GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Starlit Wood

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The cover is beautiful, and even has some raised details.

Welcome back to the bi-monthly GNBC; this time our selection was The Starlit Wood, a collection of short fairy tale retellings.  Check out GeekyNerdyGirl’s original post here.

I finished all the stories, but it was a near thing.  It’s been a while since I’ve read short stories, so I really enjoyed getting back to that.  But the content of these stories was so diverse in terms of tone, style, setting, and fantasy and sci-fi elements that it was very hard to read more than one story in a sitting; I’d get really into a story, then have to completely switch gears to start the next one.  It’s a great collection, but it made for a rather long read.

There are few things that I love to read more than fairy tale retellings.  I took a whole seminar on fantasy in children’s literature during university, and the first thing we looked at was fairy tales.  These types of stories have a universality to them that I think explains their popularity across cultures and throughout the ages.  Some of the stories here hew closer to the originals, and some I really struggled to figure out what the original tale was.  (The authors’ notes at the end of the stories were wonderful!)

There were several Westerns, several set in other countries, several in space, and of course some in that took place in that typical “magical realism” fairy tale setting.  I want to pick out a few to talk about more specifically.

The two stories that I found the funniest were by “Even the Crumbs were Delicious” by Daryl Gregory (a Hansel and Gretel tale involving a druggie and his lickable wallpaper with drugs) and “The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders (an obscure Grimm Brothers tale turned into “a kind of Adventure Time fanfic”).

The most depressing stories actually came towards the front of the book: “Underground” by Karin Tidbeck and “Familiaris” by Genevieve Valentine.  Both of these had a lot to say about the state of women in fairy tales, and it’s pretty bleak.  They paint some interesting parallels to the state of women in modern life: no agency, trapped in their roles, expected to bear children they may not even want.  I appreciated that they made this think about that but whoa, they were downers.

My favorites turned out to be ones that didn’t deviate too much from fairy tale territory, but still managed to breathe new life into the original tale.  “Seasons of Glass and Iron” (Amal El-Mohtar) is actually a mash-up to two tales, brilliantly done, that ends with the heroines saving each other by pointing out the truth of each other’s stories.  “The Briar and the Rose” (Marjorie Liu) likewise has two great female protagonists that help each other.  And anchoring the book is “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, a nice take on “Rumpelstiltskin”; if you only read one story from the book, I’d recommend this one…then go read her original fairy tale, Uprooted.

There were several other good ones as well (shout out to “Penny for a Match, Mister?” by Garth Nix–one of the Westerns–and “The Other Thea” by Theodora Goss).  If you like fairy tale retellings, I think you will enjoy this collection also.  One nice thing about collections like this is that you can sample some new authors in addition to ones you’ve already read and loved.  I definitely want to check out more works by several of these authors.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our GeekNerdy Book Club selections this year; stay tuned for more in 2017.

 

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Welcome back to GNBC, a bimonthly virtual book club hosted by Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.

VintageWe’re back to nonfiction this month with Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  There is a lot of information in this book, not just about Wonder Woman but also about her creator William Moulton Marston and the women in his life that influenced the superheroine.

I came to this book not knowing a lot about Wonder Woman.  I’ve never read her comics, and I wasn’t alive for the 70s TV show, so my primary experience with her was the DCAU’s Justice League and JLU cartoons.  To me, she’s always been the weak point of DC’s Big Three: too powerful to be interesting, and too…fashion-challenged to represent comic women as a whole.

But with this year being the 75th anniversary of her creation, I was eager to learn more about Wonder Woman, and I’m happy to report that I am now definitely on Team Wondy.

I got off to a bit of a rocky start with this book, because I was turned off by the tone; the author’s intro has things like “Stop the presses. I’ve got the history of Wonder Woman.” that I found hyperbolic, bordering on smug. (For context, those sentences echo lines from a WW comic, but the reference felt more patronizing than something that would come from a fellow geek.)

My irritation continued into the details of Marston’s psychological experiments (which included developing a lie detector test).  This was not the fault of the author, but rather Marston himself, who was apparently a terrible scientist.  His “experiments” often barely warrant the name, with small sample sizes, questionable methodology, and dubious conclusions; yet he was constantly trying to “sell” his science to the media and the public.  Reading these descriptions, it’s hardly surprising that experimental psychology is currently undergoing a reproducibility crisis.

Also irritating is the fact that it was Marston’s name on all these papers, professorships, etc. when his wife Sadie Elizabeth Holloway had nearly identical credentials and worked on many of these projects with him.  For me, she was the most interesting “character” in the story.  My respect for her was cemented by her reaction to Marston’s ultimatum regarding his affair with Olive Byrne; she agreed to let Olive live with them, but Holloway would keep her career and let Olive raise the children.  Also, after Marston’s death she lobbied heavily to take over writing WW, but naturally was denied, which lead to a decline in quality of the comic.

Part way through, the book shifts into the history of early 20th century feminism, which I knew shockingly little about and found fascinating.  This leads up to the introduction of Olive Byrne, who was Margaret Sanger’s niece.  Olive was also very interesting to me, because while she seemed perfectly happy living the kind of “nontraditional” lifestyle that she did, she also lied and lied and lied about it until her death, even to her children regarding who their real father was (Marston).  Her bracelets were the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s.

By the time we got to the actual creation of Wonder Woman I was quite enjoying the book.  I had never even seen a strip from WW’s original run, so I was thrilled that the book makes liberal use of the images from it.  After reading this, I feel like I can really understand and appreciate Marston’s vision for Wonder Woman, who was strong both physically and emotionally and whose ultimate goal was “community.”

This vision has unfortunately been deviated from over the years, resulting in a Woman Woman wields a swords and shield and kills people while spilling out of her bustier.  It will be interesting to see which version we get in her feature film debut next year.

Lastly, for another perspective on this book, I was able to hear the granddaughter of William Moulton Marston and Holloway, Christie Marston, answer some questions at a Wonder Woman symposium last month.  Her opinion of the book was that it was “fiction;” she particularly disagreed with how the Moulton family was portrayed.

Fiction or not, it was a very enlightening and thought-provoking book.  It may be a bit dense in places for casual readers, but I would definitely recommend it to comics fans or feminists.

GeekyNerdy Book Club: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

91ikktkw7xl-_sl1500_Welcome back to GNBC, a bimonthly virtual book club hosted by Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.

Our selection for June/July (ok, I’m a little late) is Leviathan Wakes, the first book of The Expanse series by a pair of authors writing as James S.A. Corey.  This book was a re-read for me, but I didn’t care at all because this book (and in fact the whole series) is great.

I also got my husband to read it with me, which was cool because I think this is the first time we’ve ever read the same book at the same time!

Leviathan Wakes imagines a future in which humans have taken flight into the solar system, setting up colonies on Mars as well as various moons and asteroids.  (Incidentally, I don’t see myself being one of these pioneering humans.  Space travel sounds cool, but I’m not sure I could handle it physically or mentally.  I think I’ll keep my feet planted in Earth’s gravity.)

But this future is no utopia; there are still economic stresses, prejudices, and politics, with tentative relations between Earth, Mars, and “the Belt.”   Plus there’s a conspiracy brewing that could break these fragile bonds, and Jim Holden, XO of the ice hauler Canterbury, and his crew as well as Joe Miller, a detective on Ceres, get caught up in the middle of it.  In fact, they’re on the trail of a new discovery that could make or break the future of humanity.

One great thing about Leviathan Wakes is how it mixes genres (much like one of our previous books, The Water Knife).  The backbone of the books is a nice space opera, with plenty of action and a hint of romance, but it also throws in some politics, detective noir, and horror; it reads a lot like a thriller.

Holden and Miller are good foils for each other, and their differences of opinion help frame the book’s themes. Each character written by a different author (Holden by Ty Franck and Miller by Daniel Abraham), but while they each bring a different perspective and attitude, the transition between them is pretty seamless.

Holden is an idealist, Miller a cynic. Holden believes in freedom of information (he would love Wikileaks…), while Miller understands that information equals power, and you need to tell people what the raw data mean and not just throw it out there.  He doesn’t trust people to form the correct conclusions and has seen the danger that can result from that situation.  I probably come down more on Miller’s side, but when I’m reading Holden’s perspective I always feel like he’s exactly right in what he’s doing; I want to believe in the intelligence and goodness of mankind like he does.  So I guess that’s the sign of a good book!  

The supporting cast of the book is really excellent, and the camaraderie of Holden’s crew is awesome–my favorite scene is actually just of them eating dinner together on their ship.  I knew my husband had reached this scene when he started laughing out loud.

I’ve already read the 2nd and 3rd books in the series.  Caliban’s War, the 2nd book, is my favorite of the bunch so far.  It has great POV characters and a pretty happy ending; one of the plot points revolves around crowdfunding!

Abaddon’s Gate, the 3rd book, gets very slow in the middle and the POV characters are not as compelling; it also introduces some more sci-fi elements that increase the scope of the series. I definitely plan to continue reading the series (I’ve got some catching up to do–the 6th book will be out soon)

I got my husband to read the books because we’ve been watching (and loving) the Syfy TV adaptation, called The Expanse. We agreed that it’s probably the best adaptation possible, with great casting (though I’m not sold on Holden’s actor), and the addition of Avasarala from the 2nd book gives us a perspective from Earth and more political intrigue sooner.  We also agreed that the character development is still way better in the book (as usual).  The first season of the show (which covers about the first half of Leviathan Wakes) can be found in rotation on Syfy’s website.

Phew, that was a long post, but I’m happy to talk more in the comments.

For September, we’ll be reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.  See you then!

GeekyNerdy Book Club: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Welcome back to the GNCB, a bi-monthly book club hosted by Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.  We’re switching it up this month with some nonfiction: the memoir of Felicia Day, geek girl extraordinaire.

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So, imagine you’re at some fancy Hollywood party.  You come upon a cute redhead talking a mile a minute and making everyone laugh.

“Oh hey, you’re Felicia Day,” you say.  “How did you come to ever make The Guild/”Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”/your YouTube channel Geek and Sundry/etc.?”

“Well, when I was a kid…” and she launches into her life story for the next five hours.

And reading this book is what that conversation would be like.  It’s one part fact, one part emotion, and two parts awkward hilarity.  Genuine Felicia Day.

I’ve been a fan of Day since I first saw her webseries The Guild circa 2008 (in fact one of my first posts on this blog was about her launching Geek and Sundry).  From her acting roles and YouTube channel I was able to learn a few things about her, such as that she plays the violin and has a brother.  But this book covers so much of her life: her homeschooled childhood, starting her dual math/music major at 16, her struggle to make it in Hollywood, which sort of led to her World of Warcraft gaming, which sort of led to her creation of The Guild, and then even up to relatively current events like her sale of Geek and Sundry and being doxxed as collateral damage in Gamergate.

I think the part of the book that impacted me the most was how she talks throughout about her mental health issues.  She speaks pretty candidly about the fact that she was actually addicted to WOW and was using it to fill a void in her life.  She talks about sitting in the car feeling like she’s going to throw up before a big meeting.  Clearly Felicia Day and I are soul sisters, firstly because we have red hair, second because we’re nerds and geeks, and third, because I know exactly what she’s talking about when she describes her anxiety, risk-aversion, obsessiveness, depression, perfectionism, and desire to avoid confrontation at all costs.

For this reason, my favorite part of the book was the middle section where she talks about turning around her WOW addiction, and about the female support group that helped motivate her to start writing The Guild, and then helped her actually create the web series (by filming it on a super tiny budget, mostly in Day’s house over a few days).  This story was seriously inspirational to me, who is staring down 30 and trying to write the same “practice” novel I’ve been working on for, like, three years now.  There were a lot of funny “coffee mug slogans” in the book, but I think my favorite is from this section:

You Can Attempt Anything

Yup, it sounds Hallmark-Card-trite, but I’m definitely understanding her meaning that you should let your desires and dreams guide and motivate you.

Another thing I related to in this book was Day’s search for her fellow geeks and how the Internet made that possible.  I myself have found “my people” on the Internet, just as much as in real life.  It started in high school when I was writing fan fiction and interacting with other writers on fanfiction.net.  And then to a lesser degree when I started playing SWTOR, the Star Wars MMO (at first I was absolutely paralyzed by the idea of even briefly grouping with any other players I didn’t know; I’m better now).  Now my blog is a major source of socialization for me.  It’s been a wonderful outlet for my geeky thoughts (which is why I started blogging), and I love being able to talk Star Wars, anime, comics, writing, gaming, etc. with a diverse group of bloggers I follow (which has been a wonderful bonus).

PHEW! Ok, this was a long review, but as you can see I really enjoyed the book, and I would highly recommend it (but maybe only if you know who Felicia Day actually is?  Don’t confuse her with Emily Blunt, haha).  If you want to check out GeekyNerdyGirl’s original book club post, head here.

Our next selection will be Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey.  I’ve already read this one and loved it (I’m currently in the middle of the 3rd book in the series), so I’m excited to revisit it…and I’m trying to get my husband to read it also. Feel free to join in if you are interested!

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The GeekyNerdy Book Club is a new, bimonthly reading group hosted by GeekyNerdyGirl on her blog Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.  (That was a lot of geeking and nerding in one sentence!)  We’re kicking it off with the post-apocalyptic dystopian sci-fi novel The Water Knife.

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I literally had no idea what this cover looked like until now, because I read this on my Kindle.

The novel features a trio of interesting characters: enterprising young Texas refugee Maria, hardcore journalist Lucy, and the titular “water knife”/enforcer Angel; their stories intersect in a future, water-starved Phoenix, AZ.  Maria is just trying adapt and survive, while Lucy is trying uncover the real stories behind Phoenix’s slow death, and Angel is there to speed up that death, because there’s only so much water in the Colorado River, and the woman he works for in Las Vegas wants that water up there–as much as she can get, however she can get it.

The mix of genres in this book was very interesting, and I think it would appeal to a wide audience.  It starts off, as I expected, solidly sci-fi, describing the water crisis in the southwestern US caused by climate change.  (I think I tend to avoid this kind of realistic sci-fi because it can verge on preachy, but I didn’t feel like I was beaten over the head with the climate change message here.) Because it’s a near-future, real-world dystopia, much of the technology is familiar, like Tesla cars and solar panels.  But there are also some new inventions, like Clearsacs, which purify urine into drinking water.

Suddenly somewhere in the middle of the book I realized I was actually reading a Western, complete with a mysterious gunslinger, a threatened homesteader who still won’t leave her “ranch,” and lots of doublecrossing.  How cool!  I love sci-fi/Western mixes; the two genres have so much in common.  As I read further, I thought it was a thriller.  Towards the end, I realized it was actually a mystery!  Really, it’s all of this rolled into one.  No matter what genre you would call this, the story was way more pulp-y than I anticipated, and I enjoyed it.

One thing that mildly bothered me was the pacing.  The story starts slow, and doesn’t really pick up until the characters meet each other—that’s nearly halfway through the book!  The ending, too, seems a bit sudden.  I have nothing against open-ended stories, but we don’t get much resolution on the characters’ relationships and future directions.  One character is even unconscious at the end!  (She’s not going to be happy when she wakes up…)

The story does have some intense elements, and two mildly graphic sex scenes.  The future is apparently pretty brutal–at least the sex scenes provide some character development.

Speaking of characters, Angel’s boss, Catherine Case, is an interesting one.  She’s only briefly physically present in the book, but her shadow falls on everything.  They call her the “Queen of the Colorado”—I think you’re supposed to despise and admire her at the same time.  I don’t know if the relationship between her and Angel is broken at the end of the story, because I don’t know if it was ever based on trust to begin with (or at least, how I would define trust).  Like Angel, Case is very unemotional about betrayal.  She trusts patterns, not people.  I could see her taking Angel back, only to have him taken out for something else in the future.  Or just killing him now anyways.  Or never.  Whatever’s most beneficial for her.

This map would have been super helpful for me while reading, because I’ve never been out West. From wikipedia

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out 5 stars.

I’ve already read and enjoyed Bacigalupi’s YA novel Ship Breaker, and now I think I’d like to read his award-winning debut novel The Windup Girl.  But maybe later.  I can only take so much dystopia.

In the meantime, our next GeekNerdy Book Club choice will be:

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Should be a little lighter in tone.  Hope you’ll join us in a few months!