Review: Best Novelette – The Hugo Awards 2017

Best Novelette

1097 ballots cast for 295 nominees.
Votes for finalists ranged from 74 to 268.

  • Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
    • Seems to be an attempt at Chuck Tingle, which either way isn’t worthy of notice let alone award.
  • The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (Tor.com, July 2016)
    • Nice enough writing to read, but it feels like not much happens – I love character driven pieces but I didn’t connect with any of them, and though this was about relationships it was a little too airy-faerie to really get into. A bit fanciable, a bit boring. I also don’t feel it does anything genre-wise to make it worthwhile of a genre award.
  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com publishing, May 2016)
    • Perhaps the idea of this can work better in a longer format, but under 50 pages seems too short to effectively discuss and unpack the whole ‘slaves’ thing – this piece as it is left me uncomfortable and discontent. Add on the fact that some parts lost me and were a bit boring with so few pages already when there were more important things to handle better… I was disappointed. And stories that involve jems have to be damn good to get me past the ‘eh why?’ query.
  • The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
    • I appreciate Grandma Harken. Same last name as one of the QI elves from my favourite podcast, and living on the edge of town people majority of people are rubbish. This is a simple and enjoyable tale about an elderly witch who loves her garden – especially her tomatoes… so when they start to be stolen, one by one, it’s pretty much as bad as it gets for Grandma Harken. (I can’t stand tomatoes so don’t really care, but…) It’s a lovely story that keeps you reading, and well written to boot.
  • Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
    • I wanted to enjoy this one as the premise sounds fun, but it seemed so hammered down and treated the reader like they were five with no ability to come to their own conclusion. A few elements felt forced like the plot had to go a certain way even without the proper stepping stones to get there, and the ending was a bit too weird without the clever to make it work. Really disappointing, unfortunately – just not for me.
  • You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)
    • The best one of the lot – two orphans keep each other steady even as their lives start to pull them apart as they grow older. Marisol works in a brothel, and Ellis, our protagonist is a necromancer who’s pulled into the desert each night to seek the dead. It’s a piece that’s beautifully written, elegantly handled, utterly engaging, and Wong needs a book deal this instant. Southern Gothic music is my favourite at the moment, and this short story is music in written form.

Review: Best Short Story – The Hugo Awards 2017

Best Short Story

1275 ballots cast for 830 nominees.
Votes for finalists ranged from 87 to 182.

  • The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)
    • ‘I don’t stink, but these people can smell anybody without a trust fund from a mile away.’ – HA. Excellently described. A lone homeless guy loves to paint. He’s told to listen, and he can start to hear something out there in the city. He’s told that if they’re not careful, their city (new York) will die  like Pompeii, and Atlantis… or turn into a shell like New Orleans. Jemisin also notes that libraries are safe places. There are lovely notes throughout that give this short story depth and warmth and a fill of our character, as well a his hardships, and though he’s resistant at first he’s then there to help their city through her pains. A rewarding a nice short story with simple depth.
  • A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)
    • Personally not for me, and a little triggering. Lovely writing, but I’m not in the best frame of mind for this currently. I do love things that are clever and play with time, but just a little painful.
  • Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
    • Absolutely amazing. An empowering revenge piece where an awful man hurts the wrong woman, who turns out to be a fearful goddess who returns with her sisters to rip him apart and leave him crying and begging. All in about two pages. This takes an awful event and presents it in a way that’s strong, and vengeful and returns the power to the victim.
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
    • Another empowering piece of how women and their friendship can help with the unjust demands of men. Tabitha is cursed to walk until she wears out seven pairs of iron shoes, which would surely demand such a huge length of time and miles I can barely perceive it. In a way it seems okay – the magic also helps with her hunger, sleep, and keeps her from freezing or burning… so… could be worse? And then we find to be stuck on the ground when she belongs in the air… Brilliant, brilliant piece.
  • That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)
    • A field medic is in enemy territory – though the war is now over. She attracts stares and suspicion, but she carries on doing what she’s there to do – visiting someone in a hospital. She’s Enithi, surrounded by Gaantish who are telepathic, which makes things interesting as there’s no point in ever lying to won. Certainly changes things when you’re in war, and have been captured. The two previous shorts I’ve read for this were important and excellent, but this is gripping and character driven – my favourite. Now voting will be dang hard.
  • “An Unimaginable Light”, by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)
    • Failed to hold any interest, and certainly not at the level of those above.

Review: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575094990
ISBN 13: 9780575094994
Published: 1975
Pages: 207
Format reviewed: Paperback
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

Books like this stress me out a little. There’s so much build up, and there’s the expectation that I’ll get so much out of reading it – and that to appreciate it fully I need to be rested, ready and put in the effort to allow that to happen. Otherwise I’m doing the book a disservice. So then I put it off, and off, thinking I’ll feel smarter some other day and ready to tackle it.

Winner of the Nebula Award and James Tiptree Jr. Award for Retrospective (1995) – so important to Tiptree – her criticism – her essays on pornography and sexuality – she’s an intimidating writer to approach. What’s refreshing is to read this book, be a little taken back by some parts and do some research, and see how Russ came to realise her own errors in part. It’s a book from the seventies, and this is evident from her treatment of transexuals (and apologies if I use any incorrect or outdated terms in this review, please let me know and I’ll learn and update.)

This book is pretty awful. It’s short and powerful, and shows how terrible things were for females. It’s then something to check against today and see how little has changed, or how recent events have shown us to go backwards almost in response to our general advances, as if the privileged are scared or feeling threatened.

I would have loved to read and study this book in university with a decent lecturer. And I’m sure it’s been done, but guided (and intelligent) discussion on a con panel would be amazing.

Review: Ex Libris edited by Paula Guran

Byline: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore
Published by: Diamond Book Distributors
ISBN: 1607014890
ISBN 13: 9781607014898
Published: May 2017
Pages: 384
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

This anthology is made up of reprints, taking from other anthologies or magazines such as Uncanny and Subterranean, so some you may have come across before. Of these, I’ve already read the shorts by Elizabeth Bear, Kelly Link, Scott Lynch, and Tansy Rayner Roberts – but as these are my favourite authors I eagerly reached for the rest. After all, what better subject than libraries.

Unfortunately I struggled with this anthology. Usually I love to review each story individually, but I didn’t find myself able to have enough to discuss about each one. Please find following what I loved about a few of them. This is a steady anthology, one that has a beautiful cover and a few very excellent pieces in it, but unfortunately is not an easy collection to read through continuously (either in a week, or a few weeks).

In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

In a fitting start to the anthology we see a quaint proper library replaced with a new one that boasts proper fluorescent lighting and ergonomic chairs, and it’s written with the kind of tone we can appreciate – a library isn’t just a place with stacks of books, libraries that were our friends growing up are places of comfort – not sharp lines and electronics. Not all the books make it over, and for some reason the seven librarians remain in the old building also – and it’s here they receive a late return. As we all know, late books require a fee to be paid, and this payment is quite odd indeed.

This is quite a lovely short – a little bit magical and a little bit of old comfort you instantly wish you were one of the librarians in their quiet comfort, or the lucky little bundle of payment. Reading this one was an excellent start to the anthology, and is so lovely in such a gentle way that it beautifully sets the tone.

The Books by Kage Baker

I love the premise of this – just like how I loved it in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – how in a not so distant future a rabble group of people travel the world to entertain and remind others of things so they can’t be forgotten and lost to the ravages of time in a post-apocalyptic world.

This one is an excellent piece to broaden the anthology out. We start with a safe library we’ve always found comfort in as children with Klages’ story first, and then Baker takes us out into the big unknown, and shows how stories are our constant, and the one thing we can’t do without – up there with food, water and shelter.

In Libres by Elizabeth Bear

Euclavia has been instructed by her advisor that her thesis really needs another source. He recommends a full rare book, rather than a particular article, and this means she has to go to the library. To the Special Collections section in particular. And for this, she wants her oldest friend, Bucephalus, (a centaur) to come with her, as libraries are a cause for concern.

They arrive, and the librarian they meet both recommends against it, and asks whether she’s done anything to earn the ire of her advisor – slept with the tutor’s spouse, etc. ‘Any reason for him to want you dead?’ is literally asked.

This creates such a fantastic piece of work where librarians carry both sword and wand, and people like poor Eu who need to enter are instructed to bring a ball of twine, three days of food, a bedroll, no fire, no shoes on antique rugs, no pens (but pencil and notepaper are allowed)… though as a plus, there are first air and water stations wherever there are restrooms which is say, every five kilometers… however they all move around, so who knows, really.

Brilliant through each part, and Bear, I want a full novel of this, please.

Summer Reading by Ken Liu

‘After mankind had scattered to the stars like dandelion seeds, Earth was maintained as a museum overseen by robot curators.’

We have CN-344315 as our protagonist. He last saw a human over five thousand years ago, but he still goes about his routine – just like our favourite Wall-e, and like him, he cares so much about what humans have left behind.

This short story is endlessly quotable, like a lot of what Liu writes. ‘Data only lives when it is constantly copied.’ ‘Books are long alive when they’re read.’ ‘For books are seeds, and they grow in minds.’

Beautiful.

The Inheritance of Barnabas Wilcox by Sarah Monette

As one can guess from the title, Barnabas Wilcox has passed away, and his inheritance involves a country house to his nephew. One of the stipulations being that his library catalogue of an astounding number of books be finished – only his nephew doesn’t know where to begin, so he writes to a boy he knew in school – one he was never close with, but he’s the only one he knows who to turn to. And as Booth is in awe of the now deceased antiquary Lucius Wilcox, he agrees.

Like a good horror or murder mystery, the pieces slowly fall into place. The insane ramblings of the uncle. The abundance of a certain type of tree in the garden, and the horrid scratchings on the library door. I haven’t yet read any of Monette’s work but now I really, really want to.

What Books Survive by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Like some of the oldest and best fiction, space invaders have come. Now nothing electronic works, but as long as they stay behind their walls, the invaders seem to leave them pretty much alone. The only issue is that some houses have no or very few physical books, and along with half the houses (which means everyone has to squish in together), the shops, and the school (so now the town hall acts as the school also)… they left the library on the other side of the barricade. Something that 16yo Katie Marsden can’t stand.

This is such a fun and wonderful piece – kids with gumption, and it tackles the hard questions. Such as ‘Should I pick books [to save] because of posterity and shit like that, or should I just be selfish and save the ones I wanted to read?’ Personally I reckon save the ones you want to read – life is too short if invaders have come.

Now Tansy is a fan of the kindle, as am I, but this certainly is a strong reason to be a fan of both mediums for sure.

The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar

This is such a clever piece that the least said about it, the better. Even if you pick up this book and flick to Amal’s section first – totally worth it.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch

An old favourite. Fifth year exams for the High University of Hazar require the aspirants to enter the library and return with a library book.

Simple, right?

Well, the motto of the librarians here is: RETRIEVE. RETURN. SURVIVE.

Dressed in armour, equipped with swords and years of training, four of them are there to take the test. As one of the thankfully longer pieces in this anthology, we get such a fun romp of a tale where you see so much of their whole world even though we mostly see their sprawling library alone. Another piece that demands a full novel or ten. The language and dialogue makes anything by Lynch such a joy to read. The descriptions, witty banter – in many awful moods I’ve picked up something by Lynch and felt better within minutes – if only it could be bottled.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu

After college, a young girl returns to where she grew up to work in the library her father ran – as it’s always felt like home, and other people don’t make much sense anyway. She’s had a feeling that she’s always been looking for something, and she finally finds it in a slim volume of poetry, that’s part of a collection donated by a family clearing out their father’s estate.

This is a beautiful piece of work. ‘It was still there, a slim volume squeezed between other books like a mysterious woman hiding in the attic.’ Basically one can be assured that if Liu has translated it, then it’s always going to be worth reading.

Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Published by: Harper Voyager
ISBN: 0008152292
ISBN 13: 9780008152291
Published: April 2017
Pages: 512
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

I mean, smashing opening line. ‘It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.’

Nona is young. Assessed for powers by the child-taker she is sold from her village as no one wants to keep her there as she’s always been known to be odd and not fit in. Gifted talents exist through certain clans but they need to be caught young, and with her abilities to fight she is soon sold to another, and then sent to be hanged through a series of unfortunate events.

To go with epic opening lines, a chapter opens with ‘no child truly believes they will be hanged,’ which is true as it’s here that Nona is instead saved and taken to be a nun at Sweet Mercy’s Convent for Young Girls, where they are raised to be killers depending on their specific gift. Some, like Nona, are Red Sisters – meant for fighting. It’s here she makes friendships and learns the ache that can come with them, she’s put to trial and protected like she has never witnessed before in her short life… but probably most importantly, she gets three square meals a day, and the food is the best she’s ever had.

The first thing that stands out with this book is the world building being centred around climate change, and it would be excellent for a book study to happen between this series and that of Glenda Larke’s Watergivers trilogy – though instead of lacking for water, in this world there is ice almost everywhere, and it’s thick, leaving only a small corridor of usable land left for the inhabitants, who are now firmly packed together.

The second is that we see the adult and ‘old’ characters as a huge central focus, almost main characters of the book, and integral, in a way we don’t often see. There are various mentions of what they did or what happened when they were children. Those who are now known under titles are referred to by names they used to be known by – either as a sign of friendship, or as a nasty dig that the speakers holds no respect for their current position. And it’s refreshing to see them humanised where they’re not just there to be plot points and elements of power or control – we get such a feel for who they are personally, and what they’ve been through growing up.

Overall this is an excellent book – it’s rough and their world is a hard place to be part of – the powerful still control what they want by money, and Nona almost loses her life for that countless times, all over a little man’s pride. The magic system, the world building – it has the detail of Sanderson’s series such as Mistborn  and yet somehow easier to flow into. I’m writing this review halfway through the book so I don’t give too much away, and I can basically say read it! And that I’m going to go do the same right now.