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.

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.)

Review: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN: 0671720147
ISBN 13: 9780671720148
Published: 1990
Pages: 346
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The Vor Game won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1991, and although parts seemed a little slow in the cacophony of travel that takes up the middle, the ending is what really dazzles the reader with how it all comes together and all becomes worth the ride. Not that the middle was ever boring – it was just exhausting for one to even consider having to go through. Poor Miles and his lack of sleep certainly made me feel entitled to extra naps here and there in the novel.

But I’ll backtrack. We last left Miles having finally earned himself a place in military academy and we find him now going out on his first deployment. It’s to a harsh place of constant-winter, where he is to be working in weather prediction… though this quickly gets out of hand when he nearly dies in a hazing ritual and, Miles being Miles, shakes up the order of the place substantially within days, earning himself a few more enemies in the process.

He’s then whisked back to his father’s side, and sent on a more secretive mission under ImpSec whilst under the appearance of being kept somewhere safe and out of the way as punishment… so of course Miles manages to throw aside all orders for the greater good, reunites himself with the Dendarii and Elena (and Baz), and then manages to save the one thing Barrayar hold most sacred. All in all, Miles certainly deserves a holiday after this one. By the end of the book, you can hardly believe the beginning is as it is – surely that awful time in the snow is another novel entirely?

We get to see Elena has become entirely her own in the time Miles has spent away from the Dendarii, and a few people note how she is by far more experienced and capable than those who’ve had limitless training and opportunities thrown at them. Chapter fifteen had me wriggling in my seat with glee, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an ending more in a long time in any book this year.

Once again, I can’t wait to see what happens to Miles and everyone else next. Especially Gregor.

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.