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Thoughts: Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Yes, it has been forever. Yes, as always, I regret it. Such a backlog.

This one needs a big embarrassing disclaimer: I think I might be a little bit jealous! As an amateur writer, sometimes when I read a good book it’ll dishearten me, because I’m a self-centred human being, and instead of happily appreciating someone else’s skills I’m always in the back of my head brooding about mine (or the lack thereof). So I’m going to be careful about my few small criticisms of this book, and make sure they aren’t coming from that resentful place. I am guilty of backhandedly complimenting things I love but could never approach. Ninefox tripped that wire for me quite hard. I don’t know exactly what it was, but something did. I kind of thought I was over the irrational envy after reading Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven without wanting to cut off my fingers and break my keyboard, but nope.

Spoilers spoilers spoilers.

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Thoughts: Heart of the Dragon, by Gena Showalter

Oh my goodness, where do I start?

Let’s start at the beginning. Once upon a time, a husband found two incredible-looking books in a free bookshelf and brought them home to his wife. One day, the wife picked one up and read it, hoping for some frothy, trashy* fun.

This is what she actually got.

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Thoughts: Lady Into Fox, by David Garnett

I picked this one up because I read a review of a ballet production of it, and thought it sounded exactly like the sort of thing I’d wish I’d written. Is it? I’m not sure. It’s very of its time.

The premise of Lady Into Fox is that there’s a lady, and she turns into a fox in a freak miracle. It’s short, and written in a sort of reported speech fairytale style, but I wasn’t quite sure if it had any deeper meaning or moral, and if so, what it was. The writing style led me to think that there must be. And there was something, but it never quite came together for me. I always felt like there was something I was missing.

Once Sylvia Tebrick, née Fox, turns into a vixen, it’s the job of her husband to hide her condition and try to maintain their happy married life as far as that’s possible (not far at all). We only get Mr Tebrick’s perspective, and that at a distance, as the story is purported to be a true one, and the author’s meticulous research is what’s enabling us to read it in its complete form. Still, just after her transformation, Sylvia is still recognisably herself – tame, loving and well-mannered. Mr Tebrick’s immediate fear is dogs (all of whom in the story’s environs are trained to kill foxes on sight) and discovery by other people, so his first actions, once they’re home, are to shoot their two dogs and let all the house staff go.

For a couple of days, they manage (though Mr Tebrick is distraught at his wife’s transformation, and she does her very best to cheer him up). But the transformation continues. Sylvia becomes more and more a fox, refusing clothes, eating on the floor, displaying alarming behaviour around ducks and baring her teeth at her long-suffering husband. She also wants to be free, and starts trying to escape.

I couldn’t quite get a handle on it – is it about Sylvia’s need for freedom, is it about something private (the story was dedicated to Garnett’s ex-lover), or is it just the story of a woman who was turned into a fox one day? Threads kept showing underneath the story but I couldn’t make them into a full picture. There was still plenty to enjoy. The conflict between humanity and wildness, the increasing absurdity of the husband’s inability to let go of his fox-wife, even when she has a litter of fox cubs, the way that human manners start to look silly when you try to impose them on what is frankly a fox with no human thoughts and only a recognition of one human face to tie her to the world of humans.

It’s when he allows her to live wild and accepts that he has no hold on her that they fall into another companionable period, though infinitely stranger than before, but allowing her to be wild means accepting the cruelties of that world.

It’s a strange, spare little story, but I can see how it would make a fascinating, weird ballet, and maybe one day I’ll get the chance to see it.

What is the top-heaviest country?

This post is based on an interesting Twitter thread about country populations! In particular, this pair of tweets from Josh Fruhlinger:

It’s an interesting thing – how top-heavy is a country or federation? In other words, how much of the population is concentrated in its largest constituents?

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Thoughts: The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey

Tl;dr, it is very good. It made waves in 2014 for a reason.

Bonus tip: the film is also very good! Seeing it is the reason I put the book on my list, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

A very quick disclaimer: the casting in the film took some different directions from the book (swapped the races of Melanie and Miss Justineau, basically) and I kept imagining the actresses while reading, though it messes with the description. It didn’t bother me – I’m rubbish at imagining things anyway – but I know it does bother some people if there’s a mismatch, so be aware. The casting is great though, and I think I preferred it to the book character descriptions?

Anyway, because I saw the film first, I don’t know how much of the book’s premise is spoilers, so be aware of that too. I don’t think it’s very spoilery, because basically as soon as you open it the slow reveal begins, but I thought I’d say anyway, in case you didn’t want to know more. If you don’t, then I’ll just say that the characters are strong and the writing is quite lovely and I inhaled this book.

Spoilers follow.

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A short Star Trek thing

Normally I’d just complain about this on Facebook or wherever, but since it’s also a spoiler for the season finale of Star Trek Discovery, I decided to put it here on the blog. Spoilers after the jump!

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Play: Human of the Year

This is a play we wrote for a Play in a Day event. It’s not exactly as performed (the director and actors did a good job of cutting it down and neatening it up a bit), but not bad for a night’s work.

Human of the Year (PDF)

Thoughts: Promise of Shadows, by Justina Ireland

This book found its way onto my TBR list because a friend found it on Goodreads and the summary sounded like amazing, silly fun to fill the impending Kitty Norville-shaped hole in my life. I want to say it sounded “trashy”, but before I do I want to make it clear that to me, “trashy” means fun, easy to read, dramatic, audaciously pleasure-seeking (which I don’t mean to sound like an act of radical whateverism, just that I envy people who can write without embarrassment about angst and badassery and fun, a concept I find perfectly embodied in the phrase “super-hot Brazilian were-jaguar“). I hold good trashy novels in very high esteem. They take a lot of skill to write well, and I hate that “trashy” contains the word “trash” and that there’s no other good word that means the same.

Anyway, all this is moot because Promise of Shadows wasn’t very good.

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Short Story: The Judgement of Dr Solomon, Neurologist

Does this count as a story? A work of some kind of fiction anyway.

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Thoughts: Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner

This is not the first Booker Prizewinner I’ve read, but I haven’t read that many so it still gets a mention. It is the first book I’ve read where the author had to apologise for its winning a prize though! I’ve never read Ballard’s Empire of the Sun and I’m sure it’s great, but come on, guys. Being angry at a book because some people chose it over a different book is not polite. And it’s… really unfortunate that the book that won is about female experiences and the book everyone wanted to win is a war book. It just looks unfortunate. And as a total outsider to this fight that happened before I was born, I just have to lay that out there. It would be dishonest not to.

Anyway, Hotel du Lac was really good.

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