Sorry I've been AWOL.  Still depressed and angry, and planning on staying so for a while.  But I have also done some reading.

Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon, Pride of Baghdad: Four lions escape the zoo after it’s bombed in the second US invasion of Iraq. They face mysteries and challenges and the ending is exactly as depressing as I thought it was going to be. Beautiful, but a horrendous downer.

Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library: Irene is an agent of the Library, a mysterious organization that collects unusual books across different realities/variant universes. Balanced against the forces of order (dragons) and chaos (fae), the Library connects the universes together. But Irene’s new assistant, Kai, turns out to be a dragon—highly unusual, to say the least—and her latest assignment puts her in the path of the Library’s most dangerous enemy, a former Librarian determined to assist the forces of chaos. Nice (multiple) worldbuilding and use of language as a “magic” distinct from ordinary magic and technology. And, nice for me, there is another volume already out and another on the way.

Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: About three-fourths Ready Player One, one-eighth Jo Walton’s Among Others, and one-eighth The Circle: Clay is a startup refugee who gets a job at a very strange bookstore with very strange clients. His interest in digitization leads him to intervene in the clients’ odd quest, with consequences for everyone around him. It’s feelgood in that Clay deploys his connections, including with his childhood D&D buddy Neel and his new Googler girlfriend Kat Potente (symbolism not very hidden here), to solve problems; there are no true evils in this book, only challenges and quests. It’s about loving books and computers both, but loving them best in the company of friends. Slight, but it didn’t leave me with the bro aftertaste of Ready Player One.

Robin Sloan, Annabel Scheme: A quantum detective and her rogue server apprentice deal with the intersection between computer science and magic. Again, slight (and short) but fun, with a lot of Google in-jokes.

Courtney Milan, Unclaimed: A courtesan trying to leave the life needs one last score to do so, and so she takes an assignment to seduce and thus ruin a famously celibate aristocrat. (Political rivalries.) But she ends up liking him far more than she expected, and he is preternaturally free of the condemnation that men of his social class would ordinarily push onto fallen women. Cute, and as usual for Milan there’s good banter, but my suspension of disbelief kind of snapped.

Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom: This sequel to Six of Crows delivers all the intrigue, treachery, heists, and related scams one could want, melding with the politics of the new drug that threatens to make magic-users’ situation even worse in terms of their exploitation/attempted extermination. The ringleader Kaz has to struggle with his PTSD that prevents him from even admitting that he cares about anyone, while the young woman who loves him back has her own damage from years as a sex slave—I liked that they were very, very angry about what had happened to them and that there were no easy solutions, but they also stayed committed to the larger task (even when that was getting revenge on the people who betrayed them).

Dorothy J. Heydt, The Interior Life: Sue, a white suburban 80s housewife with three kids, who are just now in school full-time, starts experiencing the adventures of a psychic and a chatelaine in a fantasy land threatened by the Darkness, with glancing similarities to situations in her own life (though with far more serious consequences for the fantasylanders). The psychic, a high lady, starts giving Sue advice on how to comport herself, including how to dress, what to read, and how to handle difficult situations with her husband’s boss and with the local PTA. Whether Sue is experiencing a break with reality or connecting with another one is never entirely clear. What’s most interesting to me is how extraordinarily historically specific Sue’s life is. It’s not just, or even mostly, that Sue’s plot involves the introduction of “microcomputers” to the school and to her husband’s business. The social relations are much more striking: the background assumptions about what women’s natural concerns are, not just in the essentialist feminism of the local academic couple but also Sue’s own defaults. She’s perfectly accepting of a single woman working—but she also thinks her own husband is one of the good ones because he doesn’t beat her, doesn’t drink too much, and lets her have extra money in order to make the house look better as part of securing him a promotion. Her husband defends her from criticism by saying that not only does the house look great but she’s become better in bed, so he’d support her getting a job outside the home. Maybe it’s the election season in which I’m reading this, but it creeped me out.
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