My August Reading Log

Fiction:
Abandoned in Death by J. D. Robb is the fifty-fourth in that series, wow, and there are currently two more scheduled to follow. These are comfortingly repetitive despite being about sometimes truly gruesome serial murders, because the killer is always caught and jailed in the end. I also find it interesting to watch the near-future worldbuilding shift and change as it gets closer to present-day. This series began publication in July 1995; the story is set in the mid-twenty-first century. Time creeps very slowly forward from book to book, so as it now stands, I think the history of this alternate future needs to shift. Robb (Nora Roberts) early on has the “Urban Wars” or “Urbans” as a landmark event that seems to have resulted in mass destruction of neighborhoods, and induced societal changes such as the creation of paid professional motherhood, android servants and beat cops, and sex workers becoming Licensed Companions. Offworld resorts and prisons have both been frequently referenced but only shown once, if I recall. Early in the series, I thought of it as a “Jetsons future.” But it’s been quite a while since androids have shown up; I think it’s become clear to the author that they don’t really work with the timeline. Likewise, this current installment flashes back to the 1990s, but at no point are The Urbans mentioned as a cause of any difficulty in obtaining records, as has been an issue in past books. I am wondering when The Urbans are supposed to have happened. When did this reality split off from ours? I am overthinking this because I’m using my speculative fiction brain.

Prisoner of Midnight by Barbara Hambly is eighth and most current of the James and Lydia Asher series about vampire hunters and their uneasy vampire ally, Don Simon Ysidro. I was excited to find it’s set in 1917, with James on leave from serving as a spy at the front and Lydia recently returned from the front herself. I definitely need to find volume seven soon, as it’s set in the beginning of World War One. After a desperate call from Simon, who’s being held captive, Lydia and daughter Miranda end up on a luxury ship to America, trapped with a killer and hunted by German submarines. Hambly emphasizes the differences between first and third class passengers. A wealthy American capitalist, his thug/private detectives, and union labor struggles form a background. Meanwhile, back in Europe, James must negotiate with Paris vampires to help Lydia solve the mystery. Content warning for child deaths. There are assorted anti-Romany/anti-Semite/anti-Muslim/anti-Catholic/anti-Protestant sentiments among the passengers, including a little anti-black racism; a powder keg in a confined space.

Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly is fifth in the series, set in 1913. I continue to read these out of order! This volume, like number eight, also includes a wealthy American capitalist with his own bully-boys, though he’s secondary to vampire villains, one the Master of London, Dr. Lionel Grippen. Gripped is on the trail of another vampire who fled the Balkans when war broke out; he forces Lydia’s help by kidnapping James and Lydia’s small daughter Miranda, along with her nursery maid. Meanwhile, Lydia has been dragooned into chaperoning her niece’s comeout, which unsurprisingly leads to have uncovering some vampiric connections. This one had a cinematic feel to me, especially the dramatic ending sequence.

Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu is third in the Singaporean Mysteries series. I figured out a key element of the mystery almost immediately, but there were enough indications of more going on with the murders that the plot held my interest. Familiar characters mingle with new ones as always-busy Aunty Lee struggles against feelings of uselessness while recovering from a sprained ankle. It turns out she can still solve a mystery even when she can’t walk far. Content warning for past animal harm, mental illness, and internet abuse; before the story begins, a fostered dog is euthanized unnecessarily, resulting in a storm of internet abuse aimed at the perpetrator, who very probably was mentally ill.

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather is a novella about Nuns! In! Spaaaaace!!! Basically, a small group who travel in a living ship to be of service. So they do things like weddings and baptisms, but also healthcare, especially for nasty futuristic contagious diseases. They’re roughly a generation past a devastating war caused by Earth trying to bring all the other worlds, both in its solar system and two others, under their thumb. The effects of the war are still very present. The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita have almost no contact with Earth and get news from the Vatican only sporadically, but they’re beginning to see disturbing hints of another attempt at central governance, which nobody in the colonies wants. The characters were great, each one having a different reason for having taken vows, including one who wants to be of service but has no faith. There’s also neat worldbuilding around the living ships, how they’re grown, and how they’re modified to be used by humans.

Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather built on the conflicts established in the first novella. It left the Nuns in Space ready to spring off into a new chapter, which I am totally ready for.

My August TBR Challenge book was Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart.

Nonfiction:
1973: Rock at the Crossroads by Andrew Grant Jackson is popular nonfiction ostensibly about how the popular music of 1973 (with a bit of 1972 and 1974 overlap) reflected and interacted with mostly American current events, including the end of the Vietnam War and Watergate. There is some of that social history I was hoping for, but I felt a lot of the wordcount was extraneous. The book is jammed with anecdotes about musicians’ drug habits, unwise relationships, and infidelity that I found tiresome and repetitive fairly quickly, as well as depressing. As the book wore on, I felt a single interesting point about, say, songs written about Nixon’s dishonesty, would go into a somewhat relevant anecdote about a musician and then spiral down a black hole of other anecdotes that let the topic wander off somewhere else. By the end, I was questioning the relevance of many of the anecdotes; Joni Mitchell’s boyfriends were not the ones writing her songs. Perhaps these rabbit holes were the intent, and those were the transitions. By the last half of the book, I was already tired. Good things: the author included women artists (which seems obvious but doesn’t always happen), and though the title refers to Rock, he also included reggae, rhythm and blues, outlaw country, and the dawn of hiphop.

A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee by Danny Fingeroth didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know about Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber), which is basically that he was exactly as gregarious and full of hustle and ideas as his public persona would lead you to believe. He seems to have been an extreme extrovert and very dedicated to his career, which was a bonus for some and a massive irritation to others (like Jack Kirby…though it seems to me their relationship had a bit of an “I love you, but I can’t live with you” vibe). Growing up with a father who was perpetually unemployed, after Lieber graduated high school at sixteen he immediately went to work and ended up at his cousin Martin Goodman’s publishing company, becoming an editor at age seventeen; he chose “Stan Lee” for his name pretty early, though he didn’t change it legally for a while. Part of Goodman’s company, Timely Comics, eventually became Marvel, with whom Lee was associated for the rest of his life. He also always had side projects going, just in case he could break into something bigger, or he lost his main job; he was determined to always be able to support his family himself. Numerous times, he wanted to get out of comics, into something more respectable. Instead, without at first realizing it, he made comics respectable.

What I primarily got out of this book was exactly how and how much Lee shaped what Marvel became. The responses he gave on 1960s letters pages, the Bullpen Bulletins and Stan’s Soapbox features, as well as the chatty meta narration in the comics he wrote, were all his creations and his voice, not something that other comics publishers did in that same way. (I wondered how much his comics narration owed to the radio shows he’d loved as a kid.) Fingeroth pointed out how those prose features created a community of readers who felt like insiders, which of course made them buy comics, but ended up helping to keep the company going through some rough times. The comics themselves were important, of course, and even when he didn’t script them in detail he added a gloss of his narrative voice to them, like a polish atop the storytelling provided by his collaborators. There were many, many battles, legal and otherwise, over who actually “created” the early Marvel characters, and the battles were never entirely resolved (I think it’s impossible that they could have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction). But I am pretty sure the Marvel brand as it is today would not be at all the same without Lee’s input.

Fanfiction:
gold in the seams of my hands by napricot is a post-“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” story in which Bucky discovers he has a measurable psychic power, with interesting implications. There’s also a good plot and a lovely romance between Bucky and Sam. Recommended.

To Be Where You Are by roboticonography is a lovely WWII-era Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers romance story, positing that Steve is demisexual.

this ocean is yours, and mine by inmyriadbits and rosepetalfall is a Star Wars AU set in our contemporary world; all the characters are academics at Theed University in Connecticut. Unusually, there’s a sweet romantic pairing between Religion professor and science fiction novelist Luke Amidala-Lars and new history faculty Poe Dameron. I enjoyed the cleverness of the conceit and how the characters were shifted in their new reality. It was fun.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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