IRON WIDOW, by XIRAN JAY ZHAO
I suspect that this one will be the first of the year's Hugo-nominated novels that I read this year; possibly the winner; we'll find out eventually (EDIT: The 2022 Hugo nominees list is now out, and IRON WIDOW was not nominated after all. However, it had been nominated for a Lodestar award, in the YA category. I did not see that coming). The story is about an alternative China in which invading aliens are beyond the great Wall, and the heads of state have used the alien technology to fight them with huge war-bots fueled by human Qi energy. Only instead of efficient yin/yang models, the Patriarchy has deemed men to have the stronger and better energy, allowing only men to pilot the war-bots, with women passively treated as human batteries for the men. the greatest honor for a woman is for her to die, drained of energy in service to her pilot.
Enter Zetian, whose sister died in such a way, and who is preparing to find the pilot who killed her and say to him "Hello. My name is Wu Zetian. You killed my sister. Prepare to die." Zetian is a flaming ball of feminist rage, her Qi levels are the patriarchy's worst nightmare, and by the time the story is over, she will have realized some things that will change everything.
Reader, I swooned. If you do too, that's cool.
STATE OF TERROR by HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, and LOUISE PENNY
Louise Penny is a Canadian mystery writer. Clinton, you know about already. America may have proved unworthy to have her as President, but she's having fun in other ways. STATE OF TERROR is a typical international intrigue potboiler full of Middle Eastern arms dealers, Russian spies, plucky office workers who find the clue to save the day, and hidden bombs that will go off and kill innocent civilians any moment unless found and disarmed in time by our intrepid heroes. Will they do it as the LED countdown hits the final seconds? Our market research says yes!
The fun is enjoying Clinton's revenge, such as it is. The heroine is a Secretary of State, appointed to the job by a President she had opposed for the job, who must clean up after the most corrupt, bumbling, ignorant Presidencies in American history. One of the big questions to unravel is whether the prior President is actively in league with the terrorists, or merely played by them for the fool he is. Any resemblance to persons living and dead is purely intentional.
SHE WILL RISE, by KATIE HILL
You may remember Katie Hill as one of the strong, asskicking women elected to Congress in 2018. Hill was one of the rising stars, mentored by Pelosi herself and headed for a long and powerful leadership career until her abusive husband decided to ruin her by giving the Republican dirty tricks squad revenge porn pictures to publish, and she resigned after just nine months.
I was pissed off, and became much more pissed off reading SHE WILL RISE, Hill's autobiography so far and feminist manifesto.
Reader, she grew up in the 90s, and wanted to be Alanna of Tortall. She was MY PEOPLE. And because she married an abusive asshole who photographed her naked without her knowledge, and who revenge-porned her to the American Nazis, the congressional career that would have rivaled Pelosi's didn't get to happen, and she's reduced to trying to make a difference by writing books.
But yes, for all the good it will do, she's speaking truth to power. Like a thousand angry bloggers with her, she's talking about the pay gap, the lack of maternity leave, the insufficient protections against domestic abuse, the glass ceilings, the pink taxes, and all the other crap women continue to just put up with because there's no other choice.
Read it and scream, scream into the void.
SMACKED, by EILENE ZIMMERMAN
Half autobiography, half journalistic piece about drug addiction in America, SMACKED begins with Zimmerman's account of discovering her estranged ex-husband's dead body in the bathroom of his house. Cut to "20 YEARS EARLIER" with their courtship and marriage, their kids, his successful legal career, his increasing withdrawal, broken promises, asshole behavior, their separation, apparently absorbed in work at the office, his many health problems which they put down to stress. The man acts like an utter, utter shit to Zimmerman and the children, and yet she gives him chance after chance, continues to love him as he throws his life away, and is clearly still agonizing, even as she writes her book, about whether she might have saved him if she had given just that much more of herself.
Compare and contrast with my own life experience, at that age, with women whose policy was "One strike, and I'm done with you forever."
And then we get to the shocking, shocking revelation that the husband was not an asshole at all, despite his unremitting asshole behavior. He was on drugs the whole time, and was therefore a victim to be pitied. followed by a few more chapters about all the poor, oppressed rich people who turn to drugs because of job-related stress, who don't have any agency despite their millions, and who hate the world and themselves.
my heart bleeds for Zimmerman and her children. they deserved so much better. husband can rot in Hell.
THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD; DEATH IN THE AIR; SLEEPING MURDER, by AGATHA CHRISTIE.
I am about to SPOIL the big reveal of THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. Because there's almost nothing to discuss about the book without taking it into account. If you don't know it, it reads like a straightforward whodunnit without very memorable characters, and you wonder what the fuss is about, right until the final three chapters. So read the book before reading any more of this, if you haven't yet, or don't bother. It is considered one of the better detective plots of all time, to the extent that it's kinda fun reading it again (like I just did), knowing the hidden truth and seeing the clues and nuances.
The murderer is the "Watson", the detective's sidekick who unreliably narrates the story. There are two or three throwaway lines that have double-meanings, but really, there are dozens of reaction shots in which the narrator is "disappointed" or "alarmed" at the detective (Hercule Poirot)'s suspicions, and many instances in which the narrator, a doctor, appears to be simply applying professional discretion and academic objectivity are in fact instances where he's deliberately concealing the truth.
If you're looking at it, knowing that the guy telling the story is the killer, there are many, many telling moments. It's really well-crafted and deserves its reputation. But WHY ON EARTH DOES HE TELL POIROT HE'S WRITING A MEMOIR ABOUT THE INVESTIGATION, AND THEN SHARE IT WITH THE GREAT DETECTIVE??? That is seriously one of the worst, most avoidable blunders in all of detective fiction. He reads 23 chapters from the murderer's point of view, including a telltale time discrepancy that could easily have been covered with a lie, and solves the case. Duh.
I used to read a lot of Dame Agatha in junior high school, looking for "the least likely suspect" and solving about half of them. ROGER ACKROYD was one of the ones that fooled me at the time. Maybe if i'd been told how "great" it was, I'd have figured it out for want of any other possible solution that would have been considered shocking.
The other two mysteries I read this month were standard. I hadn't read them before, and solved them pretty quickly, although one of the motives eluded me and seemed far-fetched. SLEEPING MURDER, in particular, was supposed to be a big one, "Miss Marple's last case ever", written well in advance of Christie's death to be published posthumously so that she'd go out with a bang, but...meh.
BEYOND MAGENTA: TRANSGENDER TEENS SPEAK OUT, by SUSAN KUKLAND
Sometime in the mid 1990s, I was able to take pride in having read all of the most frequently banned books on an official list. Too bad they keep on writing more books that people want to ban. the list that came out this year had many, many unfamiliar titles. And then a FaceBook group centered around my old high school mentioned nine books that a bunch of asshole parents were trying to have removed from the school library as "not age-appropriate". One of those books was LOOKING FOR ALASKA, by John Green, which I'd already read, and it baffled me that anyone would want to ban it. It's a standard, well-written YA book.
Similarly, BEYOND MAGENTA may be many things, but "not age appropriate for teens" is not one of them. Jeepers, it's a set of interviews with actual teens going through experiences that a lot of other teens will find compelling, familiar, or maybe unfamiliar but they'll learn things that people ought to learn, including what it's like to be trans, what it isn't like, and how to not be a dick. If someone's a trans kid, they'll learn that they're not alone, and feel seen. if they're cis, they'll learn that trans kids are kids not completely different from themselves, and with needs deserving of respect. What could be more age appropriate than that?
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