Books 53-68: Notes on Stross, Brook, and Bickham

The Cold Dish (Longmire 1) Craig Johnson Mystery
Death Without Company (Longmire 2) Craig Johnson Mystery
Kindness Goes Unpunished (Longmire 3) Craig Johnson Mystery
Another Man’s Moccasins (Longmire 4) Craig Johnson Mystery
The Dark Horse (Longmire 5) Craig Johnson Mystery
Junkyard Dogs (Longmire 6) Craig Johnson Mystery
Hell is Empty (Longmire 7) Craig Johnson Mystery
Divorce Horse (Longmire 7.1) Craig Johnson Western
As the Crow Flies (Longmire 8) Craig Johnson Mystery
Christmas in Absaroka County (Longmire 8.1) Craig Johnson Mystery
Messenger (Longmire 8.2) Craig Johnson Mystery
A Serpent’s Tooth (Longmire 9) Craig Johnson Mystery
Spirit of Steamboat (Longmire 9.1) Craig Johnson Mystery
Any Other Name (Longmire 10) Craig Johnson Mystery
Heart of Steel Meljean Brook Steampunk
Scene and Structure Jack Bickham Writing
The Rhesus Chart Charles Stross Speculative Fiction

I think I’ll reserve comment on the Johnson books for a separate post, except to say that the man’s a genius of characterization. I love the entire series. Bravo.

The Rhesus Chart by Stross is…clever. Exceedingly clever. It’s possibly just a little too clever in places, but he makes a very good story out of it. I probably should have seen the ending coming, but I think I just covered my eyes and hoped for the best. Notable takeaway for this book is that “X doesn’t exist” may as easily mean “X exists but someone doesn’t want you to think about it” as “X doesn’t exist”. For the X-Files generation, that’s hardly a surprising message; the truth is out there, what-what? But it’s an especially important message when we keep turning a blind eyes to things like climate change, pollution, and so on. “There’s no such thing as global warming” could easily be the “Everyone knows vampires don’t exist” of our world. In any event, it’s provocative on the subject of seeing what we’re told to see and how difficult it can be to see around that. Even more, how the way around a deliberate smokescreen is fraught with errors, and collateral damage. Stross unsubtly makes the point that lives are at stake when we turn a blind eye (to anything from global warming to domestic violence). Ultimately, it is, I think a somewhat hopeful take, but it’s clear, personal sacrifice will be necessary to save his world…and ours.

Heart of Steel by contrast feels like a light-hearted romp, an adventure through the Renaissance, zombies, the Huguenots, and the Mongol Horde. It feels that way, like a high adventure romance, and it is once, but it’s also in its way an incredibly subtle and nuanced look at propaganda, race relations, the role of story in shaping our understandings, and thus the responsibility of purveyors of narrative. It also looks hard at love, what it means to feel, to open yourself to someone else, to risk and ultimately to share. There’s so much richness in this world of Meljean Brooks’s that it’s hard for me to talk about it without waving my hands around and stumbling over words. Ultimately, I think, what I take from it is Yasmeen’s incredible strength of character and principle and how the strongest thing she did was open herself to Archimedes. She’s a character type I absolutely adore, and Archimedes made watching her fall truly delightful. He’s also pretty damned delightful, but undoubtedly, my favorite thing about the book is the story that explains what Yasmeen actually is. I won’t spoil it, because it’s just too lovely. It takes something that could be simple and trite and makes it beyond meaningful.

Scene and Structure hardly requires me adding yet another paean to its excellence. So I’ll just say, I’ve read this one five times now, and I’m still learning from it. Want to understand how scenes work? How story is built? This book lays it out. It’s not a rules book, not prescriptive, but descriptive. Even if you personally think story structure is for the birds–be free, be free–knowing what you’re rejecting makes this well worth the read.