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Recent Reading: September 2017

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately: Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow, Paul Cornell, Brian K. Vaughan, and Pia Guerra.

A colorful stack of books.
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, 2017. View book details on

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a fabulous prequel to Seanan McGuire’s fabulous Every Heart a Doorway. You can absolutely read it on it’s own.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is, essentially, a portal-fantasy fairy tale. Two sisters find their way to another world. One ends up in the care of a vampire, the other ends up as a mad scientist’s assistant. This is a touching, powerful story set in a beautiful, dark world written in gorgeous, enchanting prose. Just go read this already.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

DC Comics, 2011.

My JVC community-mate Pat mailed me the first two books in this series a while back. Y: The Last Man is a comic series (now complete and collected in five books) about Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, the only two survivors of a mysterious plague that instantly killed every other mammal with a Y chromosome. Yorick is an amateur escape artist and recent college grad, an English-major type. At the start of the story, he’s in NYC, but after the plague hits, he tries to get to Australia because, you know, that’s where his girlfriend is.

I am deeply grateful that Pat put this series into my life. I’ve read a handful of other comics and graphic novels, and Y: The Last Man is the most fun and gripping comic I’ve come across. Y: The Last Man is a fun, post-apocalyptic adventure. Sometimes it’s pulpy and stupid (in a good way). Sometimes it’s smart and interesting. It never takes itself too seriously. It’s well-plotted and tightly-paced. It’s got great characters, and it had a bigger emotional impact on me than I had expected it would.

I definitely recommend Y: The Last Man if you want a fun post-apocalyptic comic series.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

Tor Books, 2003.

In the wild future of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, death is no big deal. You’ll just get downloaded into another body. Instead of cash, the future runs on Whuffie, a form of reputation scoring. Various ad-hocracies have taken over managing much of the world—including Disney World, where the book is largely set. And if you ever get bored, you can always deadhead for a century or two.

If the lingo in the previous paragraph overwhelmed you, you aren’t alone. This book isn’t entry-level SF. That said, once you grok the core lingo, the book becomes highly readable.

One of the challenges of overcoming death, however, is that your stakes suddenly seem quite small. And indeed, this story’s stakes are small: the central conflict is about which group gets going to run the Haunted Mansion at Disney World. If you’re a Disney fan, these might be gripping stakes for you, but they weren’t for me. However, that said, this book doesn’t pretend to be Lord of the Rings. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a 200-page SF comedy set in a wonky future Disney World. If that sounds like fun to you, it probably will be.

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell, 2015.

Witches of Lychford is yet another novella that I pretty much picked up on impulse. In this book, a chain supermarket wants to build a new location in a small English town. There’s a catch of course: the town stands on a barrier between our world and some seriously dangerous dark scary forces, and the new supermarket would shatter that precious barrier.

Here’s the best thing about Witches of Lychford: it’s up to three protagonists to save the day, all of whom are likable adult women with interesting backstories. There’s Judith, the town crank. There’s Autumn, the skeptic who runs a magic shop. And there’s Lizzie, the vicar who’s having a crisis of faith. I read a lot, but I would be hard-pressed to point to another book with three well-developed, adult women protagonists.