Friday, December 13, 2019

Microreview [book]: The Last Sun, by K.D. Edwards

K.D Edwards' The Last Sun is an intriguing Urban Fantasy that uses genderqueer characters and the story of Atlantis to tell an intriguing magic-infused story.

In a world very much like ours but where Atlantis existed, and existed into the modern era until the survivors of its fall emigrated to a new home in the New World, a scion of a fallen House is wrapped up in mystery and intrigue, as rivalries, schemes and long set plans collide with that scion’s destiny and coming into his true power.

Rune Sun is the last of his kind. House Sun, his tarot card named noble family, has long since fallen and he is the only survivor. A  sword fighter and a sorcerer, he lives doing odd jobs here and there, a down on his luck existence especially given the wealth and power of his peers, and of his life, long ago. It is doing one of those odd jobs, against another noble House, that Sun gets hooked into an intrigue that extends across New Atlantis. That hook, too and just might provide an opportunity for Rune to prove and show his capability and true abilities. If it doesn’t wreck his homeland or get him killed first, that is.

This is the world of K D Edwards debut novel, The Last Sun

There are lovely notes of worldbuilding throughout the novel, although sometimes they didn’t quite come in the order I’d hope for or in the time I really was looking for those answers. Almost as if Quinn, the Seer, was dishing out the worldbuilding, some questions remained frustratingly out of reach and unanswered until later in the novel. I really wanted to know how the world got the way it was, I wanted to know all about how the Atlanteans lost their island home, and got to their new place. And for the most part, the answers are a bit vague, almost a bit too much. But if you are going to have an Atlantis and sink it, I want to know all about it.

Aside from those concerns, we get a New Atlantis which has an uneasy relationship with the rest of the modern  world. The hints we are given seem to suggest the history of the rest of the world has not been drastically changed by the presence of Atlantis in history but aside from some reference here and there, the outside world doesn’t matter too much to those who dwell in New Atlantis.

Instead, the worldbuilding of the novel focuses on how the magic and major figures of New Atlantis, The Arcana, work, and the structure and strictures of Atlantean society. Atlantis is a high magic society in a world where technology from the outside world works as well. We get plenty of detail and exploration of how and why magic works, and get to see it in action. The Sigil concept as a way to hold and use spells helps ground the characters and provide a tangible hold for the reader on understanding the capacities and limitations. This magic also scales and maps well with small scale action, so that we get excellent high magic and also excellent action and adventure that jumps off of the page.

That high magic we see through the sigils give those action beats in The Last Sun a Dresden Files crossed with Shadowrun sort of feel. All of the major characters have those sigils, and are very willing to use them in the many set piece engagements in the novel. The book is full of confrontations and adventures, liberally planted throughout the narrative so as to keep the tension going. The author also likes to use the action beats to inform and develop his characters, we often best see the personalities and choices and what they stand for by what they do when their lives are on the line.

There are a slew of those intriguing characters to be found fighting those battles. Above and beyond Rune Sun, the protagonist, the best of these is his bonded companion, Brand. The two of them make a duo who clearly have been together through thick and thin, and some very dark times in the backstory of the novel as well. They have a great, snarky, back and forth relationship that is a treat to read. Other characters of various social ranks and relationships come into the double planet system of these two characters and out again. Even though the point of view of the novel stays with Rune all of the time, I truly felt that Brand was his “other half”, just as his companion bond meant to invoke. Another character I particularly liked that we only see some of is Ciaran, another scion with power over Dreams, who wanders into Rune’s story but clearly has a history and agenda and life of his own beyond the bounds of the novel.

Despite the issues I had with some elements, The Last Sun makes for an intriguing and immersive debut novel, and I look forward to more novels about New Atlantis, Rune Sun and those around him.

The Math

Baseline Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1  For a strong set of intriguing characters

Penalties: -1 A few gaps in the world and worldbuilding frustated me a bit

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws

Reference:  Edwards, K.D,  The Last Sun [Pyr, 2019]

Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

We are rapidly approaching the end of the year and it is probably time for me to reflect back on this year in comics and figure out some sort of list. Even though it isn't my current pick of the week, Gideon Falls is a book I have been thinking about more as we approach 2020.

Pick of the Week:
Dying is Easy #1 - When I heard Joe Hill partnered with Martin Simmonds for a new book coming out about an ex-cop turned stand up comedian I was intrigued and curious how something that seemed so far out of Hill's element would work.  Hill's work often has comedic asides and this book opened up strong as Syd Homes struggles through a set at a dive comedy club called Mr. Funnies. As Homes wraps up his set a much more successful comedian, Carl Dixon, takes the stage.  We learn that the other comics have issues with Dixon as he is know for stealing jokes. Hill is the lead writer, but I am curious how much of an influence Simmonds had on some of the dialog.

It is clear that something drove Homes off the force and we get a hint of what it was when he steps out of the club and is confronted by a woman.  In what was likely his last case, Homes found evidence that a woman had beaten her child to death.  Her sister didn't believe this and blames her suicide on things Homes said to her.  I am guessing we will learn about this as the series continues, but Homes has a dark past that will likely shed some light into some of his stand up bits.

I will avoid spoiling the hook that Hill and Simmonds set at the end of the issue, but Homes finds himself tied up in a situation that will require his detective skills to clear his name.  I was impressed overall with Hill's stand-up writing and really enjoyed the comedy club setting.  My guess is Hill watched a lot of old stand up to get the vibe and artist Simmonds and color artist Dee Cunniffe hit it out of the park with the dark and shady vibes of Mr. Funnies and this depressing world Homes finds himself in.  I was pleasantly surprised with this departure from horror and am looking forward to other characters that we will meet moving forward.

The Rest of my Pull List:
This week took a bigger toll on my wallet than most as I also picked up the Target Vader finale, Captain America, Gideon Falls, Something is Killing the Children and Undiscovered Country.  This might have been the most impressive week of books in 2019 as every title delivered.  It is clear why Gideon Falls won an Eisner and why Undiscovered Country had so much hype surrounding its release.  I really enjoyed all of the books this week, but have an extreme bias towards anything Joe Hill.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Watchmen Wednesdays: Episode 8

Hey all, I've been pretty unconcerned about spoilers so far in these posts, but I did want to make a quick note that there are major spoilers in this episode. If you intend to watch the show and haven't yet, I'd suggest you stop reading until you've caught up.

My favorite episode yet!

After the big reveal that Angela's husband Cal is Dr. Manhattan living as a human with some sort of amnesia, episode eight, "A God Walks into Abar," clears up the immediate questions about how that came to be. Honestly, most of the episode is about romance, and it's wonderfully written. The episode takes its time building the relationship between Angela and Dr. Manhattan/Jon/Cal.

Their meet-cute happens at a bar in Vietnam on the anniversary of Angela's parents' deaths. She is sitting alone, drinking a beer, and Dr. Manhattan/Jon walks in. He's wearing a Dr. Manhattan mask as it is a holiday celebrating his ending of the Vietnam war, so his blue skin isn't that out of place (though he does wear a nice suit rather than walking in naked). He brings two beers to her table and starts to try to flirt with her.

Dr. Manhattan picking up a mask in Vietnam

Most of the episode is spent exploring their romance with this frame, flirting at a bar. As Jon reminds Angela and the viewer, he experiences time simultaneously, and in a slick narrative move, the episode mimics this nonlinearity by jumping between moments when Jon says another even is in the process of happening.

First, Jon explains that he wasn't on Mars like the world supposed, but rather on a moon of Jupiter, Europa. Sound familiar? Yes, Jon created a paradise on the moon in an atmosphere bubble, including Ms. Crookshanks and Mr. Phillips. Similarly, the audience gets a refresher on Jon's past during WWII when he went to the English countryside to escape the Nazis. Later, Jon transplants this mansion to his paradise on Europa--thus Veidt's paradise prison is born.

While we don't have an explicit Veidt-centered subplot like in most of the episodes, Jon does meet with him in order to obtain a way to, essentially, forget that he is Dr. Manhattan and thus become Cal. Veidt is morose that, in 2009, humanity is still failing itself even though nuclear disaster was averted. After Jon describes the paradise, Veidt requests to live there. While that doesn't wrap up all the loose ends of his storyline (it's still unclear what's going on with the Game Warden or why he shouldn't be allowed to leave), it is very satisfying to understand how Veidt ended up on a moon of Jupiter. Even though only on screen for a few minutes, Jeremy Irons does an excellent job portraying a depressed Veidt rather than a Veidt energized by escape and obsessed with Dr. Manhattan.

At the end of the episode, we return to 2019 just as Angela removes the device causing Jon's amnesia. While he remains in Cal's body, he turns blue and begins to exercise his powers again. The Seventh Kavalry has already arrived to capture Dr. Manhattan, and Jon/Cal tells Angela it's too late. He's seen it, but she refuses and suits up to kill as much of the Kavalry as possible. Jon/Cal says this was the moment that he fell in love with Angela, as she goes to fight for him even though it's too late. The episode ends with Jon/Cal being teleported away.

I love that Watchmen took a moment to write a romantic episode, even if it doesn't necessarily move the action that far forward. It would have been so easy to just push ahead with the plot, but the emotional beats of this episode are wonderful and actually romantic. In addition, I'd like to point out that we finally have more naked men on screen in a big TV show. Not bad, Watchmen.

Phoebe Wagner currently studies at University of Nevada: Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Contributors Wanted

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is looking for 1-2 awesome individuals to join our team of regular contributors!

What do we want? We're looking for volunteers who can offer at least 1 review or feature per month to our schedule, as part of our regular Monday-Friday blog content. We're particularly looking for contributors able to cover video games, comic books, and/or short SF/F, though all contributors are free to write about SF/F novels, cult films, TV, and anything else relevant to geek culture. In addition, we'd like volunteers who are able to contribute to our community on Twitter and other social media platforms on an ongoing but proportionate (a few minutes per day!) basis.

What do you get? Nerds of a Feather is a fanzine, which means we means we do not seek or generate revenue. Rather, it is a fanspace run by fans, who work as volunteers. However, joining us does mean opportunities for free e-books and the potential for other free stuff, as well as the fun and support from joining a dynamic and flexible team of enthusiastic nerd bloggers at this here little Hugo-nominated fanzine.

Who we’re looking for: we are looking for people who (a) write well and don't need extensive copyediting, (b) appreciate our brand of humor, (c) understand and are ready to engage with our established formats and review scoring system and (d) are otherwise good fits with our voice and style. We are not, however, looking for automatons who agree with the rest of us on anything and everything.

One of our goals is to feature a diverse range of voices on the topics that matter to us. As such, we encourage writers of all backgrounds to apply.

Caveat: we know lots of you have awesome projects you want everyone to know about, but since these are regular contributor positions, we would like to emphasize that this would not be an appropriate forum to use for promoting that awesomeness (aside from your blogging awesomeness, of course).

Process: send an email to nerdsfeather dot the g at gmail dot com telling us what you are interested in doing and why you'd like to join our team. Please also send a writing sample, which can be either embedded into the body of the email or links to published work. We will try to respond to everyone as quickly as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you!


NoaF Team

Adri and Joe Talk About Books: The Best of the Decade

As we near the end of a decade we had the highly original thought of looking back at some of the best novels of the last ten years. Ten years is ultimately as arbitrary of a way to divide and group novels as any, but it serves as sufficient reason to reflect back on some of our favorite novels and discuss which have had lasting impact on the genre, on us as readers, and what just stands out as just really damn good books.

Any list of the nine or ten (or fifty, or five hundred) “best” novels is subject to the biases and perspectives of the writers putting the list together. What we find to be excellent may not line up with someone else. We may not have read a book that otherwise would have found a place here. We might not have agreed on a particular book, but this is our consensus of nine of the best novels from the last ten years. And, because we can’t just create a list and let it go, we’ve selected three more novels as our personal honorable mentions. Even then, we still mourn the novels we left off due to arbitrary space reasons.

We don’t expect there to be consensus as to the absolute rightness of our list, but we hope it sparks conversation about some really great books that we loved.

So here we go.

Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear (2012): Elizabeth Bear is something of a chameleon of a writer. Whether it is near future cyberpunk thrillers, urban fantasy, alternate historical vampire fiction, espionage, space opera, steampunk, a Criminal Minds meets the X-Files mashup, or epic fantasy - Bear can write it all.

Eschewing the trappings of the stereotypical European setting, Range of Ghosts is silk road epic fantasy - meaning that the novel has a more Mongolian flavor and has an entirely different cultural grounding than what is so often considered “traditional epic fantasy”. Bear pulls no punches in delivering a full realized and top notch epic with rich characterization and incredible worldbuilding. The magic and religion and battles of Range of Ghosts is handled with a deft touch and the best thing is that all of this is set up for something far larger. Range of Ghosts is Elizabeth Bear at the height of her considerable powers. (G's Review) (Joe)

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (2013): The story of Breq, a woman who was once the AI of the spaceship Justice of Toren, spread across hundreds of “Ancillary” bodies. Now Justice of Toren has been destroyed, and Breq, the sole survivor, single handedly bent on revenge towards the Emperor who set her and her crew up to die, begins in this crushingly good space opera, full of tea ceremonies and folk songs and the exploration of an empire whose vision of “civilisation” is synonymous with its own culture. The dual narratives of Ancillary Justice, which tell of both Breq’s present and the events leading up to her death as a spaceship. Its a novel which operates with respect and care for the space opera tropes it deploys, while challenging any traditional assumptions about what aspects of human culture might be taken up by a remote spacefaring civilisation - to the Radchaai, gender is not a thing, but gloves very much are, and the ruling consciousness of Emperor Anaander Mianaai is spread across thousands of clones, who may or may not be working for completely common purpose. And, of course, its all driven by pitch-perfect action in both timelines, as Justice of Toren tries to hold it together on what it doesn’t realise will be its final mission, and Breq makes her way across the galaxy on her hopeless revenge mission. (Joe's review)  (Adri)

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (2014): The term "hopepunk" might have been coined by Alexandra Rowland a couple of years after the release of Katherine Addison's highly-charged elven political fantasy, but the centering of kindness and decency even in the most lonely and high pressure of circumstances was already a standout feature of this novel back in 2014, giving it an undisputed edge over other contenders in the "young royal out of their depth" field. The Goblin Emperor is the story of Maia, the unwanted fourth child of the elvish emperor, who was born from a political marriage with a woman from neighbouring goblin kingdom (elves and goblins, being in this world, different races of the same species, and elven prejudice against goblins being therefore far more akin to racism than any possibly-justifiable biological taboo). Raised in seclusion with only abusive minders for company, Maia is therefore as surprised as anyone when an assassination of his father and three half-brothers propels him to the throne. What follows is his attempts to develop alliances and figure out who to trust in a court he's barely set foot in before now: a task he rises to with grace and skill, despite the many enemies who would rather not see him on the throne. Come for the courtly intrigue; stay for the way Addison effortlessly includes the characters' ear movements into their facial expressions without it getting weird. (Jemmy's review) (Adri)

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin (2015), by N.K. Jemisin: We’re not ones to claim that any subjective list of the best of anything is invalid because the list maker did not include our particular favorite, but we would definitely give the side-eye to any list of the best science fiction and fantasy of the last ten years that didn’t at least consider N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

The Fifth Season was an absolutely brilliant opening novel to Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. When I wrote about the novel in 2016, I had this to say “While the worldbuilding in The Fifth Season is superb and extraordinary, it does not hold a volcano's breath to how strongly written the novel is and just how incredible these three women are. The nature of the terribly oppressive world of The Stillness, really of the Sanze Empire, is examined through the lives, actions, heartbreaks, oppression, heroism, grief, discovery, and amazing characters of Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Jemisin will rip your heart out.” I have no doubt that not only is The Fifth Season stands out as one of the best of the decade, The Fifth Season will hold up as one of the all time great fantasy novels. (Joe's review) (Joe)

Black Wolves, by Kate Elliott (2015): Do you want an epic fantasy where most of the primary characters are fully mature adults? What about a world that sets up a particular worldview and culture and then spends the rest of the novel deconstructing everything we thought we knew about it? What about a novel dealing with persecuted minority cultures, oppressive religions, and a question about how reliable memory is when considering history? Black Wolves has all that. Highly competent women bringing the excellence in a variety of ways? Black Wolves has that. A very high body count and solid action? Black Wolves has that. Giant eagles? Black Wolves has that, too.

Black Wolves is as epic as epic fantasy can get and it was an incredible start to what should have been one of the best new series of the last ten years, except that we’re not getting the sequel because of publishing. Readers - Black Wolves is as good an epic fantasy novel as any that has been published in the last ten years and beyond, and even though I know that I am unlikely to get the follow up, I still heartily recommend everyone go read Black Wolves. You won’t be disappointed. (Joe's review) (Joe)

Infomocracy by Malka Older (2016) Informocracy is a bold and brilliant thought experiment on democracy, a novel which takes as its starting point a not-too-distant future where many nation states have dissolved in favour of a system of microdemocracy in which "centenal" units of one hundred thousand people elect their governments from a range of globally-active parties. What makes this possible, we are told, is the global system of Information, which provides an augmented reality fact-check to citizens in all parts of their daily lives, providing a particularly important service when it comes to the once-a-decade elections. Of course, with a new global system comes a new global bureaucracy, and Informocracy follows a couple of cogs in that machine - idealistic campaign manager Ken and Information agent (and maybe a spy) Mishima - as they try to keep the system working over a particularly hot election cycle.

What makes Informocracy special is not just the world it creates, but the book's ability to engage and invest us in the agency of its main characters, while still showing their relative helplessness in the face of the global political system they operate in. By introducing the concept of narrative disorder - a compulsion to fit objectively unrelated or coincidental occurrences into a satisfying but misleading single story - Older's series presents a political thriller that questions the very foundations that allow it to exist, while still delivering something that satisfies on all the levels that matter. Like many books on this list, it's here because its stayed with me well beyond reading, and I hope it's a book we continue to associate with our own political moment when we're looking back on genre in future decades. (Charles' review) (Adri)

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (2016): Reading Every Heart a Doorway was like coming home again to a story that I didn’t know that I had lost. It is a beautiful and heart wrenching story of kids who don’t belong anywhere except perhaps the one place they can’t get back to. Every Heart a Doorway is a portal fantasy where all of those kids who went through a wardrobe or a secret door and had adventures and a place to belong had to come home to a world that didn’t believe them and couldn’t understand them. What happens to those those kids when they come home? What happens is that Seanan McGuire writes a beautiful novel that seared itself so deep into my heart that it touched emotions I’m still not able to fully talk about almost four years later.

I wrote about the novel, “Perhaps moreso than any other book I am likely to read this year, my emotional response to Every Heart a Doorway has everything to do with who I am now and who I was when I was a teenager. I wish this is a story I could have discovered when I was twelve. I love this book with a warm and full heart as an adult, but I would have lived in Every Heart a Doorway as a child. I would have made friends with these children even though their experiences were so alien to mine. I can't imagine that I would have noticed that Nancy is asexual and that Kale is trans, or that I would have understood either concept. That part of the story wasn't for the child I was, but each of those elements are very much for other kids who would never see who they were in a story like this one. It matters that it doesn't matter for the story, if that makes sense.”

It is a beautiful, beautiful novel and I am so glad that it exists in the world. (Joe's review) (Joe)

Jade City, by Fonda Lee (2017): You've never read epic fantasy quite like this. The opening volume of Lee's Green Bone saga introduces readers to the island of Kekon, a culturally Asian island shrugging off decades of occupation and now ruled by rival gang families trained up in using bioreactive jade to power feats of martial arts prowess. The narrative follows various members of the No Peak clan - clan leader Kaul Lan and his siblings, the loyal but vicious Hilo and reluctantly repatriated sister Shae, as well as Anden, a cousin in his final year of training to be a Green Bone - as they try to see off challenges from the rival Mountain clan, as well as responding to wider geopolitical factors shaping the destiny of Kekon. Lee's writing is nothing short of outstanding in the way it brings the world of the Kauls to life, whether it's depicting regular scenes of Janloon street life or cinematically showcasing the supernatural powers of the Green Bone warriors. And, of course, it's all in service of a story that had me absolutely hooked from beginning to end, as we watch (possibly through our fingers) as the Kauls and their allies fight, torture, murder, get murdered, fall in love, make business deals (sensible or otherwise), fail to impress elderly parents, fight some more, and otherwise make difficult choices in service of family, honour and jade. (Adri's review) (Adri)

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (2019): It is a bold move to describe a book from the current year as one of the decade’s best, but The Light Brigade is a bold novel in the tradition of Starship Troopers, The Forever War, and Old Man’s War - which is not an opportunity to simply list the titles of significant military science fiction novels but a recognition of where The Light Brigade should be considered in a larger science fiction conversation and as to which novels get to be held up of classics of the genre which revitalize and engage with its past. The Light Brigade does all of that while telling a strong story about a soldier in the middle of an absolutely messed up war that is messed up even further when her combat drops sometimes place her in the wrong battle at the wrong time. Dietz is often not when she is supposed to be, and Hurley ties together all of the complicated timelines and fits it together perfectly. (Paul's review) (Joe)

As we discussed in the introduction we couldn't leave well enough alone and just live by a list of 9 novels which we believe are some of the best of the decade. And even after putting together our honorable mentions, there are still novels we feel like were just on the cusp of making the list. Joe nearly included The Calculating Stars and An Unkindness of Ghosts, and Adri regretfully left off Monstress and Ninefox Gambit. There have been so many excellent novels these last ten years, and here's a few more that we thought were pretty great.

Adri’s Honourable Mentions

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (2015): Zen Cho's Sorcerer Royal books are set in an alternate regency world where magic and faerie are everyday parts of life for many people, but magic in Britain is considered entirely the province of elite white men, closeted away in an academy while elite young women with magic attend special academies to repress their powers and people outside the elite are left to their own various devices. It's only when the position of Sorcerer Royal falls, through an accident of bonded familiars, to Black former slave Zacharias Wythe, raised by the former holder of the post as part son and part racist curiosity, that the rest of the establishment finds itself confronting the realities of their own changing society. Meanwhile, Zacharias' attempt to hold on to the post brings him into contact with Prunella Gentleman, mixed-race ward of a women's "magic" school and a powerful, irrepressible force of nature in her own right. Racism and elitism in the British empire are heavy subjects, but Cho is able to use the conventions and wit of a Regency novel to eviscerate the white supremacist assumptions and the ridiculousness of the characters upholding them, all while offering a brilliant, hilarious adventure in a compelling alternate world. I loved it. (We missed reviewing this, but here's Adri's review of Book 2, The True Queen)

After Atlas, by Emma Newman (2016). Because of the time at which I read Planetfall, Emma Newman's series of a dystopian Earth - and the various factors and faiths that cause people to leave it - is embedded in my brain as a foundational example of science fiction - from the troubled, grief-stricken extrasolar colony of Planetfall itself, to the claustrophobic, unsettling mysteries of the Martian colony in Before Mars, the series combines a challenging vision of a future under technologically advanced capitalism, with a realistic but always compassionate look at what happens to people trying to survive, and their own personal traumas and mental health challenges. For this list, though, my pick has to be After Atlas, the story of Carlos Moreno, a corporate indenture investigating the murder of the leader of a religious cult - who also happens to be a figure from his own difficult childhood. Carlos' journey to figure out the truth leads him to uncover secrets both past and present about the Atlas mission, and the powerful figures attempting to control it, and humanity's access to the stars. It's a compelling mystery, but what really brings After Atlas to life is its vision of future life: where people and their rights can be bought and sold by corporations, "real" food is an unimaginable luxury to the majority of the population, and intrusive AR advertising is a reality for anyone not wealthy enough to turn off the algorithms that control it. Terrifying in its real-world implications, and compelling in its treatment of characters, After Atlas is by far my favourite "dystopia" of the decade, and a book that everyone should check out. (Sorry, we don't have a review of any of the Planetfall novels, but they're delightful)

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (2019): This Is How You Lose the Time War is perhaps the weirdest book on this list - an epistolary romance between two rival agents for immensely powerful future factions ("techy-mechy" Agency and "viney-hivey" Garden), charting their travels through dimensions as they try to nudge futures in the direction of their respective overlords, and the letters they leave each other in various ephermeal forms throughout the timeline. In my review for Strange Horizons, I said that This Is How You Lose The Time War's greatest strength is "its exquisitely pitched story of romantic connection and its ability to bring all other aspects of the novella—its epistolary form, its expansive and yet understated worldbuilding, its themes of connection and agency and change—into the service of that emotional core. It's a romance whose portrayal of human connection is all the more powerful for the fact that it takes place between two beings who are otherwise not comprehensible to us, leaving their hopes, fears, and longing as the only elements left for a reader to cling to, and thus turning the love between Red and Blue into the most important thing in an unimaginably large multidimensional time war." I also mentioned it was the only book of 2019 to make me cry, and while that's not quite true any more (but that's a story for next decade's roundup) it still stands out as one of the most pure emotional experiences I have had reading a book - all the more incredible for the fact that it packs such a punch in novella length. (Paul's Review)

Joe's Honorable Mentions

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014): I find myself at a loss as to how to talk about Annihilation. There’s an expedition into Area X, the location doesn’t exactly matter but it’s in the American South presumably somewhere in Florida. What we know is that we don’t know anything. Area X is weird, it is unexplained - nobody knows exactly how or when it appeared and took over the land - and it is largely unexplored even though there have been eleven previous expeditions to do so. They haven’t gone well. This is the twelfth expeidtion.

Annihilation is weird, a little obscure, thrilling, occasionally claustrophobic, terrifying, and absolutely fantastic. I’m not sure there’s another novel like it, not even Authority or Acceptance - the two follow up novels to Annihilation. There are also few other novels this decade that have stuck with me for as long as this one has. I find myself thinking about the novel again and again, never quite getting anywhere with my thoughts but just wondering and letting the atmosphere of my memory wash over me. Even that is unsettling, just like everything is in the book. It’s an exceptional novel. (G's Review) (Joe)


Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (2015): Readers of childhood fairy tales will find so much that is familiar in Uprooted, but Naomi Novik is holding up a twisted mirror to those fairy tales while still holding tightly to the heart of what we so love and remember. Novik may not be completely deconstructing fairy tales here, but she is definitely playing with the form.

The star, driving force, and shining heart of Uprooted is the character of Agnieszka. The more conventional fairy tale that Novik appears to be telling in the first chapter is not necessarily the one that we get as the novel progresses. Agnieszka appears to be a wilting character, shrinking back from the anger and ubruptness of the dragon. This is not who she becomes. Through her own strength of character and intelligence, Agnieszka begins to grow into the person she never would have dreamed she could or would become. The concept of this Agnieszka would have been as alien and as foreign to her as the reality of life at court. Though still raw and impulsive, the progression of the novel begins to give her the seasoning required to not only help in the fight against The Wood, but also to become the sort of character parents will want to use as an example to their children.

Fairy tales are for kids, right? Uprooted straddles that line. It is both very much a novel that adults can, should, and will appreciate. Adults will recognize many of the things that Novik is doing in tweaking some of the conventions of fairy tales, but will also enjoy the novel simply for what it is. Older kids will enjoy Uprooted for simply being a kick-ass book with an awesome heroine and an exciting story for which they simply must know what happens next. Naomi Novik has a little bit for everyone in Uprooted. (Joe's review) (Joe)

Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant (2017): If I told you that this was a novel about mermaids, you’d probably have visions of Disney and The Little Mermaid and maybe some vague sense of unease if you have recollections of historical depictions and sirens. Mira Grant’s mermaids are terrifying, compelling, and all too plausible. Grant herself said that the novel “does for mermaids what Jurassic Park did for velociraptors” and that’s entirely true. Into the Drowning Deep is a true page turner of the highest quality - you might not be able to sleep after, but you’ll want to stay up for one more page, one more chapter. (Joe's review) (Joe)

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan

Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Mondays on Mandalore: Off Target

Welcome to Mondays on Mandalore. Unlike Mandalorians, this will not be a quiet, stoic affair. It will, however, discuss The Mandalorian, and in doing so, assume you have seen same. So there are spoilers.
"Poop, I must"
"I'm busy"
"In here, I went"

I don't have a grand takeaway from the latest episode, but I do have several random thoughts, so you get these quick-hitters. Enjoy:

  • Every time there is a large group of largely solitary, morally-dubious people, there is always a guild. The Pirate's Guild in Pirates of the Caribbean, things like that. Here we have the Bounty Hunters Guild. Now, in the American West, it was licensed and regulated, so there is a real-life connection, but I want to know what the meetings were like where a bunch of paid killers sat down and decided to make rules about it. Also, what are the benefits? Do you get a pension?
  • The best they can do for tracking targets is a red blinky thing? That somehow always leads hunters to exactly where the target is? It seems like there should be a better system, that involves... you know... hunting. I love this show, but man, the fob thing is dumb.
  • One of the largest accomplishments of the original trilogy is having two main characters that didn't speak English, and two characters who were masked/a droid, and were still able to communicate exactly what they were thinking and feeling. The Mandalorian does the same. The Yodaling squeaks. We never see Mando's face, but he emotes so, so well. It's really what makes this show, and makes it very, very Star Wars.
  • Does Mando have to change diapers? Is the Yodaling potty trained? How does he reach? Or does Mando follow him around with a broom?

 Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore. 

The Hugo Initiative: Doomsday Book (1993, Best Novel)

Dossier: Willis, Connie. Doomsday Book [Bantam Spectra, 1992]

Filetype: Novel

Executive Summary: Doomsday Book is a near future speculative fiction novel in which time travel enables historians to go back and study the past from the field, experiencing those times directly. There are rules, because of course there are rules to time travel and these rules are such that time travel itself prevents paradox. So going back to kill Hitler or doing anything that might be considered "significant" to history. 

A woman named Kivrin travels back to 14th Century England for research and experiences life on the ground there, which becomes increasingly fraught with risk and a concern that she might not have been sent back to exactly when she (and the other historians) thought. 

The other primary storyline is during the "present day" of Doomsday Book where following Kivrin's time travel, an epidemic of a mysterious virus ravages Oxford as Professor Dunworthy (Kivrin's advisor) and Doctor Mary Ahrens (Dunworthy's friend) race to find the origins of the disease and get Kivrin back from the 14th Century, where she is now trapped.

Legacy: Doomsday Books is the winner of the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and the Locus Award for Best SF Novel. It was also on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Award. It also shares in the larger legacy of the loose Oxford Time Travel series, of which every work has won the Hugo Award, including the 1982 novelette Fire Watch, the 1998 novel To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the 2010 novels Blackout and All Clear (which were somewhat strangely combined for Hugo Award voting as a single work). 

Doomsday Book tied for the 1993 Best Novel Hugo Award with Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, a novel which would also spawn a Hugo Award winning sequel (A Deepness Upon the Sky) and a third novel which, unlike with Connie Willis, was not a Hugo Award winner or finalist (The Children of the Sky). 

Thinking about the Hugo Award pedigree of Doomsday Book makes me wonder what other speculative series has won a Hugo for every entry. A number of series have been awarded a Hugo for multiple volumes in the same series (the above mentioned Vinge, Orson Scott Card's first two Ender's Game novels, the second and third volumes in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, three of Lois McMaster Bujold's long running Vorkosigan novels have won the Hugo), but the most recent and notable example is N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, for which all three novels won the Hugo Award and did so in three consecutive years. Connie Willis has done it with all four entries of Oxford Time Travel and that's a significant accomplishment and a significant legacy to have. While Fire Watch came first, it was Doomsday Book that cemented that legacy as the first novel in the series to win the Hugo Award.

Doomsday Book occupies a peculiar space in science fiction and fantasy history. It won the Hugo and Nebula almost thirty years ago, but few novels from that era are discussed as all time greats barring, perhaps Hyperion from three years prior - but the personality and politics of Dan Simmons the man is harming some of the reputation of Dan Simmons the writer, which is a different point altogether. The Vorkosigan novels from Bujold have perhaps aged the best, but Doomsday Book may still be one of the most significant novel to have been published in its time (granting Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower). Doomsday Book was a major novel from a major writer at the height of her powers. If it is not discussed nearly enough these days, it is because most novels of that generation are not discussed nearly enough. There remains the genre propensity to consider the "masters" of seventy years ago and the newest of the new, while letting slide those masters of twenty, thirty, and forty years ago unless they manage to still be in fashion today.


In Retrospect: One thing that I very much appreciate in Doomsday Book is that all of the training in Middle English pronunciation that Kivrin received and the technological aid that she has is rendered useless because we really have no idea how the everyday language of the time was actually pronounced. Like any good English Major, I had a class focused on Chaucer and had to learn the same "Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote" referenced in the novel. The class was taught with authority for the pronunciation, but I did (and do) wonder how close that pronunciation may have been. According to Connie Willis, it may not have been very close at all.

It's both easy and impossible to play the game "if this was published today" and try to figure out if Doomsday Book would win the Hugo Award now. Willis most recently won a Hugo Award in 2011 for both Blackout and All Clear, which isn't so long ago. I think it's possible and reasonable, depending on the year. Nothing was going to beat N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth novels, but Connie Willis is very popular with the voting members of Worldcon (having been a 24 time finalist for her fiction, with 11 wins) and I suspect many of the same readers who loved Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars would still be inclined to vote for Doomsday Book if faced with it on a Hugo ballot.

That is a long way to say that Doomsday Book holds up very well indeed. Doomsday Book does have the feel of a novel from another generation, which only makes sense given that the novel was published more than twenty five years ago. I won't go so far as to say Doomsday Book is at all comfort reading, because there is nothing comfortable whatsoever occurring in the novel, but the prose of Connie Willis is so seemingly effortless and smooth that she eases the reader and and before we know it we're hip deep in plague and loving every page of it.

Doomsday Book is a slower burn than many of today's science fiction and fantasy novels. The novel is an inevitable march towards bleakness, but Connie Willis takes her time with small events building and building to this looming dread we know is coming and we can't look away from. At least, Willis takes her time until the end, at which point she wraps things up fairly quickly and neatly.

The thing about Doomsday Book is that it works. It is a masterful piece of storytelling that perhaps shouldn't work as well as it does almost three decades later. It's good enough that I want to read Fire Watch and the other three Oxford Time Travel novels sooner rather than later(though perhaps not specifically for The Hugo Initiative). The novel is a softer form of science fiction that uses time travel in a way that makes sense. No paradoxes, there is risk, and maybe don't visit a time and place with bubonic plague. And really, who doesn't want to read a novel where the protagonist is surrounded by bubonic plague and renders as much aid as she can?


For its time: 5/5
Read today: 4/5.
Gernsback Quotient: 9/10 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.