[Thanks to Jonathan and Cliff for giving me books!]
[you might say “Ozy, this is observably not May!” Yeah, well, I’m bad at things sometimes.]
Among the Creationists: My absolute favorite genre of books is Books About What Fundamentalist Religious People Are Getting Up To, I don’t know why this is but I have accepted this fact about myself. Anyway, this is a perfectly good book if you happen to share my interest, and gives you a real sense of why creationists believe what they believe and what it feels like to be a creationist from the inside. If you aren’t interested in creationists, however, it’s definitely skippable.
Only A Theory: tfw you’re part of the way through your nice book about What Fundamentalist Religious People Are Getting Up To and you start having the creeping suspicion that the author believes in God
[content warning for Nazis on the next review]
Pride Against Prejudice: A Personal Politics of Disability: Interesting fact I learned from this book: the Nazi euthanasia program was originally motivated as much by ‘mercy killing’ as it was by attempting to improve the race. Until 1943, Jewish children were not euthanized, because it was believed that as a lesser race they did not deserve it. I think that is a really emotionally moving argument for– even if you happen to be in favor of suicide rights– emphasizing that suicide rights are about people having the right to decide what happens to their own bodies and lives, not about some lives being objectively “worth living” or “not worth living”.
This book has a really interesting exploration of the intersection between feminism and disability rights. Many feminists have advocated for institutionalization, on the grounds that it keeps women from having to be caretakers; however, disability rights advocates tend to oppose institutionalization. I appreciated some of the snark: for instance, in response to a theorist who argues that institutionalization allows disabled women to develop ungendered roles free from family-centric ideology, she proposes that perhaps if institutionalization is so beneficial nondisabled people should do it too.
The story that made my heart ache the most was of Annie, a girl with severe cerebral palsy who was assumed to be severely cognitively disabled and placed in an institution without toys, education, or activities; even the television was for the benefit of staff. A caretaker taught her to use a letter board and it turned out that Annie was, in reality, tremendously intelligent– among other things, she had independently invented multiplication after learning about addition and subtraction from Sesame Street. Not, of course, that it’s okay to neglect people who are severely cognitively disabled, but I think that shows the importance of presuming competence and not assuming that people who can’t talk are things that don’t have subjectivity or a sense of self.
[Spoilers for the Vorkosigan Saga. Did I read half the Vorkosigan Saga in two weeks? Yes, I fucking did.]
Ethan of Athos: So the Vorkosiverse had a bunch of gay separatist telepathic religious fundamentalists. That is going to be… really interesting in a couple of centuries.
I spent a large part of this book terrified that Ethan would suddenly discover that women weren’t so bad and he was attracted to them, or worse that he was in love with Elli Quinn. Fortunately, Lois McMaster Bujold would never betray me so, and he gets to date Terence Cee the telepath instead. Also I love how Elli being hot is established by Ethan being confused by why all the other men are constantly looking at her enlarged mammary glands.
It’s really remarkable how capable Bujold is of making characters likeable. I don’t think there’s any other series where I’m as invested in the continued health and happiness of every random character in it. I started out Ethan of Athos being like “well, he is kind of a misogynist” and by the second chapter I was like “Ethan! My kind, gentle, innocent son! I will protect you from all the scary galactic women and their mammary glands!”
Borders of Infinity: Sergeant Taura, my precious angel, my one and only, my favorite character in all of the Vorkosigan Saga. Like, every character is my favorite, but Sergeant Taura is my favorite favorite, if you understand me. I was misled by Effulgence, which I read before I read the Vorkosigan Saga and includes Vorkosigan fanfic in which the role of Sergeant Taura is played by Wolverine, and I did not expect that there would be KISSING and it is my favorite story in the whole Saga.
“How free can she ever be, in that body, driven by that metabolism, that face-a freak’s life-better to die painlessly, than to have all that suffering inflicted on her-”
Miles spoke through his teeth. With emphasis. “No. It’s. Not.”
To be honest, I cheered at my book when I read that.
Brothers in Arms: Old Earth! Also, one of the few mentions of religion in the Vorkosigan Saga– there’s a bit about a galactic going on the hajj. Like, I know that Betans are all atheists or agnostics or maybe Space UUs, but what about Barrayar? They do the whole burning-things-for-the-dead thing but are they ancestor worshippers? Do they pray to a god? There should be more religious worldbuilding in the Vorkosigan Saga IMO.
Anyway, clone shenanigans are the best shenanigans.
Mirror Dance: One chapter into this book I was like “eh, Mark, I’m not sure how I feel about Mark, is this whole thing going to be from his point of view?” By the time I finished I was like “I want another dozen books and all of them are about Mark!” Lois McMaster Bujold is a master of likeable characters, let me tell you.
This is the first book in the Vorkosigan Saga where I had not read an Effulgence of it first, and this lead to considerably more suspense in the plotline! Particularly since Miles died! I was extremely concerned that Miles was going to be dead permanently and then I was going to read about Mark ending death through capitalism for the rest of the series.
Memory: “In the last book, he died,” Lois McMaster Bujold says to herself. “How could I possibly top that? What could make the reader feel more suspense than the actual death of my protagonist? I know! I’ll get him fired!” Apparently getting fired is more permanent than dying, also!
This book is so depressing and I wanted to give Miles a hug the entire time and I was seriously concerned that he would have to be retired forever.
Komarr: I was sort of leery when I started reading this book because I knew Ekaterin would be in it and I was worried I’d have to spend the whole time being grumpy that she wasn’t Sergeant Taura, my favorite, or Linyabel from Effulgence, whom I continue to be disappointed does not ‘exist’ in ‘canon’ because she is technically from ‘Twilight’. Anyway, no worries, Ekaterin is awesome and I am 100% behind Ekaterin/Miles as a pairing.
Let me be perfectly frank: fuck Tien. Tien is probably one of the most effectively horrifying abusers I’ve read in fiction. Partially, it’s because Bujold does an excellent job of evoking how trapped Ekaterin is in her relationship– quite wisely, she concentrates more on how Ekaterin feels than on the gritty details of the abuse. Partially, it’s because Tien is kind of pathetic: he feels like the sort of person who actually exists, and you can see the process of rationalization that Ekaterin goes through to make her stay in the relationship. Basically, my cheering when Tien died was about as loud as my cheering about Sergeant Taura.
A Civil Campaign: Lois McMaster Bujold, apparently: “I am just going to put a Georgette Heyer pastiche in the middle of my military SF series, this is a perfectly reasonable decision which no one will ever question.” I wonder what her editor was thinking when this book hit her desk. “Uh, Lois… you seem to have forgotten the part where they blow each other up in spaceships…”
Lord Dono is the best representation of a trans dude in fiction ever. I appreciate that the role of “transphobes”, in this book, was played by a man whose other personality traits appear to be “smug smarmy douchiness”, “committing lots of rape”, and “literally murdering a puppy.” I mean, sometimes I want a serious exploration of the nature of transphobia, and sometimes I want a Georgette Heyer pastiche in which it is clearly explained that all transphobes murder puppies. This is cathartic.
Diplomatic Immunity: BABIES BABIES BABIES BABIES LITTLE TINY QUADDIE HERM BABIES
Cryoburn: I would like to nominate Kibou-daini for the position of Creepiest Planet. Also, I feel like DIY cryonicists rebelling against the evil cryonics establishment by making sure there’s immortality for everyone is the aesthetic.
Aral died! 😦 I don’t understand why this was allowed to happen! Mark was LITERALLY JUST ABOUT TO END DEATH, you guys! AAAAAAAAAA
Winterfair Gifts: I do not buy for one single solitary second that Ekaterin and Miles are in a monogamous relationship. You’re telling me that a monogamous guy is going to invite his ex-girlfriend to be in his wedding, and give strict orders that she is to be treated like she’s a princess and given everything she wants? And then in Cryoburn he’s going to drop everything so he can be by her bedside as she dies? And his wife not only has no problem with this but makes the ex-girlfriend her maid of honor? Nah, Sergeant Taura is and has always been Miles’s secondary partner and they have a great relationship.
Shards of Honor: This is a romance novel. This is literally a romance novel. There is, technically speaking, a war, but it is all strictly secondary to the question of Aral and Cordelia: Will They Kiss. “Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Astronomical Survey has never had time for love. When she meets the mysterious Barrayaran Aral Vorkosigan, she’s intrigued by his rugged masculinity… and all too aware of his reputation as the brutal Butcher of Komarr. But when her passion for the strangely honorable general conflicts with her duty to Beta Colony, Cordelia will find herself making decisions that change the course of history…”
I am endlessly, endlessly pleased by Aral’s deep confusion about these strange Betan customs like “not yentas” and “not arranged marriages” and the fact that he didn’t quite grasp that in the Betan model you’re not supposed to propose marriage a week after meeting someone.
Beta Colony is fucking creepy. Add “vivid descriptions of psychiatric abuse” to the Lois McMaster Bujold: Weirdly Good On Ableism list.
Barrayar: Does the Vorkosigan Saga seem weirdly pro-fetal-personhood to anyone else? Like, first in Shards of Honor the fetuses that were a product of Barrayaran soldiers raping people were put in replicators and sent to Barrayar, instead of being aborted. And now in Barrayar not only is killing a disabled fetus presented as unambiguously a villainous action but said disabled fetus is the MacGuffin that propels the entire climax. I guess being anti-abortion is a lot more reasonable in a universe with uterine replicators.
TINY MILES. TINY MILES IS MY FAVORITE PERSON. I WANT TO GIVE HIM INFINITE HUGS.