by Jacqueline Carey
2015 (originally published 2002) • 496 pages • Tor Books
Can Jacqueline Carey structure a trilogy or what?
I have a lot of opinions on how book series should be structured. I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to ask that a novel in a series be a novel unto itself—not that it needs to completely standalone, just that it needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end while setting up the board for the next installment. And yet, this seems to be a tall order, especially when it comes to speculative fiction. I have encountered plenty of trilogies whose structure seem based on The Lord of the Rings—which is a terrible idea, because The Lord of the Rings is a single novel, not a series.
But, mercifully, Carey understands this and avoids it by both structuring her books enjoyably and cramming them so full of incident that you cannot help but be satisfied by the time you’re finished. It’s astonishing to me that The Sundering is a very successful duet, despite duets being harder to pull off than trilogies, which at least can have the traditional three act structure mapped onto them. Reading a Carey novel is knowing you are in good hands.
My Real Children
by Jo Walton
2014 • 320 pages • Tor Books
Jo Walton is an unmitigated genius.
Everything I have ever read by her—Tooth and Claw, Among Others, and the astonishing first two installments of her Small Change trilogy—has been consistently spectacular, so when My Real Children was first announced on Tor.com, I was over the moon. But over the course of my move, I lost track of it. Which is why it was meaningful to come across it in the new fiction section at my new local library. That’s in hindsight, of course; in the moment, I snatched it off the shelf and scurried home to binge read it.
My Real Children is the story of Patricia Cowan, an elderly woman suffering from dementia in 2014. Or is that 2015? Patricia’s memory is deteriorating rapidly, and she finds herself remembering two lives that overlap and differ in significant ways. In one life, Patricia was Tricia, wife to the cruel Mark but mother of four beloved children. In the other, Patricia was Pat, a travel writer who raised three children with her beloved biologist Bee. The novel opens and closes with the elderly Patricia, but otherwise tells Patricia’s life story, from her childhood and schooling (the same in both lives) to the divergence point (a marriage proposal cum ultimatum) to the twilight of her lives.
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
Somehow, I ended up with two copies of A Fire Upon the Deep. I entered one of Tor’s many giveaways promoting The Children of the Sky and won; the prize package included the incredibly fancy new trade paperback edition of A Fire Upon the Deep, presumably to get potential readers up to speed. However, I had found a copy of it in a local used bookstore a few weeks prior, after being unable to find A Fire Upon the Deep in either of my library systems. (This appears to have been a fluke; I encountered a copy shelving.) In any case, I’ll probably give away the extra copy, because this is a novel I want you guys to read.