Monday, February 20th, 2012 | Author:

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted about my resolution to cut down my TBR shelf, and I figure it’s time for a check-in. On the plus side, I’ve read 12 books from the tbr-in-2012 collection! On the minus side, I seem to have added…33.

Oh my god, it’s a sickness! These were all freebie books, at least, so I’m not breaking my secondary resolution about not buying anything new for a couple of months, but still.

Because they were free, though, I picked up lots of things I probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on if I was making a purchase, so I’m anticipating one of several desirable outcomes per book, here:

  • I like something new and unexpected! Hooray!
  • I dislike something new so much that I won’t be tempted to get more of it. Hooray!
  • I don’t finish the book, free of the “but you paid for it” obligation that often keeps me going with an unsatisfactory read. Hooray!

As for the 12 books that I’ve managed to remove from the TBR shelf… I have a few thoughts to share about a handful of them.

Primary Inversion, by Catherine Asaro, was one of the first things I read this year, and an interesting way to kick-start 2012. It’s very 90′s-space-opera-y, complete with a lot of specialized terminology for things that ends up reading like calling a rabbit a smeerp, except that the things being described don’t exist, or didn’t exist at the time the author was writing (unlike rabbits). That sounds like a heavy criticism, but I don’t mean it that way – futuristic tech and the technobabble that goes with it is a convention of the genre. I definitely noticed it more in Primary Inversion than I sometimes do, but it wasn’t any kind of barrier to getting sucked into the plot, which combines elements of romance with action-adventure and interplanetary politics. Fun!

Primary Inversion also has something that I don’t see a lot of in fiction of any stripe and really appreciated: therapy. I know, right? But really, psychologists and psychiatrists are usually shallowly portrayed as forces inimical to the heroes when they make it into something like a space opera at all, which is too bad. Because who needs therapy more than super soldiers? Asaro seems to have had similar thoughts, and the conversations between Sauscony, the heroine of Primary Inversion, and Jak Tager, the “heartbender” (aka psychiatrist), are well-written and affecting.

There was one barrier to my full enjoyment, which is that the version I was reading was riddled with minor typographical errors. I got it from the Baen Free Library, so I’m not inclined to complain much since the price was pretty excellent, but the errors are something that I would have happily done without. I have no idea if other editions of the novel are better copy-edited.

Earlier this month, I (re)read some really classic sci-fi in the form of Phillip K. Dick’s “Second Variety,” a novelette-length story that I first read as a preteen and which has haunted me ever since. I find the protagonist less interesting every time I read it, but my fascination with the story as a whole is constant. If you’ve never read it, you should get yourself a copy.

In “branching out a little from science fiction” reading, another thing I’ve read since January and heartily enjoyed is Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price, which reads more or less like fantasy, though there aren’t any magical elements. The speculative angle to the story is that male babies are very rare, creating an interesting social organization where sisters share a husband, and brothers and sons are trade commodities.

I read some reviews of the novel that take Spencer to task for “failing” to write a gender-swapped universe that is pro-feminist (because corruption and coercion exists even with women in charge and/or because there are female rapists, among other reasons), which I think are a little misguided, mostly because I don’t think A Brother’s Price is an attempt to write a gender-swapped universe, pro-feminist or otherwise (and also because I don’t subscribe to the form of feminism that holds that women are intrinsically better than men and that therefore a matriarchy would be automatically awesome, but that’s another issue entirely).

I can’t say that with any certainty, of course, since I haven’t the slightest notion what Spencer meant to do (this is a thing that I wish more reviewers would keep in mind!), but the writing is skillful and the plotting precise, and I don’t think it would have escaped an experienced writer’s notice as she worked that the society in this book isn’t just a flip-flop of our own, in terms of gender – the scarcity of one sex is what drives the (very interesting!) social organization, and it only works if the scarcity is of males, for pretty basic and obvious biological reasons.

That brothers are rare and must be protected against husband-raiders, etc., does set up some interesting gender-role stuff, though, in that Spencer’s young hero acts much like the sheltered heroines of fantasy romance. Which means that the royal princesses, sisters all heading into any prospective marriage together, are the hero, complete with a tendency toward romance-alpha-male-type seduction of the heroine.

So, it’s basically a historical-style romance where the hero is a bunch of princesses and the heroine is a young man with overbearing-but-loving sisters and there are all sorts of political machinations and skullduggery and battles and things. I loved it.

Okay, enough of that. It’s back to the book mines for me!

Category: Read This
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