A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: This is my pick of the haul this week! One of the best books I’ve read recently for its creative worldbuilding. After the mysterious death of the previous ambassador, Mahit Dzmare has been sent from Lsel Station to the neighboring Teixcalaanli Empire as his replacement. She’s a xenophile, in love with Teixcalaanli’s literature- and poetry-filled culture, and she’s been working all her life for an opportunity like this. But the previous ambassador’s recorded memories, which she carries in her head, are many years out of date, and the Empire she finds herself in is in the middle of political turmoil that she has to sort through while figuring out what her predecessor had been doing. It’s a great mystery / science fiction / political intrigue, with likable characters, a fascinating culture, and thoughtful but not heavy-handed messages about the process of cultural imperialism vs. physical colonialism on individuals. The book stands alone pretty well, but there’s to be a sequel in 2020.
Arkady Martine’s website
Tor’s much longer book review of A Memory Called Empire
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: A good political fantasy to read right after Memory! This novel was a happy surprise for me; I’d picked it up a little reluctantly, since the combination of goblins, elves and airships didn’t innately excite me, but neither the fantasy nor the steampunk element was intrusive or distracting; it is woven well into the background to the story, which focuses on the emperor’s young and unprepared fourth son, Maia, who unexpectedly inherits the throne. Maia is an engaging character, made sharp and resilient by his experiences in near-exile, and I enjoyed watching him negotiating his first few months as a racial and political outsider in a court inclined to dislike and distrust him.
The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors by Matthew O. Jackson: This nonfiction book applies network analysis to human behavior and talks about such concepts as homophily, immobility, DeGroot learning and the effect of informational externalities to explain things such as neighborhood (self-)segregation, political polarization, and the spread of fake news (and disease). It’s a bit of a dry read in places, but if you stick with it, you’ll find it a good introduction to a different way to consider how humans group and influence each other.
These are Strange Times, My Dear: Field Notes from the Republic by Wendy Willis: This book reminded me why I don’t read books of essays. Not that the essays are bad — they’re thoughtful, often lyrical commentaries on politics and society — but too often essays leave me feeling empty. I imagine there are plenty who’d enjoy this book, but after the first few essays, I skimmed and then set it aside.
Money Diaries by Lindsey Stanberry: I’ve been reading a number of books on finance and budgeting lately, as for complicated but positive reasons I’ll be taking a 25% pay cut over the next two years. This book was written for millennials and Gen Z, not someone like me — Gen X and looking ahead toward retirement — but it was an interesting glimpse into the world of my students and younger colleagues. I was amazed by the salaries a few of the young diarists were pulling down (should I be asking for a raise?) and I was startled by how much money most of the writers spend each week on eating out, using rideshare, subscribing to media services, etc. But it’s good to know; as a college professor, it behooves me to understand the priorities and concerns of my students. If you’re in your 20s-30s and struggling with finances, you’ll probably find this an interesting read.