-Lian Hearn, Through the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon: awesome YA set in a land much like Feudal Japan before the Shogunate. Takeo, an orphan raised in the forbidden religion of the Hidden, is adopted by Lord Otori after the massacre of his family. But Takeo has only exchangd one set of problems for another: as heir to a great house, he has to compound, not only with the power intrigues of the otherlords, but also with his real family–the Tribe, an alliance of assassins/mercenaries–who will stop at nothing to use him. Add to this his mad passion for young Kaede, heiresss to a powerful domain–and Takeo is just set for more than he can handle.
The culture is seamlessly woven in, and the universe is awesomely rich. I love the allusions to history (it will come as no surprise that the Hidden are Christians, at one time persecuted in Japan), the little details dotted everywhere, and the rich plot, which doesn’t really too much on pyrotechnics to build an affecting ending for everyone involved. One small nit is that Kaede, who starts out as a strong character, becomes progressively more and more of a wimp (she even has to be rescued near the end), which made me want to scream and hit something.
ETA (2012): looking back at this with a more jaundiced eye, I still think it’s got good worldbuilding, but that it’s lacking in many other respects, notably presenting a view of a semi-mythical Japan that’s basically Western (ninjas!). It’s, admittedly, not as bad as it could have been due to the fact that the world is a fake Japan rather than actual Japan, but rereading the books now, I’m made rather ill at ease by the over-emphasis of some cultural aspects (and the treatment of women is very problematic).
-Tranh-Nhut, The Temple of the Scarlet Crane (Le Temple de la Grue Ecarlate, not translated yet into English): the province of High Light, in 17th Century Viet Nam, is the kind of backwater where nothing much ever happens. Mandarin Tân, its newly appointed magistrate, expects nothing more than a string of banquets with the local bourgeoisie–but he has to change his mind when the mutilated body of a beggar child is found…
When you write mystery stories set in Ancient Asia, comparison with Van Gulik’s Judge Dee are inevitable–especially when the time period, a scant few decades after the Chinese were booted out of Viet Nam, means that there’s a lot of familiar elements, derived from the Chinese administration and way of life. But this still holds its own, in particular thanks to more sympathetic and well-rounded characters, as well as an interesting choice of shifting viewpoints that allow for a fascinating glimpse of the time period. The plot moves at a good clip, and the resolution is bittersweet and satisfying. I’m lining up for more (there’s about 5-6 sequels to date, so I should be in good hands).
–The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: Nobody Owens is only a toddler when his family gets killed by a mysterious assassin called Jack. He finds refuge in the nearby graveyard, a sprawling place that has been used as a burial site since the Celts–and the dead, who might have moved past life but are still quite feisty, decide to adopt him and give him the freedom of the graveyard. Sheltered from te mysterious organisation that still chases him, Nobody grows up among ghosts, under the watchful tutelage of brooding undead Silas. But every childhood must have an end..
Pretty good, not so much a novel as a series of interconnected vignettes with a vague story arc. Much, in fact, like both Jungle Books, which this sets out to emulate. It’s been years since I read Kipling, so I can’t really judge this aspect of it, but it’s a charming novel, sometimes dark, sometimes whimsical, and sometimes heart-wrenching. Makes me want to track down the Jungle Books again.
-“The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (novella from the Hugo Voter package), about strange happenings within a nursing home, and how those might be connected with the approach of a huge ship. Loved the characterisations, very believable, and the ending, while not unexpected, did lay out some nice consequences.
So far, out of the Hugo nominated stuff, I have read/seen:
-Short stories: 5
-Dramatic Presentation, long: 1
-Dramatic Presentation, short: 1
-Campbell stuff (novels+samplers): 4 (out of 4, I’m not including my own)
-finally finished “In the Time of Transcendence ” (aka Daoists in space), and put it up on OWW. 8k words, a lot more than I was hoping for, but at least it didn’t turn out too crooked (well, I hope so).