Two Things I Like In Books
So, I've dome some reading. I finished the Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, and got into The Alpennia series by Heather Rose Jones, and I'm rereading Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. So, between them they pinpoint thing I like in fiction.
The first two series have a common theme of female scholarship in sexist societies. Lady Trent's books were all about how she became a famous dragon naturalist (she lives in a no-magic fantasy world where dragons evolved, and while analogs to many cultures and religions exist, Christianity doesn't (though religions like Judaism and Islam do)). After the first book, a big deal is made about how Isabella (our protagonist, she who becomes Lady Trent) does do a lot of interaction with other female scholars, even those in fields she doesn't care about or know much about, because of how many times her own career could have been stillborn due to what society expected of her as a married upper-class woman.
The Jones books are also historical fantasy (paired with lesbian romance), though set in a fictional country in Europe and with magic rooted in real-world beliefs (the first book involves 'miracles' that come through religious veneration of the saints, and the second book involves alchemy). The plot of the first book is propelled when Margerit, a young woman, gains a giant amount of money from the death of her godfather, and sits down with his financial planner and says 'I want to go to the university, how do I do that', and he spells out the only three ways women can audit lectures without dooming their reputation: be a rich widow who can pull off 'eccentric', be in the right social class that you can aim for a job as a clerk or tutor, or be an unmarried bored rich girl who isn't taking it seriously. By the third book, Margerit is sponsoring lectures specifically to advance female scholars' careers, and is opening a school for women. Even if one sets aside that to write lesbian romance is to require a cast of female characters, the books come off as profoundly homosocial. I'm reminded of a phrase from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, when Vedero is talking to her brother, Maia, about the community of upper-class female scholars who couldn't get family permission to university because it might damage their hopes of a good marriage. Vedero talks about her friends' varied interests, then explains that when she means friends, she means 'members of the community of female scholars, regardless of whether I like them or know them all that well', because Vedero considers the community Important. (Maia then says that he would be happy to meet all her friends, both the ones she likes and the one she doesn't, with the implication since he is Emperor now, and one of Vedero's friends is engaged to him, that maybe the three of them can slowly break down the stigma of well-educated daughters of the nobility.)
Anyway, so communities of scholars is a thing I like, especially when in concert with beating down stupid sexism. The other book I read was Winter Tide, which a cover blurb describes as "Wicked for the Cthulhu Mythos": basically it assumes "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" had an unreliable narrator, and led to the US government rounding up the town and throwing them in an internment camp that would be later used for the Japanese during WWII. The protagonist, Aphra Marsh is one of the few survivors and is trying to rebuild her life with her found family, since all of her other family (besides a younger brother) are dead, or living in an underwater city off the Atlantic coast. The book keeps the sense of 'the universe is an uncaring place full of things that can swallow you up without even noticing' that influenced Lovecraft, but unlike a writer who seemed to be profoundly afraid of everything (partially manifesting as racism, sexism, anti-semetism, etc.), Winter Tide seems to be patterned after the Carl Sagan quote: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."
(Come to think about it, you do get a bit of the first theme, as we meet Misatonic University's first female professor, and find out a lot about Hall, the university's sister school (as this is before all-male universities were disallowed in the US).)
So, basically taking the 'you are a tiny speck in terms of space and time, and your good fortune or bad fortune can come from things way beyond your control' part of Loftcraftian horror, but then focusing on how people cope with that. (And that even if you are likely to spend your middle age metamorphosing into an unaging amphibious fish-person, you still are human.)