When last I rambled here, I was wondering what I’d do next, now that I was “fully promoted.” That answer came kinda faster than I expected. By way of a position in administration (Associate Dean of the College of Science) becoming vacant with no one to fill it yet, my chair is going to take that position while they search for a permanent Associate Dean (which could be her, as she likely will apply), and I was asked to fill in as Acting Chair of Biology until she comes back.
It was a bit more involved than that, but that’s the short version. As of July 1, I am the Acting Chair, no longer on sabbatical, and no longer “off” for the summer. The chair’s position is 80% year-round, so I am officially on duty 32 hours a week this summer.
So that’s what I’m doing next. I’m not teaching in Fall; instead, I am going to be the chair of my department. It’s a position I thought I’d like to have eventually (was thinking of running when my current chair stepped down), so having about six months to feel it out is almost the best of all worlds right now.
So, yeah. That’s what’s next.
But did I read in June? Yup, I did…
I finished three books in June, but one of them I discussed in last month’s post (How Long Til Black Future Month?). So just two to talk about this time. First up: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory. You may remember Jasmine Guillory from this post, where I talked about her novel The Wedding Date. This book is set in that same “world,” and, as is common in romance novels, features a supporting character from The Wedding Date as one of the leads. In this novel, Nikole Paterson, a Black freelance journalist, is attending a Dodgers game with her white actor boyfriend, who she mostly sees as a fun time, but isn’t planning anything serious with him.
So imagine her surprise and embarrassment when he uses the stadium jumbotron to propose to her. She says no, of course (actually, I’m not sure she says anything at first, and then when he presses her for an answer, obviously it’s gotta be “no”), and then he and his buddies stomp off, and the press is about to arrive…enter Carlos Ibarra, the best friend of the male lead from The Wedding Date. Carlos and his sister bail Nik out of the incipient press feeding frenzy and give her a ride home.
The rest proceeds like many romance novels, but this one has the same strengths as Guillory’s previous work: the female characters are strong women with careers who don’t seem to be waiting around for men to marry, there is actual diversity of characters (Nik is Black, one of her best friends is an Asian lesbian, Carlos is Mexican-American), and the setting is a big city (Los Angeles, in this case). I enjoy the “small town” romances when I’m familiar with the geography in question, but eventually it gets old – once you know everyone in town…anyway.
Romance novels are inherently formulaic, but that’s why we read them. This formula works for me, and I’ll read more of Guillory’s work.
Next up, Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. You may already be familiar with this book, which is a pandemic alternate history that was published back in 2015.
Yes. Yet another pandemic novel. I’m a glutton for punishment. This one won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Toronto Book Award, and was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. It’s one of those speculative fiction novels that is so highly praised that it can almost pass for a mainstream novel. In fact…I’m pretty sure it’s not shelved with science fiction and fantasy in most bookstores, and Mandel isn’t a genre writer (usually).
The story alternates between the early days of a civilization-ending pandemic, the current time (20 years later), and various points in the life (well pre-pandemic) of a character who dies in the first chapter. This character, Arthur Leander, is a famous film and stage actor who dies onstage during a production of King Lear on the first night of the end of the world. The rest of the story, and all of its major characters, connect to him in some way, and the novel spends much of its time showing you those connections, both in the past and the present (our future).
So…I liked this book, but I didn’t appreciate it the way the mainstream book world did. I think this is because it isn’t really genre fiction. It’s pretty straightforward conventional fiction, with a single genre trope (the alternate reality thing). Thus, it doesn’t “read like” genre fiction. Genre fiction has expectations and specific ways of telling a story, and most conventional fiction authors who try to write genre fiction fail on some level (because they don’t know the genre well enough to “fit in”). This is the case here – it’s a good-enough novel, but it’s not what I expected (and I don’t enjoy conventional fiction nearly as much as science fiction).
Oh and authors in general? Can we please stop with the viruses that are 90% lethal, incredibly transmissible, and kill you in a matter of hours? That’s just not a thing. If something lays you out and kills you within a day of exposure, you’re actually not gonna infect a lot of other people. You’re not getting on a plane, all unknowing, and exposing people without realizing you’re sick. If something could kill you that fast, you would not have a long “infectious but asymptomatic” phase. And if it kills almost everyone it infects, it isn’t long before it dies out. A worldwide pandemic (as we should know by now) results from something that you can be infected with and not know it, or not be all that sick, and/or which doesn’t kill a high percentage of the people who catch it. Covid is very infectious, but not all that lethal, and it takes a while to make you sick once you’re infected, so you can spread it about easily. HIV, another current viral pandemic, isn’t very infectious, and takes a LONG time to make you sick while you spread it, even though it kills pretty much everyone who catches it (without treatment). If you combine super-infectious, fast-to-symptoms-and-death, and high mortality, you get a virus that’s fairly self-limiting.
So stop it.
That said, the characters are well-defined and you care a lot about them, the story is reasonably compelling, and I do recommend it. Just go in with the right expectations.
Okay, that’s it. Right now, I am reading yet another Susan Mallery, but not a romance, and the last of the Kindred series by Nancy Kress. Hopefully I still have time to read with my new gig.
Talk to you in August!