Biting the Sun

By way of introduction

I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, with an occasional romance, graphic novel, or non-fiction book mixed in. This is a space for my reviews and reflections on the books I read.

I'm interested in science fiction and fantasy books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual characters, and I seek out diversity in both characters and authors. I like social speculation, societies that aren't recognizably borrowed from present-day or historical Earth, and plots that explore the effect of magic or technological on societies and the characters that live in them. I'm not interested in the grim, the gritty, the kick-ass, the bad-ass, or the edgy.

I read mostly works by women, and I try to mix re-reads with new reads. My TBR pile is taller than I am, but I still keep buying books. Most of the books I buy and read are older, from the 80s and 90s, but I am always trying to find new authors and new old authors to expand my library.

I maintain an account at, and reviews will be mirrored there. Reviews are from ½ star to five stars, with five stars being the best. Comments are welcome.

You can view the index of my past reviews here.

Wiping Dirt off my Heels - Jacqueline Koyanagi's Ascension

I first became aware of this book around the end of June, when sites like SF Signal posted the cover and summary:

Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego… and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything – even destroying planets – to get their hands on her!

The blurb made this book sound like this book is a light, romantic read, but that's misleading- there is indeed a romance, but this is a book that doesn't shy away from complex issues like disability, poverty, colonialism, estranged siblings, and grief among other things.

Every character has layers that are slowly revealed over the course of the story, and the heart of the story is Alana uncovering these layers not only in the crew of the Tangled Axon but in herself and her sister as well. There are a couple of plot twists that cast everything that went before in a different light- I'm looking forward to rereading this knowing what I do about the characters by the end of the story, and I'm also hoping the subtitle "A Tangled Axon Novel" implies there will be further books about these characters in the future.

sandstone's rating: ★★★★★ (Five Stars)

This review was written for the A More Diverse Universe 2013 blog tour, celebrating the work of authors of color in the field of speculative fiction! If this work sounds interesting to you, check the review list for reviews of work from a wide variety of authors famous, mid-list, and obscure!

Feel free to comment here or come discuss this book and others at my LibraryThing reading journal, where I am more active.
Biting the Sun

Books Read, January - June 2013

1. First Channel, Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lichtenberg. ★★½
2. The Swan Kingdom, Zoë Marriott ★★★★½
3. The Exile and the Sorcerer, Jane Fletcher ★★★★★
4. The Traitor and the Chalice, Jane Fletcher ★★★★
5. On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard ★★★★½

6 Sabriel, Garth Nix ★★★★
7 Conspirator, C.J. Cherryh ★★★½
8 The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner ★★★★★
9 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin ★★★
10 Hawksong, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes ★★★★

March 9
11 Deceiver, C.J. Cherryh ★★★★½
12 Snakecharm, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes ★★★½
13 Falcondance, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes ★★★★½
14 Wolfcry, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes ★★★★½
15 Wyvernhail, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes ★★★½
16 Betrayer, C.J. Cherryh ★★★
17 Lirael, Garth Nix ★★★★
18 Abhorsen, Garth Nix ★★★½
19 The Missing Queen, Samhita Arni ★★★★★

April 7
20 Green Rider, Kristin Britain ★★★½
21 Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Melissa Scott ★★★★★
22 Intruder, C.J. Cherryh ★★★★★
23 Ultraviolet, R.J. Anderson ★★★½
24 Angel on the Ropes, Jill Shultz ★★★½
25 Archangel, Sharon Shinn ★★★★½
26 The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin ★★★

May 8
27 Protector, C.J. Cherryh ★★★★
28 Deliberations, C.J. Cherryh ★★★★
29 Conflict of Honors, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ★★★½
30 Agent of Change [The Agent Gambit], Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ★★★½
31 Carpe Diem [The Agent Gambit], Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ★★★½
32 Dragon Bones, Patricia Briggs ★★
33 Plan B [Korval's Game], Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ★★★½
34 I Dare [Korval's Game], Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ★★★½

June 9
35 The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin ★★★★
36 Silence in Solitude, Melissa Scott ★★★★★
37 Enchanting the Lady, Kathryne Kennedy ★★½
38 The Empress of Earth [Revised E-book Version], Melissa Scott ★★★★★
39 Shards of Honor [Cordelia's Honor], Lois McMaster Bujold ★
40 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Yasutaka Tsutsui ★★½
41 City of Bones, Martha Wells ★★★½
42 Quicksilver, R.J. Anderson ★★½
43 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, Galen Beckett (aka Mark Anthony) ★★
Biting the Sun

Reading update

This blog hasn't exactly gone the way I planned; rather than weekly updates, I will now plan to be a bit more sporadic, and perhaps expand the focus beyond a reading log to other thoughts. With luck, I may even be able to collect my sporadic rants here, rather than continually derailing topics at LibraryThing's FantasyFans group.

Ilona Andrews, Magic Bites (2007), finished

It took me quite a while to make it through this book, but I did manage it.
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I found it worth reading if nothing else because of how often it comes up in discussions, and I have the second book in the series in my TBR pile, but I do think I need a break from the high violence level, especially sexual and sexualized violence.

sandstone's rating: ★★½ (Two and a Half Stars)

Tanya Huff, Stealing Magic (1999, republished with additional material 2005)

This is a collection of short stories, or rather two collections in one, following two characters: Magdalene, the most powerful (and also laziest) wizard in the world, and Terazin, a thief in a fairly typical corrupt medievalesque city. The Magdalene stories are more humorous, and the Terazin stories a bit more typical low fantasy adventure.

Reading through, it turned out I had read one story from each character before: the first Terazin story, "Swan's Braid", in Swords of the Rainbow: Gay and Lesbian Fantasy Adventures, and the first published (though not first chronological) Magdalene story, "Third Time Lucky", in Magical Beginnings, an anthology of writers' first sales- the Magdalene story had left no impact on me, but I remembered the Terazin one well, and enjoyed the twist at the end. I'm glad to read more of these characters.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Pilots Choice (2000)

This is an omnibus of two novels from the authors' Liaden universe, Local Custom and Scout's Progress, and a re-read for me. These are prequels to the series' main space opera sequence of novels, which starts with Agent of Change, and tell the backstory of the previous generation, specifically how the parents got together. (The romance is much more centric in these than in later books, especially in Local Custom.)

Some suspension of disbelief is required in the characterization (could a professor of Liaden literature really be so ignorant of seemingly fundamental cultural concepts?), and there are other annoyances (there are bisexual characters, including a couple of main characters, but their relationships with the same sex are always offscreen and in the past, and no same-sex relationship achieves the vaunted lifemate/psychic soul-bond status, for example), but they're well-paced reads with likable characters.

Edited to correct- there is an on-screen same-sex relationship between Priscilla, the heroine of Conflict of Honors, and a female crewmember of the ship she works on.

Invisible Enemies: Samuel R. Delany's The Fall of the Towers

I picked this book up from a book sale at a local grocery store about ten years ago. It was the only science fiction book on the table, but I had never heard of Samuel Delany before, so I picked it up and started reading the first page:

The green of beetles' wings... the red of polished carbuncle... a web of silver fire.

I bought the book on the strength of that striking image alone, and found that the book that followed lived up to its promise. This one had been in the queue to be reread for ages, but it's been on my mind lately, so I decided to pick it up again.

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I am happy to say that this book held its ground and maintained its place on my keeper shelf during the re-read, and that I look forward to digging out the other Delany books I've acquired that have been languishing in my TBR pile for ages.

sandstone's rating: ★★★★½ (Four and a Half Stars)

This review was written for the A More Diverse Universe blog tour, celebrating the work of authors of color in the field of speculative fiction! If this work sounds interesting to you or if Delany's work is new to you, check out the tour list- there are several reviews of Delany's other work, along with work from a wide variety of authors famous, mid-list, and obscure!

What I'm reading for the week of 9/17

Lots of turnover in my reading list for the past two weeks. I've set aside Stranger at the Wedding for now to start my reread of Samuel Delany's The Fall of the Towers for the A More Diverse Universe blog tour. I will be posting my review on Thursday, September 27th. I've also let a recommendation, Magic Bites by the married writing team Ilona Andrews, jump the queue for my weekend read.

Kristen Cashore, Fire (2009), audio book, set aside and DNF

I spoiled myself on how the romantic subplot in this one turned out, and the outcome was as I feared. I will elaborate on the reasons I stopped in an upcoming post.

Barbara Hambly, Stranger at the Wedding (1994), page 57/341

Not much progress, but this is picking up, and finally getting into the backstory. I look forward to picking it back up after I finish The Fall of the Towers.

John Crowley, The Deep (1975), page 41/176

No progress this week. This was my read-before-class book, and as I decided to switch from the night class I was taken to an online class, it's sort of been orphaned for the moment.

Ted Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010), finished

This novella was an impulse checkout last weekend at the library. It's a thoughtful explanation of the various issues surrounding AI, and while there was nothing particularly new here, I enjoyed it quite a bit and have tossed a copy of Chiang's short fiction collection Stories of Your Life and Others into the TBR grotto. Post forthcoming.

The Fall of the Towers, Samuel R. Delany (1966), page 33/411

Sometime in the very distant future, a human civilization is at war with an unseen enemy. This omnibus of an early Delany trilogy weaves together the stories of an ensemble cast of humans, mutants, and others as they try to figure out the mysteries surrounding the war and also deal with the presence of a powerful extradimensional entity among them known as the Lord of the Flames. It's gloriously weird and compulsively readable in the way of the best science fiction and fantasy of this era, and Delany has a way with word choice that normalizes the more bizarre parts and brings it all together:

"He started forward, but as he passed under the shadow of the ribbon's end, something happened.

He faded.

At least the exposed parts off his body, head, hands, and feet, faded. He stopped and looked at them. Through one bare foot he could see the rivet heads in  the metal floor. He made a disgusted face, and continued towards the door. Once in the sunlight, he grew opaque again."
(1970 Ace edition p.31).

Ilona Andrews, Magic Bites (2007), page 53/260

Kate Daniels is a somewhat down-on-her-luck magical sword-wielding mercenary in Atlanta, in a near future plagued by magic that comes in waves that disrupt the working of technology. When her estranged guardian Greg is murdered, she investigates his death and unwillingly gets involved in the magical politics in the process.

Urban fantasy isn't a genre I often read, but I have heard many good things about this series and it was recommended to me on the LibraryThing FantasyFans forum, so I decided to pick it up. My thoughts, including some spoilers, are behind the cut.

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What I'm Reading for the week of 9/3

This is what I am reading this week. There may be spoilers.

Barbara Hambly, Stranger at the Wedding (1994), page 39/341

This is a secondary-world fantasy in the fantasy-of-manners subgenre, which usually revolves around interpersonal conflict in a strict society rather than the quests and wars of epic fantasy or the amoral thieves and mercenaries of sword and sorcery. The protagonist, Kyra, is a wizard who leaves her training at the Wizards' Citadel to attend her younger sister's wedding. Her estranged father is not pleased at her return after six years.

So far I've gotten through a prologue and two chapters, and I'm into the third chapter, and I'm finding that Hambly has an annoying tendency to jump ahead in time a few minutes between chapters, which is normal, but often the Kyra's emotional state is radically different (from annoyed to really anxious and willing to work magic she shouldn't, for example) and I really wish that I got the _why_of it on the page.

The plot and worldbuilding and the wizard protagonist are enough to keep me reading for now, though. I'm at least having more luck with it than with the previous book of Hambly's I tried, The Ladies of Mandrigyn, where I couldn't get past the trite romance setup between the mercenary captain and his second-in-command who were obviously going to suddenly realize their love for each other at some point.

John Crowley, The Deep (1975), page 41/176

This is a short science-fantasy about a land on the brink of civil war between two factions, the Reds and the Blacks, and an amnesiac, silver-skinned, sexless alien who lands in the middle of it. (Yes, it is about as bizarre as it sounds.) I picked it up from the used bookstore because my reading over the past few years has skewed about 90% towards female authors over the past few years and I feel like I should read a male author every once in a while, and because I've heard good things about Little, Big, but also because I'm shallow and really liked Yvonne Gilbert's cover.

The Deep has an omniscient POV that spends a lot of time following a bunch of characters whose names are so similar they all blend together (we get Protector Redhand, Learned Redhand, Younger Redhand, Red Senlinn, Red Senlinn's Son, and Sennred all having a conversation, for example), and it hasn't spent enough time in a third of its short page count to make them distinct in any other way.

He also doesn't get deep enough into any one character's head to really give a good view of the society from their perspective, which leaves a lot of the complexities of the society vague. In fact, with the way plot points come up, it sometimes feels like the story was plotted as he wrote it- new groups and major characters show up with little foreshadowing.

Despite that, there are occasional lovely passages of description when he gets away from the political conflict. It was his first novel, and it's promising enough that I'll look forward to Beasts and Little, Big which are both somewhere in the depths of my TBR pile.

Kristen Cashore, Fire (2009), audio book, 02:17/12:40

This is my first attempt at listening to an audiobook. I checked it out electronically from my library to listen to on my phone during a long car trip. The reader, Xanthe Elbrick, has a pleasant voice and the story is easy to listen to, but unfortunately my phone's battery does not care for long, continuous periods of listening so I only got two hours in.

This is the story of Fire, a human "monster" in a land called the Dells where there are "monstrous" versions of all animal life, marked by striking beauty and an insidious ability to manipulate the thoughts of others. Fire is the last of the human monsters, saddled with an unhappy legacy after the debauchery of her monster father Cansrel nearly lead the kingdom to ruin until his death six years before. This is a prequel/companion book to the author's previous novel, Graceling, which I have not read; it is intended to be able to be read as a standalone.

There will be spoilers for this one.

Content notice for talk about characterization of villains, including off-screen rape, pedophilia, and abusive relationships, as well as discussion of on-screen physical assault.

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As I said before, it looks like sheer morbid curiosity will keep me going on this one.
Natasha Ionadis

Machismo Rampant: Suzy McKee Charnas' Walk to the End of the World

One of my goals in 2012 is to start reading the canon of works generally labeled as feminist science fiction. This is the first in a four-book series, the Holdfast Chronicles, that was written from 1974 to 1999.

Suzy McKee Charnas, Walk to the End of the World (1974)

Content notice: this book contains onscreen and offscreen depictions of rape, graphic violence, and cannibalism.

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Overall, even despite the flaws, I found it a short and absorbing read, and interesting enough that I will read the next one.

sandstone's rating: ★★★½ (Three and a Half Stars) 


Three Anthologies and Three Short Reviews

Three short older reviews cross-posted from LibraryThing.

Elizabeth Lynn, The Woman Who Loved The Moon and Other Stories (1981)

A collection of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery stories by World Fantasy Award Winner Elizabeth A. Lynn. As with most anthologies, there are better and worse stories, but there's some memorable imagery in almost all of them. I enjoyed the first story, the fantasy Wizard's Domain, the best, but The Gods of Reorth is also good. The title story was the winner of the 1980 World Fantasy Award. Out of print, but well worth tracking down.

sandstone's rating: ★★★★ (Four Stars)

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lythande (1986)

This is a collection of short stories by Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the popular Darkover science fantasy series. These stories are more typical fantasy though, many of them written for the Thieves' World shared world fantasy anthologies published during the 1980s- one of them was guest-written by Vonda McIntyre.

The main character is Lythande, a mercenary magician and part of the order of the Blue Star, of which each member's power depends on a specific personal secret being kept. Lythande's secret is that she is a woman- and should any man discover this, she will be rendered helpless and powerless. The stories center around Lythande as she takes on various tasks while traveling, and deal with the details and consequences of her keeping this secret. The tones of the stories vary from horrific to humorous, and the view of women other than Lythande is dated and sexist in parts, but despite the flaws I enjoyed reading this.

Two stories about Lythande not included in this volume were published in Spell Singers by Alan Bard Newcomer.

sandstone's rating: ★★★½ (Three and a Half Stars)

Alan Bard Newcomer (ed), Spell Singers (1989)

An anthology of fantasy short stories by a variety of authors. There are two stories each by Mercedes Lackey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and one each by Jennifer Roberson and Ru Emerson. The stories I liked best were Bradley's two, which focus around the character Lythande, due to having prior experience with the character, while the weakest in my opinion was Roberson's story, but that's likely because it's a prequel to her eight-volume Cheysuli chronicles and doesn't stand quite so well on its own. The quality overall of the stories is so-so, but not unenjoyable.

sandstone's rating: ★★★ (Three Stars)

Biting the Sun

Index of Reviews


Andrews, Ilona (pseud. Ilona and Andrew Gordon)
Magic Bites - Reading Progress 9/17/12

Cashore, Kristen
Fire - Reading Progress 9/3/12, Reading Progress 9/17/12

Charnas, Suzy McKee
Walk to the End of the World - Review

Chiang, Ted
The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Reading Progress 9/17/12

Delany, Samuel R.
The Fall of the Towers - Reading Progress 9/17/12

Crowley, John
The Deep - Reading Progress 9/3/12, Reading Progress 9/17/12

Hambly, Barbara
Stranger at the Wedding - Reading Progress 9/3/12, Reading Progress 9/17/12

Single-Author Short Fiction Collections

Bradley, Marion Zimmer
Lythande - Review

Lynn, Elizabeth
The Woman Who Loved the Moon and Other Stories - Review

Multiple-Author Short Fiction Anthologies

Newcomer, Alan Bard, ed.
Spell Singers - Review