a little fried. So I took a bit of a break and whipped up a 3D model of Mewnir, suitable for 3D printing. I tossed it up on Tumblr, brought it to the attention of the creators of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and was rewarded with a couple hundred notes, which is a couple hundred more notes than posts of mine usually garner.
I also ordered myself a few Mewnirs from Shapeways, to make sure the model actually worked. It did!
To be honest, the facial features get a little lost in the graininess of the objects. My solution was to color the raised features just a bit. At first, I was going to try some paint Sharpies. I've used them before on 3D printed objects. The problems are that the paint spreads a little too much and one wrong move indelibly marks a piece.
My solution was to get some colored pencils, which worked great. It was fairly easy to just color the raised sections, which made them stand out much better.
So I set up a Tumblr blog solely for Mewnir-related information as well as a web page on the blog site with links to all the STL files and related pages on Shapeways.
The next step? Order one in steel, to use as a pendant! Luckily, Shapeways had a sale on metal a couple days back, so I ordered one!
After the superb second book, I was really excited for the third. Alas, I was heavilly let down. The third book abandons the one of the dual plotlines from the first two. Folks go to World, but they don't really do anything there. There's really nothing for them to do. The book just wanders away from the place.
I really thought what would happen here is that World would return to its earlier state. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here.) There are great issues of free will versus societal peace that could be explored. Hell, were crying to be explored! But they weren't explored, not at all.
Instead, the alternate plotline is some sort of coming of age story, with a young female protagonist. At first, I was fine with this. I looked forward to her slowly gaining more agency as the book went on. She never did. She was simply pushed and shoved through the plot. She has some effect on the plot near the end, but even then, it's not really her doing the driving. At the end of the book, I couldn't figure out why she was there. Did her character change? A little. She discovered boys. That's it. She didn't really become a stronger person.
Other characterizations suffered, too. Some characters seemed parodies of archetypes. It was jarring. The characters seemed much more real in the earlier books.
The final plot? Well, it was like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the end, it didn't matter what the protagonists did. Things would have turned out pretty much the same had they all just decided to stay home. Overall, the issues get wrapped up just fine. It was a clever enough resolution, but I had little fun getting there.
Okay, so I wasn't thrilled with the second Ancillary book. How about the second Probability book?
Oh, so very good. It takes all the themes from the first book and continues to explore them. We get an expanded plot regarding the war with the Fallers. We get an expanded plot regarding World. It takes evrything I loved about the first book and keeps going. It's a superb example of a second book in a trilogy. It goes somewhere, somewhere important, expanding on the first book, while it sets up for resolution in the final book.
The second in the Imperial Radch trilogy (series?) was okay, but disappointing in many ways. Most of the cool things from the first book are missing here, but there's nothing new to replace them. We do get some insight into Radch society, but we lose the delicious interaction with non-Radch society from the first book. Also gone, by necessity I know, is the ancillary multiple-first-person perspective that was the showcase of the first book.
That basically leaves the plot, and the plot is weak in terms of the trilogy. It's fine as a standalone book, but it seems petty and small in view of the overall story arc. The fuller trilogy story arc doesn't seem to move along any. In terms of the trilogy, we're basically killing time.
Maybe if the first book hadn't had so many sweet aspects, then this one would look better.
I'm still looking forward to the the third book.
I recently ran across a pro-choice argument I hadn't seen before. It's a really good one and shows how the pro-life crowd isn't really trying to protect innocent little babies but is really all about controlling women.
Here's it in a nutshell: Other than with abortion, we don't violate the body integrity of other people. We simply don't, regardless of the effect that might have on other lives. People have full control over their own bodies, regardless.
Here are some examples. If I had a kid, who was dying of kidney failure, we would not, as a society, force me to donate a kidney, even if I was the only possible donor and would survive with only one. This is despite the fact that the kid would die in due order without the transplant and the fact that the kid is obviously a full sentient human being.
Wait, it gets better. If I had a kid who was dying and in need of a bone marrow transplant, and I was the only match, society still wouldn't force that marrow out of me. It's not even a permanent personal loss, like a kidney. I'll create more marrow to replace what is taken. Still, my right to do what I want with my own body overrides the needs of other fully sentient human beings.
But wait, it gets better! If my kid was in need of a blood transfusion, would die without it, and I was the only match available in time, society still wouldn't legally force me to give up the blood. Society might hate me, and rightfully so. Society might shun me. But my refusal wouldn't be illegal. Despite the utterly transient nature of giving blood, we still wouldn't make me give it up.
No, wait, we can go further! My kid could be literally dying for an organ transplant, and I could have just died and be the only match. They still couldn't take my organs without my prior consent or the consent of my legal representation. I'm fucking dead! I have no use for the organs! But we take body integrity so seriously that the kid would die before society legally decided that the kid's life overrode my right to decide what happens to my body.
Unless I'm female and pregnant. Then suddenly society thinks it has a say. Suddenly a wee clump of cells is the overriding concern.
If that sounds like fucking bullshit, it's because it's fucking bullshit.
I read Harriet the Spy solely so that I could say I had, after a friend retorted
Well, have you ever read Harriet the Spy? (To what she retorted, I no longer remember.) That said, I quite enjoyed it. I'm both upset and amused by the protagonist's amorality. She almost belongs in Camus' L'Etranger.
Is it appropriate for children? Hell if I know. It's a classic, I guess, so go ahead. I liked it plenty. (Although not enough to read the sequel.)
Probability Moon offers some tasty science fiction with a hard edge. It involves humans visiting another planet, with a well-realized society. Some of the alien culture and turns of phrase are simply delightful. The human characters are more complex than they first appear. Two related plotlines are deftly handled. I found them equally interesting. All in all, it's a cracking good tale that sets the stage for two more books in a trilogy.
In some ways, the alien society reminds me a little of what the Sparrow could have been in more capable SF hands, and shorn of its preoccupation with religious issues. Although I guess that wouldn't leave much, would it.
I've also read through one of her short story collections, which I enjoyed. I'm part way through another. Based on what I've read in those collections, I'll be passing on her Beggars in Spain trilogy, whose founding novella gives way more time than needed to dispose of Ayn Randian philosophical nonsense. (That novella won both Hugo and Nebula awards? Seriously?)
Grunts is a parody, mixing the Lord of the Rings from the orc perspective with Bakshi's Wizards. It's fun and clever, but drags on way too long. The story is broken down into three major story sections. If it had stopped with the first section, it would have been a brilliant parody. If it had stopped after the second, it still would have been good. But I really had to push through the third section. All the cleverness of the parody had long been played out. (With the exception of a bit of fun at chapter 11.)
It's one of those books people seem to love or hate. As usual, I fall somewhere in between, liking it, but finding it way too long for the concept. Descriptions get repetitious as well. Main characters are described, over and over, in the same terms. Maybe that's on purpose, as part of the parody? If so, that was a poor choice.
After my delight at Doubt: A History, I has high hopes for The End of the Soul, another scholarly work by the same author. Frankly, I just couldn't get through it. Its thesis is to examine how intellectuals in France substituted their own secular beliefs and rituals for the religious ones they had left behind. Instead, the book seems more a showcase for all the research done, laden with gossip, with little regard for actually supporting the thesis. It just dragged on and on, about people I was never given much reason about which to care. While I only got about a third of the way through it, even then it just didn't seem to have enough on-topic points to justify the pages. I just couldn't face the rest of the book and abandoned it.
Maybe if I were already familiar with the time and place, this would have worked for me.