Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review-itas: Books that confused me

by Yoon Ha Lee
Guys, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee confused me so much that I cannot even explain the cover of this book to you.  Does it fit with the story?  I don't know.  I mean, the story takes place in space, so that part is accurate.  But what is the spiky thing that dominates the image?  I don't know.

As far as I can tell, Ninefox Gambit is set in a civilization that really likes order.  There appears to be a massive mathematical algorithm (the "calendar") that oversees every tiny thing, especially in the military.  Possibly people exist outside of the military, but it is hard to tell.  There is also a very rigid caste system in place, with different groups of people going into different areas of study and conforming to very specific traits.  The main character, Cheris, is in the military leading her team and somehow goes against the calendar.  This means she's in trouble and she's given a very big, basically impossible task to go kill some heretics, for which she asks for help from this undead ghost who won every battle he ever fought, except he also turned traitor and got an obscene number of people killed.

There was a lot in this book that I did not understand.  This book is like all my fears and feelings of intimidation about science fiction coming to fruition.  Once I got to the end and things started moving a little faster and became more people-focused than calendar-focused (I still cannot grasp this calendar system, and it DRIVES ME CRAZY), I got more into it.  And it certainly ends on a high note that bodes well for the series to follow.  So I eventually got the high-level plot, but I could tell you nothing about the setting.

by Nalo Hopkinson
After my appalling showing in 2016 of reading only four books off my TBR list, I was determined to do better in 2017.  (To be fair, I set a pretty low bar for myself, so I feel confident I can beat it.)  I read and enjoyed Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber, so I decided to give Sister Mine a go.  Many of the same elements that I loved in Midnight Robber are present here - a strong cultural identity, humor, and fantastic female characters at the center.  Sister Mine is often compared to American Gods or Anansi Gods because it is about a family of demigods.  But whereas Neil Gaiman's book is almost entirely about men, Hopkinson's puts women very much at the center of the story.  She plays with gender, sexuality, and many other themes while she wreaks havoc with the lives of both humans and gods.

I listened to Sister Mine on audio, and the narrator is excellent.  I don't listen to many audiobooks any more, but I was pretty much instantly drawn into this one.  I enjoyed many things about this story, but parts of it were just a bit too out there for me, particularly towards the end when things became very convoluted to me.  I really liked many of the characters in this book, but with about two hours to go, I was just ready for the book to end.  There were plot points that came up that didn't make a ton of sense to me or fit into the rest of the story, and then there was this whole section at the end that I was just... I don't know what was happening.  I feel like maybe if I were reading a physical copy of the book instead of listening to an audiobook, it would have been easier for me to understand what was happening.  Or maybe I'm just so confused by the real world that fantastical and science fiction worlds go too far for me.  Regardless, this was a lighter book than Midnight Robber for sure, with humor and pretty great family dynamics.  So if you want to give Hopkinson a try but don't want all the heavy stuff, this could be a good one to start with.  But I wouldn't say it's as strong as Midnight Robber

12 comments:

  1. Ha, "maybe I'm just so confused by the real world that fantastical and science fiction worlds go too far for me." I've felt like that lately. I do think, however, that some SF authors are doing the academic thing where they try to make themselves sound smarter than they are by confusing their readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely! I am not sure if anyone else could have understood this book that well, either, but maybe if you are much better versed in the SFF genre, it would be easier?

      Delete
  2. I have Ninefox Gambit and hope to read it this year. I guess I will see if I am confused!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think the calendar system works best if you think of it like "maths made magic." Sometimes with SFF you just have to except that you have no idea what's going on and just go with it anyway. Or, at least, that's how I was able to enjoy Ninefox Gambit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's true. I certainly was fine with it at the beginning, but when I was close to the end of the book and still very confused, I got a bit frustrated. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much, though!

      Delete
  4. I love sci fi and am very willing to ride out confusion, but Ninefox Gambit hit my limit. I was able to roll with the worldbuilding for the most part--not that I understood it, but that I could just let it flow over me like water. But a lot of the motivation stuff, the logic that the characters used to figure out what other characters would do--none of it meant anything. So there were all these moments of people thinking through facts and realizing something that I have no idea what they realized or how they realized it. It was very frustrating--I'm with you there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! Exactly. Like when she realized she was being screwed over by other people a few times in the book because they were Kel or Shuos or whatever else. I had zero clue.

      Delete
  5. Love your tone here! Heheh Midnight Robber remains my favourite of Nalo Hopkinson's novels, but sometimes I hesitate to recommend it as the best place to start because, as you say, it's a bit challenging. I haven't read Sister Mine yet, but the book which preceded it left me feeling a little like you've said (maybe not quite so much confusion). I wonder if she truly excels with more complicated stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear many good things about Brown Girl in the Ring, so I think maybe I'll try that one - it seems pretty complicated, and as you say, maybe Hopkinson is just really great at the heavy topics.

      Delete
  6. 0_0 I do not think I wanna be that confused

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hahahahaha, this is one thing about Ninefox Gambit that has been amazingly consistent across all reviews -- nobody seems entirely sure they've got the hang of what was going on in it. When I read it (and I want to! dude's a Louisiana author!), I am going to carve out a good block of time where I can sit down and devote my attention to it. I think that maximizes my chances of having a rough idea of what's up. :p

    ReplyDelete

I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.