So May was a damn, damn good reading month for me – 39 books in 31 days. How did I not learn about audiobooks before this month? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Did you know that you could read while you combed your hair or buttered your bagel? Because you can and it’s magical. What did I even do prior to audiobooks – just sit in silence while I brushed my teeth and drove to work? What a plebeian.
Anyway, this month was overall a good month – I think most of the books I read were a three-star or higher. But boy, did one anticipated read come up and bite me in the ass hard.
Best of May: Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein
I’m still not over this book, so forgive me if I come off a bit twitterpated here. So I love hard science fiction – like please, tell me your course trajectory in detail and explain to me how you’re going to use Jupiter’s gravity to increase your acceleration. The one issue with hard science fiction is that it has a lot of straight white dudes doing the scienceing, but that’s not the case in Saturn Run. Not only are almost all of the main cast women, but they’re women of color and non-heterosexual women. The captain of the ship is a lesbian woman of color who just happens to be considered the best captain the United States has to offer. The lead engineer is a plain, overweight woman who consistently quips that she would murder any man stupid enough to try and belittle her. There is no storyline of these women overcoming adversity to reach these positions, there are no scenes where they struggle with male crew members questioning their competence – they are just the best at what they do and everyone respects them accordingly. Holy. Shit. HOLY SHIT. These are the kinds of characters I want to see in science fiction. It also doesn’t hurt that Sandford and Ctein write a compelling plot with spot-on pacing that allows these women to show just what they can do either. While the ending was a bit mellow for my tastes and I’m surprised that there’s no apparent sequel given that it leaves a few loose ends, Saturn Run is worth it alone to watch these two stomp on the backs of men.
Worst of May: Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Similarly, I am still not over this book, but for far different reasons. I had heard such good things about Dark Orbit from people whose opinion I respected, but there was hardly anything salvageable here. While I appreciate the initial premise and the story clipped along at a good pace, it all began to dissolve after the first few chapters. So first of all, this is not a science fiction novel. Nothing about this was scientifically feasible at all, even what Gilman was trying to bill as scientific – the amount of processing power it would take to reconstruct a person atom by atom like her interstellar travel system does is unimaginable and she doesn’t even try to explain it. To compensate for this, she dives into the metaphysical by having characters meditate and use the power of the mind to travel
between the stars. No. Stop it. Even if we concede that her science works because whatever-the-fuck, the crux of the book’s tension – the machine that enables said travel breaking down – is just completely unbelievable. I’m sorry, but if you’re traveling almost 60 light years, you’re not leaving without duplicate parts. We don’t even go to our own fucking moon without parts in triplicate. We keep a spare fucking tire in our cars, for the love of God. And you’re trying to tell me the world’s best and brightest forgot to pack a spare for the most crucial part of their transportation system? No.
It also has some implications regarding women and mental illness the churn my stomach. Gilman plops in a needless comment on the threatened rape of one main character and then states that the other main character finds the constant aggression between her and the head of security sexual appealing. She’s both using sexual violence as a cheap source of character development and implying that sexual violence is arousing, which is disgusting. With the mental illness, it’s implied that one of the main character’s is having her destiny and psychic powers denied to her by doctors who are prescribing her anti-psychotic drugs. She is taken off them, realizes her potential, and saves the day. Excuse me, but… what? Did you just imply that it’s a good idea to mistrust doctors and stop taking the incredibly important drugs that stabilizes your mental health? Because it’s not like people stopping their potentially life-saving medication is a problem in the real world or anything.
So done with this book.