August 8, 2020

Review: Deathless Divide

Deathless Divide Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read the first book in this series, Dread Nation, two years ago, and gave it five stars. For good reason: it was a tightly constructed, scathing depiction of racism and white supremacy, in the alternate-history setting of a Civil War-era zombie apocalypse.

Unfortunately, while this book has the same setting and characters, it's simply not as good. The social and political commentary is muted, the pace is uneven and meandering, and the story is not as well plotted. Our two most interesting characters, co-narrators Jane and Katherine, are caught up in a kinda-mad-scientist chase story that doesn't have the same emotional resonance. (Yeah, the kinda mad scientist does have a point. Unless someone finds a cure for the "shamblers," the human race is on the road to extinction. But damn, Jane and Katherine go round and round before finally plugging his worthless ass.)

I understand the author's decision to send both girls further out West after their escape from the shambler-overrun town of Summerland. As she explains in her afterward, the history of the American West has erased black people, and she wanted to show that "Black Americans were everywhere in the American West: herding cattle and plying their trade as ranch hands, establishing homesteads and trying their hand at farming, and, yes, fighting against Native Americans." To be sure, this is a laudable goal, but that does not a story--or at least a memorable story, along the lines of the first book--make.

On the good side, I did quite enjoy the introduction of Katherine Devereaux as a POV character. The author was spot-on in her portrayal of both Katherine and Jane's voices, and the up and down story of their friendship is well told. Jane is even more ruthless and murderous this time around, for good reason, and Katherine spends a good portion of the book trying to save her from herself. They are the most important people in each other's lives (although their relationship is platonic; if I'm reading Katherine correctly, she's asexual--she has no interest in a physical or romantic relationship with anyone). At the end, after they have struggled against the living and the dead, they arrive in the town of Haven, California. Jane finally finds her mother, only to discover her mother has another life with her new husband and family and has no real interest in her daughter. Jane, a restless killer ever on the hunt for the restless dead, realizes she cannot stay in this oasis of peace.

I want something more.

I want the purpose I had when we went searching for the Spencers in Baltimore or struggled to escape Summerland. I want the freedom I had when Callie and I made our own way across the continent. I want the sense of justice I felt when I lived by my wits and hunted the men and women who plagued civilized society. Less killing would be nice, I don't miss that, but if killing is the price of freedom then I'm willing to pay it.

I just wish Jane and Katherine had a more tightly written book this time around. Hopefully, if there's a third volume, that will be rectified.

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August 5, 2020

Review: Hella

Hella Hella by David Gerrold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has a bit of an odd structure. There's a pivotal moment halfway through that changes its trajectory completely. Up till then, it's a dense, slow-moving exploration of the alien planet the author has created, with meticulous descriptions of the planetary ecology and biology. Now, for the most part, at least to me, this is all pretty interesting; David Gerrold has clearly thought long and hard about his setting and world, and his focus on ecological/biological minutiae is a quirk of long standing (see: The War Against the Chtorr). The way this is presented is also consistent with the main character's methodical, hyperfocused temperament. As a layperson I don't know if the science is plausible or a bunch of hooey, but it certainly sounds reasonable enough, and doesn't have the appearance of handwaving.

However, for while there I wondered if I was reading a book with an actual story or an alien textbook/travelogue: Hella: Pleasures and Perils, by Kyle Martin (the protagonist). This would not have been entirely unreadable, I suppose, but it would have required a bit of slogging. But the aforementioned plot point hits with a literal bang, and the story skids to a frantic halt and takes off in an entirely new direction, morphing into a political thriller.

Your mileage will definitely vary on this. For me, the mashup was a bit awkward, although the story mostly gets past it. However, the second half of the book doesn't really pick up the pace until the final chapters, because now that the conflicting factions have been set in motion, we have to have lengthy conversations about just what political worldviews are fighting each other here. (To be fair, this is due to the main character and narrator, Kyle, who is neurodivergent--he has some kind of "syndrome," perhaps autism, although it's not defined--never having paid attention to or understood politics until his friends and family are caught up in it.) Through Kyle's incomprehension and questioning, we learn what the themes of the book are: capitalism vs. socialism, selfish, greedy individualism vs. collectivism (one of the villains complains, "I came here to be rich, not a workhorse!"), corporations vs. community, and dominating/conquering vs. cooperation/coexistence.

To be sure, the author--and the winning faction--comes down solidly on the latter half of all these opposing formulas. The settlers are attempting to live, and thrive, on a planet that's described thusly:

Hella is nine percent bigger than Earth, but it doesn't have as big an iron-nickel core, so it only has ninety-one percent of Earth's gravity. That means the magnetic field is weaker too, so it can't deflect as much radiation from the primary star. But because the Goldilocks zone is a lot further out, about 250 million klicks, it sort of balances; and that's why Hella has an eighteen-month year. But the lesser gravity and the greater oxygen levels make it possible for everything to grow a lot bigger. Hella bigger. Even people.

This leads to dinosaur-like creatures like walking mountains, with necks and tails longer than football fields, and their carnosaur-like predators with twelve-foot teeth. The Earth vegetables planted in the greenhouses grow tomatoes the size of basketballs. The planet generates winter storms with wind velocities of six hundred kilometers an hour, and winter snowfalls of between ten and thirty meters. And in describing the extreme challenge of living on this planet, I'm thinking: You idiots (meaning the dominance faction) want to conquer it and exploit its resources? Are you kidding me?

This is the central conflict, and the author builds it well, although it's too bad we have to have pages upon pages of conversations to set it up. I would say this book is mainly concerned with its world and its ideas, not so much the plot and characters, although Kyle has a well-developed arc. He's on the young side--five Hella years, not quite fourteen Earth years--so this book has a definite YA feel to it. It's also a bit of an old-fashioned SF adventure story. I liked it, and I don't regret buying it...but I suspect if I had to choose between this book and Vol. 5 of The War Against the Chtorr (David Gerrold's famously unfinished thirty-five-year-old series) the ferocious fuzzy Chtorran worms would have Hella's lumbering leviathans for lunch.

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August 1, 2020

Review: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the Afterward to this book, the author recounts the tale of how it was published. Apparently it was edited, re-edited, bought, unbought, and passed back and forth for years by editors who couldn't figure it out and had no idea how to market it, until the author finally decided to publish it herself.

To which I say: SHAME on you, editors, for passing on this wonderful story. And THANK YOU, T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon, for putting it out into the world. I loved every whimsical, funny, dark, absorbing, amazing page of it.

This may start out sounding like a bog-standard fantasy world, with Mona the fourteen-year-old baker...discovering a dead girl in her aunt's bakery? This is rather a departure from the norm, isn't it? And the thoughtful, droll, pragmatic voice of the protagonist is set right on the first page:

I could tell right away that she was dead. I haven't seen a lot of dead bodies in my life--I'm only fourteen and baking's not exactly a high-mortality profession--but the red stuff oozing out from under her head definitely wasn't raspberry filling.

Mona may be a young teenager, but she's a sensible one. There is no angst or hormonally-driven antics in our protagonist (indeed, thankfully, there's no romance at all, hinted or implied or otherwise). It doesn't fit Mona's character, and she doesn't have time for it anyway, because she is dragged into the effort to save her city from mercenary hordes after the adults can't seem to get their act together to do it themselves.

(Which she comments on, at length. She knows she has no business being the one to save her city, and she resents the fact that she is forced to do so. But after working through her anxieties and her fears, she steps up and does it anyway.)

Mona is a baker, but she is also a minor wizard...whose talent is manipulating dough and bringing it to life. She can soften brick-hard loaves by simply touching them and make gingerbread men dance. Over the course of the book she creates "bad cookies" with cayenne pepper and rat poison that proceed to lay waste to the enemy camp, twelve-foot baked golem dough warriors that hold the gates against the mercenary hordes long enough for the final showdown, and uses her familiar, Bob the carnivorous sourdough starter, to sling hungry, furious, acidic blobs of fizzing dough at the enemy.

That they noticed. Part of it was the simple fact that if you get clocked over the head with a jar, you tend to pay attention. But Bob was angry this morning, and he'd had all night to stew in his own juices, both literally and metaphorically. The Carex who got hit by jars found themselves with a furious slimy mass that burned like acid and which was trying to crawl under their armor.

Then when the dough golems are brought into the battle:

Their archers reached the front lines, knelt, and began shooting at the golems.

I started laughing. I couldn't help it. Stab a bunch of toothpicks into a loaf of bread and you've got...I don't know, an appetizer or something. Not a dead golem, anyhow. Clearly the Carex still had no idea what they were dealing with.

Yes, this book is dark, and people die (although the blood and gore is kept to a minimum). But Mona's character and voice shine throughout, and I laughed out loud many times. She is not some super teen wizard--she gets hungry and exhausted and on one occasion wets herself, but she keeps pressing on to the very end, when she is prepared to sacrifice herself to save her city. At the final showdown, another character steps up, destroying the mercenary army in a terrific scene that is just crying out to be filmed (although the CGI for it would be horrifically expensive). If the room doesn't get dusty when you read that scene, you are a far more hard-hearted reader than I.

The characters are expertly drawn, from Mona to Spindle, the ten-year-old street rat and thief she falls in with, to her Aunt Tabitha, to the ruler of the city, the Duchess, who realizes what a fool she has been in trusting a close advisor who betrayed her and is determined to do everything she can to make it right. (And of course there's Bob the carnivorous sourdough starter, who greets Mona with a yeasty glorp and pats her with an equally endearing and creepy tentacle of dough, and the nameless gingerbread man who is her second familiar and sits on her shoulder everywhere she goes, and on one occasion runs interference with the "bad cookies.") This book is a delight from beginning to end, and I will shout it from the rooftops. Please buy this, so T. Kingfisher will write more uncategorizable, unmarketable, twisty, wonderful books like this one.

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Review: Made to Order: Robots and Revolution

Made to Order: Robots and Revolution Made to Order: Robots and Revolution by Jonathan Strahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthologies can be pretty hit and miss for me. A lot depends on the theme, and even more on the editor selecting stories that properly fit the theme. Jonathan Strahan has won multiple editing awards, and this collection of stories hits the bulls-eye more often than not. There aren't any typical AI rebellions or Terminator-style apocalypses to be found here--like the good editor he is, Strahan has picked stories that go in different directions.

The highlights:

“Test 4 Echo,” Peter Watts. This has Watts’ trademark hard science, a sympathetic central character, and a bleak, depressing ending. The ending is a little more bleak and depressing than usual, even for him.

“Bigger Fish,” Sarah Pinsker. This has a (slightly abrupt) twist ending that is a very literal, very robotic and more than a little frightening–once you think about it–interpretation of Asimov’s First Law.

“Dancing With Death,” John Chu. The author is clearly a figure skating fan, which tickled me to no end, combining robots with ice dancing (as well as a minor Chinese god).

“Chiaroscuro in Red,” Suzanne Palmer. One of the longer stories in the book, this is a down to earth, Everyman sort of tale about a college kid whose parents buy him an aging factory robot, and he ends up rescuing said robot.

“A Glossary of Radicalization,” Brooke Bolander. The final story in the book, this has Bolander’s usual gritty setting, themes of social justice, and undercurrents of seething rage.

Even the one or two stories I didn't care for I could see someone else loving. That's the mark of a good anthology. This collection is well-balanced and well-edited, and you should add it to your reading list.

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July 25, 2020

Review: Upright Women Wanted

Upright Women Wanted Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this more than I did. Scrappy female Librarians, roaming the American Southwest, distributing books and rescuing trans/LGBT people? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, the execution fell way short of the premise.

The main problem with this book is the worldbuilding. It's so vague and undefined I couldn't figure out if the author is talking about an alternate history or a post-climate-change (or post-pandemic, I suppose) dystopia. I realize this is novella length and there's not a lot of room for backstory, but hell, just give us a few more paragraphs to determine what's going on here! I think another page could have been spared for that.

Secondly, the descriptions of the landscapes are so sketchy I couldn't get a sense of place at all, and for a Western that would seem to be a fatal flaw. I mean, this is Arizona! Land of sand and saguaros (sometimes--see below), sweeping vistas and enormous skies, heat and dust and thirst and rattlesnakes! But none of that came through in the writing, and the story suffered for it.

(And one point in particular bugged me, since I live here. The town of Sedona is mentioned, with the implication that a particular action piece is taking place fairly close to it, and the country around Sedona is not a desert. The elevation is about 4500 feet, and according to Wikipedia, "Sedona is located in the interior chaparral, semi desert grassland, Great Basin conifer woodland biomes of northern Arizona." There is no indication of this distinction at all in the writing, and this kept throwing me out of the story.)

The characters fare a little better, with the protagonist Esther in particular and her love interest Cye having nice little arcs. However, this was not enough to offset the poor worldbuilding. The author had some good ideas here, but they simply didn't pull said ideas off.

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Review: Stormsong

Stormsong Stormsong by C.L. Polk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I missed the first book of this series, Witchmark, and I think it hurt my reading of this book. Stormsong evidently begins immediately after the events of the first, and the reader is thrown into the pool of plot, relationships, worldbuilding and characters and left to sink or swim, with practically no explanation of what is going on. I managed to piece most of it together as I read, but it amounted to a lot more work.

That said, I don't know if I would have rated this outstanding even if I had read Witchmark. I liked it, and it is competently written, but it lacked the depth of characterization and worldbuilding I prefer. (And, y'know, the Amaranthines--they're definitely elves, which the author doesn't seem to want to say for some reason. Maybe she didn't think that would mix with the sort of Victorian early industrial revolution worldbuilding of the rest of the book? [Although Amazon's Carnival Row, as messy as that series was, would seem to prove that idea wrong.] Anyway, those two elements weren't a very good fit, as far as I was concerned.) The book also ends with nothing being resolved and the main plot threads still dangling in the air. Which would have been maddening if I was inclined to read the third book, but I'm not sure I am.

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Review: Realm of Ash

Realm of Ash Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Empire of Sand, the excellent first book of this series. It takes place approximately twelve years later, dealing with the consequences of the events in the first book. The protagonist this time around is Arwa, the younger sister of Mehr, the first book's protagonist (although Mehr does make a brief appearance).

As with the first book, the themes are sacrifice and choice. This story takes an even deeper dive into its two main characters, however: Arwa, the young widow (one of the crueler aspects of the Empire is the fact that widows are never permitted to marry again, and are instead exiled to "hermitages," isolated houses where they apparently spend the rest of their days) who has tried to fit into the rigid box of "noblewoman" all her life, doing what is expected of her, and Zahir, the illegitimate son of the Emperor who is searching for a way to mitigate the events of the first book. Both of these characters are locked into roles ill-suited to them, and their journey throughout the book, among other things, is about their attempts to break free.

What's interesting about Arwa and Zahir, following on the heels of Mehr, is that neither of them are warriors or fighters: Zahir is a scholar, and Arwa, working with him, becomes one. The author evidently likes protagonists with different kinds of strengths, and she portrays them very well. Together, Arwa and Zahir journey into the "realm of ash," the land of the dead that holds the memories of their ancestors, trying to find the knowledge and memories of the dead Maha, killed in the first book and his control over the Empire broken. What they find lays bare the terrible bargain the Empire was founded on--enslaving Arwa's mother's people, the Amrithi, who through their magic controlled the dreams of the gods--and makes them question whether the country and cause they have dedicated themselves to is worth upholding.

This book is a little slower-paced than the first, as between the complex journeys of the characters and the ethical questions the situation poses, there's a lot going on here. (There's also another very well done slow burn romance.) The worldbuilding is fascinating, and Ambhan and Amrithi cultures well drawn, and the characterizations outstanding. This is just a fine, fine book.

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July 24, 2020

It's Hugo Time! How I Voted




Yeah, I know I was trying to write up each category individually, but the last few days of voting just got away from me. I had to return to the day job, and the final evenings were spent trying to hammer out my votes on the last few categories. So I thought I'd just paste my full ballot and add a few comments.

Best Novel

1. The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
2. A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
3. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
4. Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
5. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
6. No award
7. The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)

(I was still juggling this category through the final hours. I moved Memory up and January down, and stuck a No Award in there because discussing Anders' book just cemented in my mind how much I didn't like it. But Kameron Hurley's glorious, unsubtle, political, timely mindfuck of a story has pretty much been at the top of my list ever since I first read it.)

Best Novella

1. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
2. To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)
3. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga Press/Gallery)
4. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
5. “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
6. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Saga Press; Jo Fletcher Books)

(Looking back, this was a weaker category, for me. Mainly because two excellent novellas I read from Asimov's Science Fiction, "The Work of Wolves" by Tegan Moore and "Waterlines" by Suzanne Palmer, didn't make the final ballot. It will be interesting when the longlists are released to see how close they came.)

Best Novelette

1. “For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
2. “Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
3. Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))
4. “Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
5. “The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
6. “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)

Best Short Story

1. “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
2. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
3. “As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
4. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)
5. “A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
6. “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)

Best Series

1. The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
2. Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
3. InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
4. Planetfall series, by Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
5. No award
6. The Wormwood Trilogy, by Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
7. Luna, by Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)

Best Related Work

1. Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood, by J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)
2. The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)
3. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, produced and directed by Arwen Curry
4. The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)
5. Joanna Russ, by Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press (Modern Masters of Science Fiction))
6. “2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, by Jeannette Ng

Best Graphic Story or Comic

1. The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: “Okay”, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image)
2. Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image)
3. Paper Girls, Volume 6, written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image)
4. LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor, art by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin (Berger Books; Dark Horse)
5. Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image)
6. Mooncakes, by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker, letters by Joamette Gil (Oni Press; Lion Forge)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

1. Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (Amazon Studios/BBC Studios/Narrativia/The Blank Corporation)
2. Us, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Monkeypaw Productions/Universal Pictures)
3. Captain Marvel, screenplay by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios/Animal Logic (Australia))
4. Russian Doll (Season One), created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler, directed by Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit and Natasha Lyonne (3 Arts Entertainment/Jax Media/Netflix/Paper Kite Productions/Universal Television)
5. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams, directed by J.J. Abrams (Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm/Bad Robot)
6. Avengers: Endgame, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

1. Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”, written by Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson, directed by Stephen Williams (HBO)
2. Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”, written by Jeff Jensen and Damon Lindelof, directed by Nicole Kassell (HBO)
3. The Mandalorian: “Redemption”, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Taika Waititi (Disney+)
4. The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”, written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Breck Eisner (Amazon Prime Video)
5. Doctor Who: “Resolution”, written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Wayne Yip (BBC)
6. No award
7. The Good Place: “The Answer”, written by Daniel Schofield, directed by Valeria Migliassi Collins (Fremulon/3 Arts Entertainment/Universal Television)

(Y'all know Dramatic Presentation nominees are going to be pretty thin next year, right? We'll have to scour the depths of streaming channels to find stuff to put on the ballot.)

Best Editor, Short Form

1. Sheila Williams
2. Neil Clarke
3. Ellen Datlow
4. Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
5. Jonathan Strahan
6. C.C. Finlay

Best Editor, Long Form

1. Navah Wolfe
2. Sheila E. Gilbert
3. Devi Pillai
4. Diana M. Pho
5. Miriam Weinberg
6. Brit Hvide

Best Professional Artist

1. Tommy Arnold
2. Galen Dara
3. Rovina Cai
4. Alyssa Winans
5. Yuko Shimizu
6. John Picacio

(Tommy Arnold really impressed me with his work, especially the cover for Gideon the Ninth, which I liked better than the actual book.)

Best Semiprozine

1. Strange Horizons, Vanessa Rose Phin, Catherine Krahe, AJ Odasso, Dan Hartland, Joyce Chng, Dante Luiz and the Strange Horizons staff
2. FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editor Troy L. Wiggins, editors Eboni Dunbar, Brent Lambert, L.D. Lewis, Danny Lore, Brandon O’Brien and Kaleb Russell
3. Uncanny Magazine, editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, nonfiction/managing editor Michi Trota, managing editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky
4. Fireside Magazine, editor Julia Rios, managing editor Elsa Sjunneson, copyeditor Chelle Parker, social coordinator Meg Frank, publisher & art director Pablo Defendini, founding editor Brian White
5. Escape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, audio producers Adam Pracht and Summer Brooks, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart
6. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor Scott H. Andrews

(I expect Uncanny Magazine to take this again, as they've been an unstoppable juggernaut for the past few years. If they do, I really wish they would recuse themselves from the category for the next year or two. It would be nice to let someone else take a turn, especially one of my top two placements.)

Best Fanzine

1. nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla, and The G
2. The Book Smugglers, editors Ana Grilo and Thea James
3. Quick Sip Reviews, editor Charles Payseur
4. Journey Planet, editors James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Ann Gry, Chuck Serface, John Coxon and Steven H Silver
5. Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus, senior writers Rosemary Benton, Lorelei Marcus and Victoria Silverwolf
6. The Rec Center, editors Elizabeth Minkel and Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Best Fan Writer

1. Cora Buhlert
2. Bogi Takács
3. Paul Weimer
4. Adam Whitehead
5. Alasdair Stuart
6. James Davis Nicoll

(I subscribe to Cora's blog and am thus a bit prejudiced, but I really hope she gets this.)

Best Fan Artist

1. Grace P. Fong
2. Elise Matthesen
3. Ariela Housman
4. Sara Felix
5. No award
6. Meg Frank
7. Iain Clark

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (not a Hugo)

1. Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
2. The Wicked King, by Holly Black (Little, Brown; Hot Key)
3. Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
4. Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee (Disney/Hyperion)
5. Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher (Argyll)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo)

1. R.F. Kuang (2nd year of eligibility)
2. Tasha Suri (2nd year of eligibility)
3. Sam Hawke (2nd year of eligibility)
4. Jenn Lyons (1st year of eligibility)
5. Nibedita Sen (2nd year of eligibility)
6. Emily Tesh (1st year of eligibility)

So there we are.

Now I have my 2020 TBR pile teetering on my nightstand and can start working on it! Go me!

July 18, 2020

It's Hugo Time! Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book




(Note: This is technically Not-a-Hugo, like the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, and has to be labeled as such, even though it's awarded with the rest of the Hugos during the same ceremony. This is apparently one of those Necessary Distinctions That Make No Difference.)

This is another of the newest categories, for Young Adult SFF books. There are a couple of middle-grade books on this ballot, one of which I couldn't read because I couldn't get the packet-provided NetGalley link to work and it's not available at my library. I did try reading an Amazon excerpt but so many pages were omitted I couldn't really get a sense of the story. So, unfortunately, Fran Wilde's Riverland is omitted from my ballot.

Sorry, No


Minor Mage, T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon)

T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon has written some lovely, whimsical, and downright terrifying stories (I have her adult horror novel, The Twisted Ones, and it scared the kee-rap out of me). This young-adult novella is about Oliver, a twelve-year-old mage who heads out with his three near-useless little spells (except when push comes to shove, they turn out to be not so useless after all) to bring the rain to his drought-stricken village. This was cute and sometimes funny, but definitely not at the top of the Kingfisher/Vernon pantheon.

Knocking On the Door


Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee

(Full review here)

I'm sure many thirteen-year-olds loved this book, but its uneven and sometimes uncomfortable blend of Korean myth and science fiction didn't really work for me.

We Have a Winnah!


Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer

(Full review here)

This is a full-length expansion of Kritzer's Hugo-winning short story, "Cat Pictures Please." I think it has a good chance of taking this category, even if I couldn't quite put it at the top.

The Wicked King, Holly Black

(Full review here)

No book is for everyone, and this one even more so. If you can't handle morally twisted, ethically compromised, sometimes sociopathic, oft-murderous, and utterly compelling Fae and human characters, steer clear of this series.

Deeplight, Frances Hardinge

(Full review here)

This was the first time I'd ever read one of Hardinge's books, and this was quite the introduction. This is a lovely, thoughtful story (if sometimes terrifying--there's more than a bit of body horror to be found here), with fascinating worldbuilding and depth of characterization.

Next up: Best Semiprozine






July 17, 2020

It's Hugo Time! Best Related Work




Best Related Work is sometimes a sort of grab-bag, stuff that doesn't readily fit anywhere else (witness Archive of Our Own's win last year). Occasionally I think the rules need to be tightened a bit, to better define exactly what a "Related Work" is...but on the other hand, the inherent goofiness of a category that can encompass cookbooks, art books, serious academic biographies, restaurant guides, filk CDs, YouTube videos, and websites has a wacky charm all its own. That being said, I don't think some of the goofier nominees should necessarily win.

Sorry, No




Jeannette Ng's 2020 Campbell Award Acceptance Speech

I want to make it clear that I applaud what Jeannette's speech actually did (although I think Alec Nevala-Lee's book Astounding had a bit of play in the outcome as well). Her speech was the catalyst for the SFF community rethinking who it wants to honor, and whether people for whom awards have been named in the past really deserve such recognition today. My problem is that I simply cannot compare a two-minute snippet of video, no matter the important paradigm shift it inspired, to a beautifully filmed documentary, an exhaustively researched biography, or a harrowing and ultimately uplifting memoir. I kinda wish CoNZealand could bestow a Special Award for Best Related Moment to this, to acknowledge what it accomplished.


Knocking On the Door


Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones

Thank goodness for the Hugo packet this year, as two of the books in this category, including this one, were unavailable at my library, in either print or ebook. There was only a two-chapter excerpt included, but that was enough to reveal that this book was rather dry and meh, to me. 

We Have a Winnah!


These last four places were really tight. This is another chessboard of moving pieces, with this the current order...but I still have a few days to change my mind.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Mallory O’Meara

(Full review here)

I nominated this. This story of the forgotten woman who designed the last great Hollywood monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, is equal parts sad and infuriating. 

"Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin," produced and directed by Arwen Curry






This is a lovely documentary, filmed with love and care, highlighted by some rather neat animated sequences to illustrate Ursula's books. 

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn

Fortunately, this book was also part of the Hugo packet, and we got the whole thing (thank you, Unbound Publishing). I haven't quite finished, because damn it is a dense read, wading far into the analytical weeds. But I've read enough to make my placement. I do tend to tilt in the analytical direction, and any other time, I probably would have ranked it first...

...except for this. 

Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood, J. Michael Straczynski

(Full review here)

I don't know if this book will win, because it's such a harrowing story to read. You should be prepared for this, because it needs ALL the content warnings. It's a profoundly disturbing tale, but in the end it is also an inspiring one.

Next up: Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (Not-a-Hugo)