september 19

it’s been another week, my friends! and what a weird week it has been. I woke up last week with a sore throat, which in these times is cause for instant panic and also some basic frustration that it’s cause for instant panic. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where free testing options exist and are advertised by my local health department, and luckier to have a car, so I could drive myself to the testing site without having to potentially endanger anyone else around me.

I tested negative, is the long story short, so we are still squeaking by without having gotten it, but I have still been sick with what I’m guessing is a basic but nasty cold (I also don’t want to go into an urgent care to be looked at, because I don’t want to be exposed to covid only to be told it’s a cold. I also don’t have any other symptoms of illnesses like strep throat which might be cause for alarm or at the very least require an actual treatment regimen. But it is very annoying to be sick, especially because my sinuses are what’s jacked up and so I have weird ear and tooth pain instead of just like a runny nose and sore throat. There’s so much MORE that makes being sick miserable! But I have been cheering myself up by drinking lots of tea, made with a birthday present to myself—an electric tea kettle that has variable temperature settings so I can make green or white teas and be sure I’m not just ruining them! It’s so fancy and I feel very fancy using it, even when I’m just making my regular cups of herbal and my one (1) allotted cup of caffeinated black tea per day. It hasn’t really made my recovery go much faster, but it’s made it a little more enjoyable.

And that is pretty much the extent of my weekly news to report! Otherwise I am doing the same things, including writing reviews for this newsletter, so let’s turn to

Books I Wrote About This Week

Victory’s Price, by Alexander Freed

So it has been nearly a WHOLE year since I read the last Alphabet Squadron Star Wars, and I have no idea what I talked about last time nor will I go look at it probably, but finally, a full year later, I got my hands on this, the last book in the trilogy, and folks… Star Wars is so stupid but it can be SO, SO GOOD. And yes, I think books are often a better place to examine some of the more difficult questions posed by the series than the films themselves, because movies are a limited format in terms of what kinds of stories you can tell—like I guess you could make a 12 hour movie, but uh it would be bad! I wouldn’t watch it!

There have been a couple of books that ask the question: after the Battle of Endor (/the events of Return of the Jedi, for those of us who maybe don’t understand the framing of the Star Wars timeline as intensely as others,) how do you go about rebuilding and repairing from a fascist dictatorship, and what do you do with everyone who worked within the Empire? This book, of the ones I’ve read, strike me as the most effective at truly digging into those questions. It’s made clear from very early on in the trilogy that one of our main characters, Yrica Quell, knowingly participated in a genocide, and she is just one out of many, many former Imperials—people who were maybe not solely making these decisions, but who participated in them nonetheless. What I love about this series is it asks us these questions twofold; not just what should the New Republic do with Quell, but what Quell herself should do to try to begin to repair the harm she inflicted. And that’s obviously a HUGE fucking thing to start to contemplate, and it’s a huge mess and frankly? I don’t know that I love the way that Freed ultimately handled it, but I think the book posed enough questions about it to give us plenty to chew on, and I love that.

It’s just such a powerful trilogy with an intense and powerful ending. And Quell is not the only person whose life after the collapse of the Empire we’re following; there are questions about how to go on when war is the only thing you’ve been living for, when do you decide you’re done killing, what do you owe your comrades no matter what side of the war you’re on. I like to announce that Star Wars is for babies, in no small part because the movies are deeply simplistic and meant for children, and to enjoy them you have to tap into that part of yourself for most of them. But I think what’s great about the universe of Star Wars is it is clearly more than the movies, and it can be used to tell a lot of different stories; we can actually ask more difficult questions of the universe, and try to start to answer them in serious ways, and I think that for me just adds to my overall love for Star Wars. This trilogy I think are my favorite Star Wars books I’ve read so far, so you should read it so you can scream with me, thank you.

Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells

IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR ME TO HANG OUT WITH MY FRIEND MURDERBOT though this will be more Me With My Murderbot Opinions, and idk how you will feel about them so just know that like this is a friendly space and I don’t mean to say that you do not get to have good feelings about this book. Here is my opinion: this is the weakest book in the Murderbot Diaries series.

“ai, even weaker than Rogue Protocol, which has been your least favorite of all of the books so far?” Well okay that depends on a few things. When I’m calling this book the weakest, what I mean really is that it feels deeply disconnected from the other books, including the standalone novel. I had no idea where in the timeline this took place, which in this story actually does have big consequences. Is it supposed to take place before or after Network Effect? If after, when did Murderbot get back to Preservation? So many questions are opened up. If before, I still have lots of questions! And while like yes, it is possible probably to have this just be a free floating text, with relationships to but not directly connected with the other books, it poses another, bigger problem for this book narratively speaking: it doesn’t really attach to the series in the sense of forwarding the Big Questions that the series thus far has been asking.

Whereas every book in this series thus far has been moving around the question of Murderbot’s relationship to humanity—meaning how they perceive themselves, and what level of integration they do or don’t want in human societies, including Preservation. We’ve watched them develop attachments to human characters over the course of the series, and struggle with how to hold those relationships in tension with their own concerns about autonomy and their own distinct non-humanness (internal, as well as external.) And while this book was FUN, and on the surface has most things that other Murderbot books have, it was missing this larger element. Even Rogue Protocol, which I think is maybe the worst book in the series (while, like this, still being fun!) fit into the larger journey through and around these questions and pushed them forward in a narrative sense and this just. Doesn’t. And maybe that’s okay! Maybe I am being Very Nitpicky. But in seeing the series as a cohesive narrative whole, this felt like it was missing an element that was a larger part of the other books. But again: still delightful! Still a good time with my friend Murderbot!

How to Read Literature, by Terry Eagleton

IT’S OVER FOR EVERYONE, I KNOW HOW TO READ LITERATURE NOW!!! But more seriously: Terry Eagleton might be my favorite nonfiction writer? I just deeply appreciate that I can learn about the history of how “character” as a concept in writing has changed over time WHILE also reading that perhaps Prince Andrew should have been shot at more in his life.

I’ve read other reviews that note that Eagleton seems to go in and out of accessible language, but that’s not the case for me? It all feels very accessible—I would kill to listen to him lecture in real life, actually, because the ways that he breaks down these ideas just truly clicks with my brain. It’s less of an actual how-to guide than the title may suggest, but I really feel like I understand so much more about how to approach books, and how to both do a “close reading” that takes the text as it is while also understanding that in fact context matters (which, you know, I’m a historian so I always have been about the context, but being able to do both is a new thing that I find exciting and intriguing.) It also… made me want to write? And not in the spite-fueled “I need to write something better than this!” way that the two queer history books I read recently made me want to write. There’s something about seeing literature laid out like this that makes me go “oh this could be fun to do!” in a way that just reading a work of fiction doesn’t always inspire in me.

Will having read this fundamentally change the way I approach reading fiction? I’m not sure yet—we’ll see what sticks. In a lot of ways I am still reading poorly (or at least: not reading in ways that approach works as literature, which is theoretically valueless since I’m reading for Fun!) but I will say that among things that have Stuck With Me are his comments about how we cannot expect even realist literature to be “realistic,” because literary works have no relationship to reality and even when trying to mirror it are doing so just to construct the story, and I just think a lot about that these days—so that part at the very least will stick with me, and sadly yes I will think about it every time you say something in a story is “not realistic.” Being ruined for fun once again!

Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

Here’s a thing I have learned about myself, reading a number of fantasy books of various kinds: I do not care how magic works. I’m not a person who needs like a Cool Functional Magic System to enjoy a book, and in fact if that Cool Magic System takes up more space than some other aspects, I’m not going to enjoy that book as much as if it was just like fun adventures and having good times.

This book isn’t WHOLLY Cool Magic System, and it doesn’t get as into the weeds as many other books like it. But between it and the larger Plot, a lot of the other elements of the book seem to be choked off, or fighting for space. Sierra’s friends and family were cool, but I felt like they struggled to really shine in the space given to them. And maybe I’m being unfair. It’s not like I didn’t feel like the characters weren’t “realistic” (lol see above) just that I wanted more space for them to develop outside of the plot I guess? Or okay since Eagleton would say that’s impossible: I guess I wanted us to pretend that was the case. I wanted to get to know them narratively in a different way? It just felt SO SO SO driven by the plot where I was like “damn are we ever gonna get a breather on this? no? okay I guess!”

Which honestly I think is less this specific book and more of a genre complaint—I feel like there’s a very specific urban fantasy feel to this book, for better or for worse, written by someone who is intimate with the genre in the way that maybe someone who more stumbled into this kind of story. And that sounds… maybe vague, unclear, or even unfair, and it’s hard to describe a genre via like… Vibe, but it certainly has one and it’s a vibe I’m not sure I’m into. And I don’t know why it’s this specific setting and not other settings, though maybe it is. I just am not drawn in by Cool Magic alone, and while I think “oh that’s fun” it doesn’t do anything for me in terms of enjoyment. Which isn’t to say this is a bad book! I think it’s fun and fine. It just didn’t like hit any sweet spot for me personally in terms of reading it. But I’m also literally not the audience! Who cares what a white adult has to say about a book for teens? So who knows.

The Reading Situation

  • 100 books: at the time of this writing, I have finished 89 out of 100 books, not too bad for a week of illness! Of course, it may actually be 88 out of 100, but that’s still very doable to hit 90 by the end of the month (assuming I can finish the longer books I’m in the midst of right now) and then on to 100 in October!

  • Author identity challenge: still sitting pretty at 13/18, or 72%! I guess maybe this week or the next I’ll look at what spots I haven’t filled and see if there are book recommendations out there for those categories! But I think I’m still in a fairly respectable place all things considered!

  • Currently reading: I just started Radium Girls; working my way through Literary Theory: An Introduction (just learned about phenomenology, hermeneutics, and reception theory!); inching through Women’s Liberation and Burn It Down (woof); and am getting through Venice Beach at a pretty decent rate when I go to bed early enough to read it!

HMU

And that’s it for this week! Thank you so much for reading. I will let you know how reading all of this work about literary theory impacts my ability to read/if it changes my reviews! I guess you’ll see it here in the newsletter, especially this coming week. If you want to see me tweet out just random quotations from Terry Eagleton books, or any of my other weird thoughts, you can follow me on twitter @fadesintointent; if you want to see me post very little at all, you can follow me on instagram @sonofahurricane; or you can reply to this newsletter (even though I am EXTREMELY bad at replying back—I read all comments!) I hope this coming week is a good one for you; it’s getting cooler here (FALL FALL FALL FALL!!!) so I’m very excited by that prospect. Take care of yourselves, and each other! <3