Review: Best Novellas – The Hugo Awards 2017

Best Novella

1410 ballots cast for 187 nominees.
Votes for finalists ranged from 167 to 511.

  • The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle (Tor.com publishing)
    • A man works the streets, guitar case in hand, but he’s not musically inclined at all – instead, inside there’s a book. He deals in mystery and knows when to talk or stop talking to help his business along. In one job he can secure enough money to cover six months rent, which means less worrying about his ailing father, and a chance to treat himself in a gamble for once. This piece was interesting and gripping, dealing with the broad subject of  racism – from the start we see the indifferent warnings given to both side, relating to Harlem and Queens. It’s a harsh and unfair world, and …then it dissolves into the weird, which is somehow even more gripping.
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (Tor.com publishing)
    • Absolutely lovely and amazing. Apparently a retake on a Lovecraft story which I haven’t read, this feels entirely its own. A middle-aged woman goes on a quest to save her best and brightest student from a man who’s charmed her away – hopefully before scandal reaches the masses. It doesn’t help that the student is daughter to one of the universities’ highest donators. What’s interesting in this tale is that they all live and belong to the dreamworld, and the charmer is from the waking world – a place Vellitt has been before, which means now she’s the one best equipped to save their young student. A very lovely tale with a cat and hints of the very strange.
  • Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)
    • In this short novel we go to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, which, much alike Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, is a haven for those who are different. It’s for those who have been to other worlds and are no longer satisfied with normal life, but for various reasons can’t return to their other world – at least, until they can. This book is all kinds of awesome, and manages to wrap everything up sweetly in so few pages, yet it seems there’s also another two books on the cards in this series, which is excellent news. – full review is here.
  • Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency)
    • My main issue with anything that I love too much is that I then can’t read anything out of order. Seeing that this is actually chronically third in the series (according to this list) means I didn’t want to read this until I’d first read The Hallowed Hunt, and Penric’s Demon. Which wouldn’t be too bad except that somehow The Hallowed Hunt is also the third in the World of the Five Gods series… bah! You don’t make it easy, Bujold (and yet we still love you.) Somehow I was convinced to start with Penric’s Demon instead, and I loved them both utterly and completely – I now can’t wait to devour all the fantasy Bujold has written, just like the thread of humour and lightheartedness we see in Miles from Vorkosigan series we have the same here – and I just can’t get enough of it.
  • A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com publishing)
    • I’ve been meaning to, but I haven’t yet read The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Now, I think I’ll have to try find the time to fit it in. Aqib is proud to take care of the exotic animals of the prince – such as Sabah, a cheetah. He thinks he has everything he needs in life – a purpose, parents who care and will provide for everything in his future… that is, until, he meets a charming soldier who thinks Aqib is as equally handsome and charming back. Unfortunately, as one could almost expect, their union isn’t allowed nor welcome in their customs… though partly, it’s their customs which draw them to each other – one favour war wounds, and the other favour smooth and unmarked skin. Picking my order of voting is going to be harder and harder.
  • This Census-Taker, by China Miéville (Del Rey / Picador)
    • A hard book for people new to Miéville as it’s a bit weird, and you have to put a lot of trust in the author as to how it’ll all turn out. It’s a bit traumatic – a boy witnesses something beyond awful and is then locked away, where he’s allowed to write the book we’re reading whilst in captivity. The thing is though, that his jailer is his father. Parts in this are beautiful, parts are in ruins, and sadly, parts are confusing as character perspectives change randomly. Miéville is a good writer, and he can take these risks, however I don’t feel it gives me as much as a reader as the other pieces.

Review: The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Published by: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9781473638730
Published: July 2017
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

I actively hunted this book down when I saw that Robin Hobb herself had given it five stars, and said she thinks ‘Bates is an author well worth watching,’

From the first few pages I knew I’d be ditching absolutely everything to finish it as soon as possible. We meet a five year old girl who’s caught in political uproar as the King himself comes to her home, shoots her nanny and takes her hostage so her father will stop trying to apparently take over the kingdom. Elanna has no clue at all of what her father may be doing – she loves her parents, she has a new doll, and she’s had a lovely evening until the gunfire started…

We then skip forward fourteen years, and meet Elanna again when she’s nineteen and still under the control of the king – but it’s not such a bad life at all. She’s able to study and they have intelligent conversations together – much more than he has with his actual daughter. She’s bullied from many angles regarding her heritage – apparently her people are heathens, dirty, and unintelligent – but in general she’s thankful for the quality of life she’s been given, and she believes everything she’s been told growing up. She has some close friends and opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible back in her uncultured land.

This all changes when her only protector, the King, is found dead. As one may have gathered, his actual daughter, now Queen, isn’t a fan of Elanna and quickly tries to frame her for the death of the King, which means Elanna has to flee for her life (though that makes her look guilty), and you’ll just have to pick this up and read for yourself to find out what happens next. The above is possibly the first 2-3 chapters – there’s so much more to this than the only life Elanna has ever known.

The pacing through the novel is possibly the only tricky thing – though there isn’t anything wrong with it from a reading perspective, it doesn’t always follow what one would expect which can throw you a bit – but if anything, it makes them seem even more desperate for their cause, and more realistic when everything doesn’t go to plan. The action is what drives this novel as they all run out of time again and again.

Another factor of the novel is what you would have to call a love triangle, however it’s the most convincing one I’ve seen. Elanna isn’t torn between her affections for the two men in question – she’s caught up between someone she feels closer and more similar to (and someone who sees her for who she is as a person), and what she should do for their people, the future of their land and people, and someone who is quite fond of otherwise – it’s also an arranged marriage from when she was five, and what everyone around them expects to happen… And Elanna isn’t flighty or distraught about this – like all her other decisions in the book she approaches this one with mature thought and deliberation.

The landscape, world building, and magic system in this book were all wonderful and delicate and I am desperate to see more set in this world so I can learn more about this and see where the characters take themselves. So far it looks like a standalone novel, and the plot certainly ties everything up neatly… but goodness, I’d love more.

Overall this was a beyond fantastic book, and I eagerly await to see what Bates comes out with next.

Discussion Post: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vor Game is the latest novel that we read as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially falls, after the novel The Warrior’s Apprentice and the novella Mountains of Mourning, and before the novel Cetaganda. It’s about Miles Vorkosigan again and was first published in 1990. Miles is given his first mission after graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and it is not what he expected or hoped for.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Vor Game here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: After skipping over the academy years, we meet Miles again as he gets his first assignment as a freshly-graduated ensign. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed we missed out on Miles’s inevitable Academy hijinks, but this book does deliver plenty of hijinks to make up for it.

Katharine: Do we get to see any in flashbacks?

Tsana: Not that I remember. Certainly nothing major.

Katharine: Well that’s a dang shame. Bujold is still writing though, so perhaps we could get some further short stories… doubtful, but maybe if she’s reading our discussions… :p

In all seriousness, I do mostly appreciate that we jump from action to action – we know enough about their human nature to assume what went on in those years – he manages to outwit most of their exercises and instructors and gets bullied but mostly copes with it all. We meet him again when he receives his first actual mission… and it’s pretty disappointing.

Tsana: Yep. After hoping for ship duty, Miles is assigned to a polar weather station. Cold, miserable and occasionally filled with infantry cadets. Not at all in space. I think the only reason he doesn’t kick up a fuss is because it’s suggested that if he manages not to stir up trouble for six months he might be rewarded with a shiny new ship assignment. But Miles is bad at not stirring up trouble…

Katharine: Basically as soon as he gets there he’s overwhelmed with how poorly it’s run. The chap doing his job and supposed to be handling his handover is a drunk, many of the other workers don’t seem to care for the standard of their work, and of course Miles has a whole new range of people to be bullied by. It doesn’t take him long to be almost killed by a hazing attempt.

Tsana: All of which was almost expected, but… well, before we get into spoilers, should we briefly talk about how there are two very distinct parts to The Vor Game? The first part, set on the miserable polar island, and then a very distinct second part set elsewhere.

Katharine: Yup – by the end of the book it seems like a lifetime ago we read about the polar station – they don’t feel connected in the slightest. It isn’t a bad thing, or jarring in any way… if anything, it just shows how chaotic Miles’ life is. I’m not sure how much else we can say without the spoiler klaxon?

Tsana: *klaxon sound effects*

<spoilers below>

Continue reading

Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Series: Nemesis #1
Published by: Diversion Publishing
ISBN: 1682300684
ISBN 13: 9781682300688
Published: January 2017
Pages: 276
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Sovereign (Nemesis #2)

This is a hard yet beautiful read. In a world where superheroes (and villains) are normal, we have Danny Tozer, who has been trying to keep it from her family and peers that she’s transgender – born male, identifies as female – with an abusive father and a mother who looks the other way. Danny happens to get caught up in a metahuman fight one day, and Dreadnought – one of the best of the best, dies beside her – and in doing so, transfers his powers to Danny.

It’s said that during the mutation your body will submit to how you’ve always wanted it to be – if you ever wanted to be a little taller, or stronger… or female. Danny becomes Danielle, which, while is everything she’s always wanted, soon turns out to be pretty agonising each way she turns. Danny’s father books countless medical visits to try to have it reversed – her mother doesn’t support it and goes as far as to call Danny selfish – the majority of people at school are weird about it… especially Danny’s best mate, David, who is every butthurt ‘I’ve been friendzoned’ man-whinger out there. Even the League aren’t perfect – superpowers they may have, but several of them don’t know what to make of Danny at all, with one character actively responding in quite a nasty and vile way.

I would think this book could be fairly triggering. Daniels really doesn’t pull the punches when it comes to the verbal and mental abuse Danny goes through from practically all angles. Sadly, it seems pretty realistic.

As far as the metahuman elements go, this book is quite clever (take that, Batman) and I hope we get to see more of other superheroes in the second book, which I’m hugely looking forward to.

(As a note, my apologies if I’ve used any incorrect or insulting terms above – please point them out to me, as I’m still (always) learning.)

Discussion Post: SPFBO 3 – The Cover Challenge

As part of being a judge for the Mark Lawrence hosted SPFBO 3, we judges had to ‘Select their 3 favourite covers for the cover art contest in which they will later vote.’

Out of my thirty I managed to whittle it down to the six which most stood out. And one stood out as the clear best, but I’ll leave it to be the last discussed – we’ll work our way up there, shall we?

 

First up, two that I personally shortlisted but had to discount compared to other covers.

These two, whilst quite decent and almost there, they miss out as while the images used are pretty good, the font/s chosen seriously let them down. On the one to the left I find the title for the author’s name is okay, but the rest is a little jarring. Something just isn’t quite right/appealing about the title, which is a shame.

The one on the right is so dang close. I love the blue, and the sword, and the title… but the font and colour used for the author’s name meant I just couldn’t let it get any further – it looks like a font used in WordArt from Microsoft Office which is a huge dang shame…

 

 

And now these two. The Way Into Chaos is pretty excellent, however there’s just too much text, and when the author’s name is so big it has to have the main character’s head partially obscure it? Not a fan. Quotes on book covers should be a few words in my personal opinion. I’d have the ‘author of’ and Publisher’s Weekly on the back – it’s cluttering on the front. And then the font used for the title and ‘book one’ is a little plain.

The Call of Agon is interesting. Decent font that may benefit from a little more finishing to make it sharper, or something. The alignment of beast below, and characters illuminated by the sun is good and catching, and it directs your attention to the right areas. The title and author name stand out, but don’t over complicate things. Not my favourite colours, but that’s not what this cover competition is asking for, I’m guessing :p

 

And now we come to my top three.

Liefdom, by Jesse Teller. The Censor’s Hand, by A.M. Steiner, and Wit Fallo, by R.D. Henderson. Two of which I had to hunt down as neither book was added to Goodreads – which is another tip to authors. Especially when entering a self-published challenge please make your books and information easily accessible.

Leifdom, to the left, has a good and emotive colour palette. Fonts that match, aren’t boring but also aren’t overwhelming, but are also easily readable.

The Censor’s Hand, to the right, gets the same critique as to the left – decent font, striking images used in striking design, and both make me want to pick them up to find out more.

 

 

And now, my personal winner. Wit Fallo by R.D. Henderson. Very decent image quality, decent font. Seems to have the highest level of finish out of my selection and yet isn’t overbearing. I especially love the sigil in the middle of the ‘o’. All the colours matched and it makes me want to pick it up: