May 20, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

This is another nominee in the new Best Series category. I've heard a lot of good things about this series (the Divine Cities), but as I've never read anything by the author I went into it pretty much cold. At first I wasn't sure if this would be my cup of tea, but slowly and surely the story drew me in.

This is a tale of ancient gods who are not quite as dead as they seem, of "miracles" and magic, of a conquered island who threw off the yoke of the oppressor and became the tyrant in its own turn. The bloody history slowly revealed here is deep and rich, with myths that come to horrifying life. There are subtexts of colonialism, and the arrogance of an occupying nation denying and attempting to erase a Continent's history that comes back to bite it in the ass, all wrapped up in a breathtaking final act where past and present collide.

Our protagonist is Shara Thivani, the great-granddaughter of the man who defeated the gods (this becomes very important at the story's end), a spy masquerading as a diplomat. Shara is not a kickass type of woman--although there is definitely one of those present, in the person of one General Turyin Mulaghesh--as she is short, unimposing, and wears glasses. But the way she outthinks and outmaneuvers her enemies is impressive, as is her persistence and determination. The fact that she has a nigh-unstoppable killing machine called Sigrud by her side, posing as her "secretary," also helps as the odds get steeper, although Shara puts all the pieces together and pulls off the victory at the story's end basically by herself, defeating two resurrected Divinities. (With some help from Sigrud, flying a magical steel airship.)

This probably sounds completely over the top. Let me assure you, it's not. The mystery plot clicks right along, and the story is tense and nail-biting. The Divine Cities, with their six dead (and not-so-dead) gods, is one of the most original settings I've read in a while. I've since checked out the second and third volumes of the series from the library, and am eager to tackle them. (In the process I had to return Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings unread, because of holds from other patrons. I'm not terribly sad about that. Just contemplating that six-inch brick exhausted me.)

The only knock the reader might have against this series is that it's written in third person, present tense. This may strike some people as an impossibly artsy-fartsy choice, and it did take a bit of getting used to. But as the plot kicked into high gear for the final battle, the immediacy of the present-tense narration made for a fast, absorbing read. This is a memorable first book, and I hope the others can live up to it.

May 10, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells

“The Cloud Roads” rezensiert in der Bibliotheka Phantastika

After last year's trial run, the Hugos now have a category of Best Series. The Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells, is among the nominees. I'd read exactly one work by Martha Wells, All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries (which I loved and nominated for Best Novella). So when I got my first stack of Hugo nominees from the library, I decided Wells' series would be the first I'd tackle. 

What an excellent decision. I discovered a book, and a series, I'd only vaguely heard of and might never have read, and which I came to love unreservedly. This book pretty much hit all my sweet spots--worldbuilding, characterization, and more than that, the "sense of wonder" engendered by only the best science fiction and fantasy. 

This book takes place on an alternate world that is most definitely not Earth, and features characters that are sapient but not human. (As a matter of fact, there are several non-human sentient races on the Three Worlds, and I hope subsequent books in the series spends some time with them, especially the insectoid Dwei.) Our protagonist Moon is a member of such a race, the shapeshifting Raksura. He begins the book not knowing this is what he is, only that he can shift into another form with wings, tail and claws, and he must hide this ability from the "groundling" clans he lives with. Moon serves as a necessary stand-in for the reader, without which we would be hopelessly lost. Martha Wells hits the ground running with this book, immediately drawing the reader in, and provides a master class in conveying a complex world and multiple non-human cultures without infodumps. Nearly every paragraph, it seems, provides some nugget of information, the result being that we learn about the Three Worlds and the Raksura along with Moon, and the pace and flow of the story never flags. 

There's quite a balancing act here, as all the characters are recognizably people, but never human--there isn't a homo sapiens to be found, and I fervently hope that remains so through the rest of the series. All intelligent beings, Wells is saying (unless they're so alien as to be incomprehensible, which is not the case here, nor could it be), have similar drives: they love, they suffer, they fight to survive, to have a place, to belong. This aptly sums up Moon's personal journey with the Indigo Cloud Court. His story begins with a rapid-fire series of shocks: being discovered, cast out and nearly killed by his groundling clan; rescued and taken in by a member of his true people, the Raksura; and coming into conflict with the book's primary antagonists, another race of flying shapeshifters (and a nasty, murderous one) known as the Fell. This is a lot to set up, especially as we're being introduced to the world and the Raksuran culture along the way. This is not to say the prose and character beats are frantic or rushed; they aren't, and there are periodic pauses both for Moon and the reader to breathe and digest what's happening. But even in these moments of relative quiet, something is going on: character work, an examination of themes and motivations, more reveals about the Three Worlds and its inhabitants. It's well-balanced and wonderfully done.

I also appreciated Moon as a character. He's not a hotheaded kid; he's a pragmatic, mature adult, and while he makes mistakes, he is neither impulsive nor arrogant. He is loyal and kind, and once he makes up his mind to stay with Indigo Cloud, he goes all in, even though his ultimate place there is up in the air until the end of the book. Despite the tight focus on Moon, the supporting characters are also well drawn, especially the Indigo Court's secondary queen, Jade, who Moon becomes consort to. (Yes, there's an appendix at the end describing the various forms and castes of Raksura, but while I appreciated it, I'm not sure it was necessary. Everything I needed to know was imparted in the book itself.) The story ends with one of those quiet moments, with the Indigo Court having defeated the Fell (at least one iteration, although we know they will be back) and are on their way to their new colony.

Just to show how much I was impressed by this, I hadn't even finished reading this book before I got on the computer and ordered the rest of the series, sight unseen. It's so wonderful to discover an underrated and, I think, somewhat overlooked author in Martha Wells. I hope her exposure in this year's Hugo awards creates many more enthusiastic fans of her work. 

May 2, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Warrior (Akata Witch, #2) by Nnedi Okorafor รข€” Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

This is the first year of the Not-A-Hugo Best SFF Young Adult Book (similar to the John Campbell Not-A-Hugo for Best New Writer, technically not part of the Hugo Awards but presented at the same ceremony. Yes, I know it's a bit wacky. Just go with it). I actually read a fair amount of YA, enough to nominate for this new category. None of my nominations made the shortlist, but this little gem of book did, and I'm happy I got the opportunity to read it.

I've read Nnedi Okorafor before; I own all three of her "Binti" novellas, and while they are okay, I haven't liked any of them as much as I did this book. Akata Warrior is the story of Sunny Nwazue, born in America but now living in Nigeria, newly discovered to be a "Leopard Person" (a wielder of juju, in touch with the spirit world), and learning how to control and use her magic. (In fact, one could view this as a distant relation of J.K. Rowling, with Sunny as the Hermione counterpoint and protagonist.)

This is a complex mythology and world, and Okorafor presents it masterfully, building the world in a natural, easy manner without infodumps. It's a delight to read something so outside the hokey, confining box of European and/or Celtic fantasy. There are spiders the size of houses, giant flying "grasscutters" (as near as I can figure, a huge winged caterpillar, a fun character by the name of Grashcoatah), a magical dimension existing side by side with the physical world, djinns, juju knives, and a snarky, meta little introduction/Dramatis Personae/"previously in Sunny Nwazue-land" called "Let the Reader Beware":

Okay, let's begin.

Let the reader beware that there is juju in this book.

"Juju" is what we West Africans like to loosely call magic, manipulative mysticism, or alluring allures. It is wild, alive, and enigmatic, and it is interested in you. Juju always defies definition. It certainly includes all uncomprehended tricksy forces wrung from the deepest reservoirs of nature and spirit. There is control, but never absolute control. Do not take juju lightly, unless you are looking for unexpected death.

Juju cartwheels  between these pages like dust in a sandstorm. We don't care if you are afraid. We don't care if you think this book will bring you good luck. We don't care if you are an outsider. We just care that you read this warning and are thus warned. This way, you have no one to blame but yourself if you enjoy this story. 

I don't think I've ever read an intro like that. It certainly made me sit up and take notice.

As befits the thirteen-year-old protagonist and the book's target audience, the prose is simple and straightforward, even discussing some pretty heavy themes, such as finding one's true place in life. Sunny is a well-drawn, flawed, relatable character, as are her friends. During the course of this book, Sunny saves her brother from some nasty characters belonging to a "confraternity" (apparently the Nigerian equivalent of a gang), and visits a spirit city called Osisi to halt an apocalypse. (This continues a storyline introduced in the first Sunny Nwazue book, Akata Witch. Thankfully, the author handles this backstory skillfully, providing just enough information to fill the reader in on what happened in the previous book without disrupting the flow of this one.) But after the bad people have been beaten and she's returned to her everyday life, the book ends with Sunny being more of a typical teenager: attending a book fair (albeit a magical book fair, where "people argued and sometimes fought over books, and some of the books argued with and fought people"--please, get me to a book fair like that), playing in a soccer game--and scoring a goal.

This is a delightful book all the way around, and I appreciated the deep dive into Nigerian culture. We need more books like this, and I'm happy that Akata Warrior exists in the world.

April 29, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: My Favorite Thing is Monsters, by Emil Ferris

Apparently there's quite a story behind this book. The author, Emil Ferris, is in her fifties, and she had to teach herself to draw again after being partially paralyzed by West Nile virus. This is the first half of what is slated to be a 700-page doorstopper, and it's won countless accolades, including nominations for a Hugo and the industry's most prestigious awards, the Eisners.

All well and good. But I struggled to finish this. I thought it started out well--the artwork is like nothing I have ever seen before, modeled after ten-year-old Karen Reyes' sketchpad/diary, complete with background notebook lines. The story concerns budding sleuth Karen, who likes to pretend she is a werewolf girl (and draws herself that way in her sketchbook), clumsily trying to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg. It's set in 1968 Chicago, and one of the plot points is the assassination of Martin Luther King. There are several side plots, including the harrowing background of Holocaust survivor Anka that takes up most of the middle section. Karen's brother Deeze is involved in a sexual relationship with Anka, and Karen's mother is diagnosed with and dies from breast cancer. And the very last panel--or page, rather, since there aren't any "panels" in the usual comics sense--ends on a cliffhanger, revealing Deeze's identical twin, Victor, who Karen never knew existed.

Does this sound like a muddled mess? Unfortunately, it is. On the one hand, I can see why it's been praised and nominated for so many awards--it's genuinely something new and groundbreaking. On the other hand, I thought the story needed some severe tightening up, as it's not at all sure what it wants to be. Murder mystery, coming-of-age, coming-out (Karen very hesitantly admits to Deeze that she "likes girls"), Holocaust history, the American history of one turbulent flashpoint year? The storyline blunders through all of these subplots, and doesn't make much sense out of any of them. Plus, at 400 pages, it takes forever to get to what few points it manages to make.

Nope, this book sadly isn't for me. I'm very glad Emil Ferris managed to publish it--the author's background is actually more interesting to me than the book itself. But I won't be picking up the second volume.

April 23, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: Crash Override, by Zoe Quinn

 Crash Override by Zoe  Quinn

This book surprised me. It's not very long, and it's a fast and at times harrowing read. Zoe Quinn was one of the first victims of the nasty Internet blowup from a few years ago known as Gamergate. Unfortunately, her life has changed forever because of it, and she admits she probably won't ever be the carefree, nerdy little game developer she once was. All because of a nasty ex-boyfriend and a slavering horde of sycophants who were all too eager to bring a torrent of abuse crashing down on Zoe's (and other people's) heads, for basically no reason. (I don't care if she did sleep with five guys--or any number of guys [which she didn't]--to get a review for her game. This in no way justifies the doxxing, the rape and death threats, the phone calls to her friends and family, the stain on her reputation, the lost jobs, and the overall vile actions of the mob.)

This book roughly splits the difference between a memoir--what happened to Quinn and how she dealt with it--and a how-to book--how you, as the reader, can protect yourself against online abuse. Some of it is pretty damn pessimistic, especially when the police and tech company representatives dole out such stupid advice as "If this is what the Internet is like, then get off it." That is nonsense. The focus should be on changing the culture and corraling the abusers, not letting them take over and harass people with impunity. I found the how-to chapters particularly interesting, full of practical and pragmatic advice. There is also advice for those who want to assist victims, starting with a simple bottom line: consent is key. Always let the victim set the boundaries of what should be done and when, or anything at all.

At the end of this book, Quinn shows how she is beginning to recover, even going back to making games again. I feel for her, and wish her well. She's managed to take a bunch of rotten lemons and make some tasty lemonade, but I certainly wish it hadn't been necessary.

April 21, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: Novelettes

Note: a "novelette" is an odd, old-fashioned term, referring to a work with a length between 7500 and 17,500 words. A reallllly long short story, I suppose, as opposed to the novella, which in today's terms (what with brick-sized doorstoppers and all) constitutes a very short novel.


"The Secret Life of Bots," Suzanne Palmer, Clarkesworld Magazine September 2017. (I've never heard of this writer before, but obviously I need to seek out her work. This story was a delight from start to finish. This is the tale of a tiny repair bot, reactivated after a long sleep aboard a ship previously consigned to the scrap heap. The ship is the only thing standing in the way of a massive Earth invasion force, and it needs all of its bots to fix it up long enough to stop the aliens. This story is funny, poignant, whimsical and altogether wonderful.)

"Children of Thorns, Children of Water," Aliette de Bodard, Uncanny Magazine July/August 2017. (This story apparently takes place in the author's Binding Thorns universe, which I have not read. Nor am I very likely to, based on this sample. I've heard people raving about it, but this tale of magic, Fallen angels and cooking just isn't my thing at all.)

"Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time," K.M. Szpara, Uncanny Magazine May/June 2017. (This odd tale of a gay transgender vampire definitely isn't my thing, either.)

"Wind Will Rove," Sarah Pinsker, Asimov's Science Fiction September/October 2017. (This story took me by surprise. I'd thought there was nothing more to say about the SF cliche of a generation ship, and Sarah Pinsker comes along and proves me wrong. This is a lovely, poignant tale of history, and art and music and beauty, and how the stories we tell each other are passed along to the next generation, for better or worse.)

"Extracurricular Activities," Yoon Ha Lee, 2/15/17. (This is set in Lee's "Machineries of Empire" universe--the books are Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and the forthcoming Revenant Gun, and you should be reading them right now--and features Shuos Jedao, later to be an infamous undead General. This story of an undercover agent extracting a traitor is smaller, more intimate and whimsical than the full-blown novels, and even laugh-out-loud funny.)

"A Series of Steaks," Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Clarkesworld Magazine January 2017. (In a future where food and organs can be printed, this is a caper tale of a woman blackmailed into doing one last forgery, and her revenge. The ending is especially poetic.)

Wow. This one's going to be hard. At the moment, Suzanne Palmer has the slightest of edges over Yoon Ha Lee, Sarah Pinsker and Vina Jie-Min Prasad, but I think it's basically going to come down to a coin toss, and how I feel on the last day of voting. The top stories have already been reprinted in various "best-of" collections, showing the quality in this category. Check them out and see if you don't agree.

April 20, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

At 613 pages, this is one of those books you could use either as a doorstop or a weight for your workouts. I daresay it could keep your doors from slamming in the breeze, and also give you some pretty buff biceps. In my case, since I got it from the library, neither my doors, biceps or bookshelves will ever be in any danger. 

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I wasn't terribly impressed by this book. It's not as bad as some other monstrosities I've slogged through (Death's End, I'm looking at you) simply because Kim Stanley Robinson is a better-than-average writer. The characters in this book are not terribly deep, but they are engaging for the most part, and even his thinly-disguised authorial rants (in the form of chapters entitled "a citizen," "the citizen," et al) are entertaining, snarky and very very meta. He writes some good action scenes--in particular the depiction of the hurricane hitting New York--and for such an enormous book, the story flows fairly well. In fact, the best character here is the richly imagined future city of New York, fighting back against the full unfolding of climate change and a fifty-foot rise in sea level.

I guess what finally got to me about this book is that I can't see any real point to it, other than Robinson's obvious wish to end global capitalism, destroy the financial sector as we know it (by nationalizing all the banks), and convert the United States (and the entire world, one assumes) to a socialist and/or populist utopia. While this may be a laudable goal in and of itself--and this is one facet of the book he's passionate about, as he gets deep in the financial weeds here--I certainly don't think it would go down as Robinson depicts it. (For one thing, in this future, conservatives/libertarians/the Republican Party don't seem to exist any more. Of course, one would hope that in the midst of the global climate change catastrophe they spent the previous century denying, they simply melted away from shame.) There is no real protagonist or antagonist, and after the financial sector has gone belly up and all those wonderful new high taxes, universal health care, free college, etc etc etc have been enacted, the story just sort of peters out. New York still exists, there are still a (very few) polar bears, and one gets the impression that humanity will keep muddling through, despite its own selfishness and stupidity.

This is okay, I suppose, but it's not particularly exciting for me as a reader. In the end, this book just doesn't push any of my buttons. And since I already have doorstops and free weights, I don't have any other use for it.

April 15, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: Short Stories

All of these stories can be found for free online. This may be the first time this has happened with the final ballot? At any rate, with the amount of reading I'll have to do this year, I'm not waiting for the Hugo packet.

"Sun, Moon, Dust," Ursula Vernon, Uncanny Magazine May/June 2017. (Ursula Vernon is famous for gardening and writing whimsical little fantasy folk tales, and both those traits are on display here. Allpa is a farmer who inherits a magical sword from his grandmother, a sword with three warrior spirits in it that are supposed to teach him to fight; but he has no interest in being a warrior. This story is full of quirky laugh-out-loud humor. In the end, the warrior spirits realize it's quite all right to be a farmer after all, and two of them return to the sword to sleep until they are needed. The third remains with Allpa, and we have a hint of a budding romance. This is a lovely, gentle story.)

"Clearly Lettered In a Mostly Steady Hand," Fran Wilde, Uncanny Magazine September/October 2017. (This is a creepy, unsettling tale of--I'm not quite sure what. The narrator is taking a "guest" through what appears to be some kind of museum, an old-fashioned display of grotesqueries? Blood-encrusted nineteenth-century medical instruments? Fairies? Mermaids? Freaks? The writing walks the fine line of being detailed enough for the reader to envision each room the guest is whisked through, and vague enough to assign several possible interpretations to what is read. The ending is ambiguous; I'm not sure if the guest is allowed to leave, or s/he joins the menagerie. It takes a great deal of skill to pull off a story like this.)

"The Martian Obelisk," Linda Nagata, 7/19/17. (This is a hard science fiction story of a future where an Earth ravaged by climate change is dying, and 80-year-old Susannah Li-Langford is building, via remote-controlled AI on Mars,what will be humanity's final testament--an obelisk spiraling into the Martian atmosphere. The project is interrupted by the approach of a vehicle from one of the other failed Martian colonies. Is it an artificial intelligence? Or a survivor now stranded on Mars, since Earth will be able to launch no more expeditions? [Which is a horrific thought in itself.] This is a poignant story that absolutely nails the ending.)

"Fandom for Robots," Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Uncanny Magazine September/October 2017. (This is a charming little story mixing a retro 50's feel with the modern Internet and fandom. Computron, the world's only sentient robot, discovers Japanese anime and connects with fans of a particular show. The storyline is a bit meta, of course, but that's its strength.)

"Carnival Nine," Caroline M. Yoachim, Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/11/17. (I have mixed feelings about this one. The setting is unique--the characters are little steampunk windup people with mainsprings that have a limited amount of turns, and they spend their lives making the circuit of a toy train in the "maker's" house--but I don't care for some of the things that happen to the protagonist in this story. Particularly her sacrificing her entire life, all she dreamed of or thought she could be, to care for her son. And the fact that since she was his mother, she was expected to do just that. Your mileage may vary. A lot of people seem to like this story.)

"Welcome To Your Authentic Indian Experience," Rebecca Roanhorse, Apex Magazine 8/8/17. (I wasn't sure about this story the first time I read it, but it's definitely grown on me. Partly because it's told in second person, which is always a difficult thing to do. The protagonist, Jesse Turnblatt, works at a virtual-reality firm that supplies "authentic Indian experiences" to white tourists--only they aren't "authentic" at all, instead being based on the false sanitized Hollywood version of Native experience. This story is a pretty pointed commentary on appropriation, and the necessity of marginalized populations getting the chance to tell their own stories.)

Whew, this is quite a lineup. At the moment it's a coin toss between the Roanhorse story and the Nagata story for the top spot (I'm also delighted that both Rebecca Roanhorse and Vina Jie-Min Prasad are on the Campbell ballot for Best New Writer), with Ursula Vernon coming in a close third. The other three are...okay. (The best story I read by Prasad, "Portrait of Skull With Man," didn't make the final ballot. If it had, this order would be turned upside down. That story is gonzo and over-the-top in a way that will blow the top of your head right off.)

April 11, 2018

Hugo Reading 2018: Provenance, by Ann Leckie

A few years ago, Ann Leckie's first book, Ancillary Justice, took the SF world by storm, winning just about every major award the field has to offer. The next two books in the Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, cemented her as one of the top writers in the field and one of my favorite authors. So when I heard about this book, set in the Imperial Radch universe but featuring different characters, I snapped it right up.

Unfortunately, I delayed reading it till now, due to a misapprehension I had about the book. Someone on a site I hang out referred to it as a "caper" kind of story. To my mind, a "caper" is a complicated, twisty, con-artist shell game sort of book, similar to the movie Ocean's Eleven. It's also a genre I don't particularly care for. Therefore, after the book arrived, I set it aside and read other things. But now that it's on the Hugo ballot, I buckled down and read it through, and discovered to my delight that it's not a "caper" at all, as far as I'm concerned.

It's admittedly not as dark or as complex as the Imperial Radch trilogy. Those books grapple with some weighty themes: personal identity, autonomy, the desire of some of the artificial intelligences of the Radchaai Empire to break free and be declared an independent sentient species. Ingray Aughskold, the protagonist of Provenance, wants something simpler: to outwit her foster brother Danach and force her foster mother, as well as other people on her home planet of Hwae, to take notice of her.

Or at least that's what she thinks she wants. Throughout the course of this book, Ingray goes on a delightful coming-of-age journey. What makes Ingray such a good character is that she's so relatable. I love Breq, the hero of the Imperial Radch trilogy, but Breq isn't human; she's the artificial intelligence of the warship Justice of Toren, downloaded into an "ancillary" body when the ship was destroyed. Ingray, on the other hand, is all too human: flawed, young, unsure of herself, vulnerable, prone to crying. Yet despite all this, despite the fact that for the last third of the book she's scared out of her mind, she keeps trying to do what she thinks is right. She's not a badass in the sense of sock-pow-chop awesome martial arts moves, but when push comes to shove she makes a weapon out of whatever is to hand (including an oversize pair of boots that, she insists, aren't even hers), and proceeds to lay waste to her enemies. In the process of extricating herself from the situation her desire to impress her mother has gotten her into, she discovers who she is and who she wants to be; and that person is not her mother's heir after all.

Ingray Aughskold is a delight, and the supporting characters are equally well drawn. Overall, this book isn't quite as good as the Ancillary novels, but it's a worthy addition to the Imperial Radch universe.

April 7, 2018

To Everything, Turn Turn Turn.... (Hugo Reading 2018)

...there is a season, turn turn turn

And a time for every purpose under heaven

~The Byrds, "Turn Turn Turn," written by Pete Seeger

Right now and for the next three/three and a half months, it is awards season. Specifically, Hugo Awards Season. This year's nominees were announced on Saturday, and since then, many of the places I hang out have been abuzz.

Yes, yours truly also contributed to those 1813 valid nominating ballots. I've been voting and nominating for a few years now, ever since the, shall we say, Kanine Kerfluffle of a while back. This sordid tale of right-wing hijacking of the awards is old news, and something I don't particularly wish to rehash. Suffice to say that the impact of those Constipated Canids has pretty much faded away, and the awards are back to normal. There's a strong ballot on tap this year, a decent portion of which I have already read, and I've begun working on the rest.

To that end, all of my next several weeks of reviews will be focused on the Hugo nominees. Some of this is stuff I already own and am simply pushing to the top of Mount TBR (which, as any dedicated bibliophile knows, is threatening to reach Everest-sized proportions); others I have begun checking out from the library. I will do my best to finish as much as I can so I can make an informed decision, but as anyone who looked at the list of this year's nominees can see, the sheer numbers involved, especially with the new Best Series category, is pretty daunting.

Nevertheless, this reader will persist. We begin in the Novella category, with the sequel to last year's Nebula and Hugo winner Binti, Nnedi Okorafor's Binti: Home.

After finishing this, I went back and reread the first novella in the series, Binti. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up as well as I hoped it would. My main complaint is that the worldbuilding is sketchy, a problem that's not really rectified here. Clearly the author wanted to take a deep dive into the culture of her two tribes, the Himba and the Khoush, and how they fit into a future Africa. Which is fine, and she does a good job of it. However, to me this focus is too narrow--the bigger picture of this future Earth, its technology and history, is simply not there, and the few hints we have just sort of stick out like sore thumbs without context.

Also, the characterization is not satisfying, particularly of the protagonist. To put it bluntly, if I was Binti I would resent like hell being injected with alien DNA and having my body modified without my consent, even to prevent a war; and I certainly wouldn't have anything to do with those who did the injecting afterwards. (Especially since said alien race, the Meduse, murdered scores of people aboard Binti's transport ship, which is not dealt with well at all.) This unsettling relationship between Binti and the Meduse Okwu carries over into this book, as Binti and Okwu return home to her tribe and family and all sorts of complications ensue.

This is just....not the story it needs to be, as far as I'm concerned, and it will probably be placed towards the bottom of my ballot.