Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reading the Hugos: Fan Writer

Welcome back to Reading the Hugos, our regular summer series covering as many Hugo Award categories as possible. Today we're looking at the Fan Writers. If you're not familiar, those are the writers doing exactly what I'm doing here (only better) - writing about science fiction and fantasy and the various intersections with real life and politics and awards and with other works and with absolutely anything connected to the genre at all - except that we're all doing this work and this writing because it's a conversation that we value and the writing is meaningful to us. Hopefully it is meaningful to others. 

This is somewhat difficult category because the award is for a person, not for an individual work. Like the Campbell, we're trying to compare a body of work against a body of work and figure out which has the most weight and which has the most importance. I doubt it is possible, but here's my look at the six finalists for Fan Writer.

Camestros Felapton
Sarah Gailey
Mike Glyer
Foz Meadows
Charles Payseur
Bogi Tak√°cs

Mike Glyer: I find File 770 a valuable resource for fannish news within and around science fiction and fantasy. Glyer’s Pixel Scroll roundups are a quick daily check to see what’s going on, what I might have missed, what I want to miss, and what I should consider paying attention to. While there is writing involved in setting up the Pixel Scroll posts, it’s not what I look for out of fan writing. There is value in the writing of the news roundups, and I value those but it’s not “fan writing” in the sense of what I want out of a fan writer.

For his actual fan writing credits, Glyer does strong work in eulogizing the passing of notable fans. He brings out stories and lives that many readers may not have known of those who have been important in the building of fan convention community over the decades. As a whole, though, Glyer’s fan writing does not appeal to me. The most notable bits of writing are those where he engages with the Sad and Rapid Puppies (in previous years, but occasionally addressed in 2017) as well with Jon Del Arroz, who seems to be an offshoot of those campaigns. It’s not enough to push Glyer’s fan writing farther up the ballot or above No Award.

No Award.

Bogi Takacs: I’ve seen Takacs pop up on my twitter feed commenting on various aspects of genre, but I had never read much of their writing. Based on the writing samples including in the Voter’s Packet (and suggestive from their Twitter bio), Takacs is focused on marginalized communities intersecting with science fiction and fantasy. To be quickly reductive, Takacs is Hungarian, Queer, and Jewish – all of which comes through in the focus of the included writing samples – it is a case where identity is part and parcel of the writing. Bogi Takacs’ voice is vital and important.

Camestros Felapton: I was most familiar with Camestros from his commenting over at File 770 and the occasional link back to his own blog. Here, he has included a much more robust Voter Packet entry than most. Half of his fan writing is the stuff I would be looking for from a contributor to Nerds of a Feather. The other half really annoys me. The annoying half is stuff like Timothy the Cat, Ask a Triceratops, A Cat Reviews La La Land – the stuff that isn’t straight up essays and reviews and is more Felapton playing around. I’m being a little harsh here and I’m probably stretching the truth when I say that half annoys me. The truth is it just isn’t my thing and I think it detracts from the stuff that I do appreciate and do like. It’s a small knock down compared to some of the other very strong writers on the ballot.

Sarah Gailey: Years ago Jo Walton was writing fantastically compelling essays at Whether she was revisiting her favorites like Steven Brust and CJ Cherryh, looking at the Hugo Awards, or whatever else struck her fancy, she was killing it. She was killing it to the point there was some chatter about nominating her for Best Fan Writer. I can’t source this, but I remember her writing, telling people not to nominate her because she wasn’t eligible – because this was paid writing (though not well paid) and was a professional publication, if mostly for fiction. I’ve since struggled with that idea in other categories, not nominating the lamentably mothballed Rocket Talk podcast because it was hosted at as one example. I still struggle, though I think that fan / pro ship has pretty well sailed regarding whether the fan writer gets paid and whether a podcast is hosted on the website of a professional entity (see 8-4 Play in 2016 for Fancast).

I bring all of that up here because the three contributions from Sarah Gailey in the voter packet are from and Uncanny Magazine (a semiprozine, which is an entirely separate discussion). Is it fan writing or is it paid professional writing? I’m still not sure where the line is, and I’m not sure it is a battle I have in me to fight today.

Whether you view her writing as fannish or professional, Sarah Gailey’s essays are superb. With clear eyes and clear writing, Gailey gets to the heart of whatever she is writing about, digging deep below the surface to hit a point of view that perhaps isn’t as talked about as often in wide open spaces.

Foz Meadows: It's no secret that Foz Meadows is smart as hell as a fan writer. She has twice been a finalist for Fan Writer (2014 and 2017) and that's no mistake. She writes deeply incisive commentary on all the fannish stuff that I enjoy, but brings a perspective that I both appreciate and need. Whether she is writing about Star Wars or Final Fantasy or Godzilla or digging into why someone who wants "realistic" rather than "diverse" books might have a problem with perspective, Meadows brings nuanced truth and understanding.

There are many ways that I appreciate fan writing because there are many shapes that fan writing can take, and Meadows is among the best.

Charles Payseur: Out of all of the writers on the Fan Writer ballot, I was the most familiar with Charles Payseur. After all, for three years he was an important contributor to Nerds of a Feather. He was our short fiction reviewer. We were sad to see him leave at the end of the year, but recognized he was moving onward and upward. He’s been doing his own thing at Quick Sip Reviews and was branching out to other venues, including The Book Smugglers (a Hugo finalist this year for Semiprozine). Any time I’ve needed to get a quick take on a short story, I went to Quick Sip Reviews to see what Charles had to say. Charles is sharp, incisive, sensitive, considerate, passionate, and thoughtful reviewer and essayist. If I ever wrote (and published) a story, I would want Charles to review it. He’s one of the best and most prolific short fiction reviewers out there.

My Vote
1. Charles Payseur
2. Foz Meadows
3. Sarah Gailey
4. Camestros Felapton
5. Bogi Takacs
6. No Award
7. Mike Glyer

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story
Related Work
Professional Artist
Fan Artist
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Thursday Morning Superhero - SDCC and Laika

San Diego Comic Con has officially begun and if you happen to be in San Diego you owe it to yourself to check out Laika Live.  The Laika offsite last year was one of the most memorable comic con experiences I have ever had the good fortune to attend.  When I learned they were returning and my son was joining me I was excited to share this with him. I was happy to see it again, but assumed it would be similar and that was fine with me.  Laika Live is nothing like last year's offsite and has raised the bar in what studios can bring to SDCC.

One of the best elements in last year's events was the depth of knowledge that the tour guides shared. You could sense their passion from what their studio was producing and it really highlighted the meticulous work that goes into each film. This year, in addition to bringing props and puppets, Laika brought an office from their puppet department and are making a puppet during the convention. We learned about how the skeletons under the puppets are created, got to see some of the stop motion animation software, and even learned how the puppeteers often film themselves performing an action as the foundation of how they animate their puppets.

Zombie eyes!
The icing on the cake included an entire set from the upcoming film Missing Link. I asked our guide if the animators were nervous hauling on of their sets to San Diego and she said that they are likely ready to be done with it after working on the film for over four years. While it is awe inspiring to see the props and puppets up close, the people behind these beloved films is what makes this offsite special. You can sense their passion for what they do and the entire experience is a delight. If you have the time to check it out I highly encourage it.

Not the set, but a cool photo opportunity in the tour
POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Microreview [book]: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Pictures of Home

It starts with a gremlin. The Eriophora is a space ship built inside an asteroid packed with 30,000 crew members and one mission: to build gates that will allow humanity to quickly travel among the stars. But they’re taking the long route and it takes millennia of travel time between builds, and they’ve built far too many gates. Eriophora is built for this, but a “gremlin” grazing the ship after a gate build spooks the crew and some of them want to overthrow the Chimp, the AI driving the mission. There’s just one problem; how do you overthrow an AI if you’re only awake for days in the span of millennia?

Off the bat, let me bring up that this is the latest in a series of short stories, though this one is novella+ size. I have not read the Sunflowers series of which this belongs beforehand, and I was not lost in the plot or setting. Discussion around the novel seemed to indicate that having read the previous stories may make some of the plot elements more obvious or pre-determined, but I didn’t have that experience.

What I love about this novel is the same thing I love about all of Watts’ novels. It’s an excellent blend of “feels like it could be real” science and then driving it all the way out to “this asteroid flying through space is millions of years past our timeline”. Their reasonable explanation for how this ship has survived so long is the perfect combination of magic and reality. It touches philosophical topics around artificial life and what it means to possibly be the last humans. I really don’t have a lot of fault it on. I clamor for more, but I can have more by reading the short stories. There’s even a short story hidden in this novel! The end, as usual for Watts, left me agape. I will be re-reading this.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 end-to-end hard SF that doesn’t bore for a single second

Penalties: None

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 (very high quality/standout in its category)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Microreview [book]: Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley

While lighter on plot than its novel predecessors, Apocalypse Nyx delivers on the action and the relationships that made the original trilogy so compelling.

Six years after the publication of Rapture, the third volume in Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy, the world of God's War has a new print entry in Apocalypse Nyx, a collection of short fiction (two novellas and three shorter pieces) following some of the misadventures of bounty hunter Nyxnissa so Dasheem and her team of walking disasters. From mysteriously twice-dead corpses to fanatical biology researchers to awkward family reunions to ill-timed favour recalls, this new entry delivers exactly what anyone familiar with Hurley's previous work would expect, although avoids most of the political and interpersonal baggage that the original trilogy explored.

There are five stories in this volume: "The Body Project", the opening story, was originally written as a "bonus" for the publication of Rapture, while the other four ("The Heart is Eaten Last", "Soulbound", "Crossroads at Jannah" and "Paint it Red") were originally accessible through Hurley's Patreon.  All sit between the first and second acts of God's War, during the period where Nyx and her team are working as bounty hunters in Nasheen after her expulsion from the Bel Dame sisterhood of state sponsored assassins. It's the most minor of spoilers to note that this team looks a bit different after the events of the first book, and setting the stories in this period lets the characters be the versions of themselves that make the most sense in the episodic format. Moreover, the stories steer clear from all but the earliest spoilers of God's War (in fact, if you've read this paragraph all the way through, you've already been spoiled on that early event - sorry!), so this would be a reasonable introductory volume for those who haven't read the original trilogy.

As the title suggests, Nyx is the primary focus here, in all her destructive messed-up glory. I rarely find much to enjoy about morally adrift protagonists, but there's something about Nyx that makes her utterly compelling on the page despite being someone most of us would go out of our way to avoid in real life. Raised in Nasheen, a country whose population is overwhelmingly female because men are conscripted to die in an all-consuming religious war with the neighbours, Nyx herself has variously been a war hero, a casualty, a member of the elite Bel Dames, a convict, and now the leader of a team of individuals who are, by definition, out of options themselves if they've ended up working for her. Unusually for her location, three of Nyx's team are men, although all are from outside Nasheen, and the gender dynamics this introduces in the context of a nation where women are the only survivors makes for some fun moments.

When I first read God's War, I'd never met a character like Nyx before, and I still think she's a rare creation: a woman who gets to be sympathetic while never doing more than the bare minimum to deserve it. To be fair, Nyx's world is so harsh that it makes sense for a reader to respect her purely for her ability to survive, and it seems inevitable that this is what someone raised in Nasheen -- a country where forty is considered elderly and people expect to die from chemical weapons or unpleasant cancers long before the real effects of age kick in -- would become. The rare flashes of something more honourable in Nyx's character keep us from giving up on her entirely, but these aren't the kinds of stories where a moral leaps out of the bushes and accosts our wayward heroes in the final act. There's no lasting development in the relationships or characters here; that isn't what you're reading for.

This is particularly true for scenes that focus on the relationship between Nyx and Rhys, her "magician" (who, like much of the technology in this world, runs on bugs... just go with it). Rhys is a runaway from Chenja, the country Nasheen is at war with, and brings pomposity, piety and a pretty face to a team otherwise bereft of these "virtues". In Nyx and Rhys, Hurley takes that predictable but somehow irresistible (to me, anyway) sitcom relationship trope where two opposite personalities bicker and refuse to admit they "like" each other, and dials it up to a level of unapologetic toxicity which makes resolution impossible. If you're a fan of that dynamic (like me), this makes for a very compelling side plot, and while Nyx is certainly the more outwardly awful of the two, its equally hard to sympathise with Rhys' constant disgust and conviction that he is better than everyone around him. The relationship element isn't the primary driver of any of these stories, but it's a common thread throughout, especially in "The Heart is Eaten Last", and the interactions between these infuriating trash babies are perfect points of tension that add to the overall grimness of the world being described.

I was worried that some of the politics and technology of Nyx's world might have escaped me in the years since I read Rapture, but I needn't have been. Hurley is brilliant at developing worlds that makes little sense on the surface (how are all those bugs powering their cars?) but where the internal logic and the matter-of-fact acceptance from the characters makes it easy to just take everything as it comes. The plots are sufficiently twisty, though not immensely complex or original - but, again, that's not really the point. Whether you're coming to Nyx for the first time, or after reading one or more of the novels, what Apocalypse Nyx offers is the grimdark version of a comfort read: action, well-placed aggression and bizarrely satisfying emotional frustration that will have you reading through your fingers.

The Math

Baseline: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 Contains Nyx and Rhys, the best never-going-to-happen awful relationship tease in all science fiction

Penalties: -1 Not as good as the novels (but still pretty amazing)

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "A mostly enjoyable experience".

POSTED BY: 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.

Reference: Hurley, Kameron. Apocalypse Nyx [Tachyon Publications, 2018]

6 Books with Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers is the author of the science fiction novels The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and the upcoming Record of a Spaceborn Few (July 2018). Her books have been nominated for the Hugo Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, among others. She also writes essays and short stories, which can be found here and there around the internet.

Today she shares her six books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading? 

The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel. It’s a nonfiction book about the women “computers” at Harvard who studied the stars. I love books about the history and humanity of science, and this one is scratching that itch so hard. It’s got a great (and real!) cast of characters, and anybody who’s interested in astronomy should learn about this brilliant team who shaped our view of the cosmos.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about? 

This is going to be a terrible answer: I can’t tell you, because it hasn’t been formally announced yet. And I know, I should just tell you about something else instead, but now I’m on the spot and it’s all I can think of. That’s so annoying of me, I’m sorry.

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read? 

My to-read pile is a constant source of guilt and despair, so I doubt I’ll have the luxury of re-reading anything anytime soon. But: Changing Planes, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Her work, and that book in particular, were cornerstones of me going on to write science fiction at all. I went back and read a little bit of it when I learned of her death, but I would like to sit down and properly go on that journey again.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively? 

This hurts me to admit this, but Dune. Dune rocked my world when I was a teenager. I ravaged my paperback copy with dog ears. I memorized the Bene Gesserit litany against fear. I adored Alia, the tiny all-knowing girl who scared the high holy hell out of everyone she met. It’s a tremendously important story in science fiction as a whole, and I still think a lot of its elements are great. But wow, the gender politics in that book are a hot mess, and the fact that its lone gay character is both a super evil villain and a disgusting pedophile does not sit well with adult!me at all. Oof.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

I’ve got a bunch, but since I have to pick one: Contact, by Carl Sagan. I saw the movie in my tweens, when it was in theaters. I bought the book soon after, and I read it until it started to fall apart. Ellie Arroway taught me that women could be brilliant heroes who go on space adventures (Jadzia Dax and Princess Leia were big parts of my life then, too, but Ellie was a contemporary character in a realistic story, and that mattered big time). The extraterrestrial welcome party she finds taught me that alien contact could result in something other than war. Carl Sagan taught me that the universe is poetry, and that learning about it makes us humble and inspired and afraid and at peace all at once. I carry those ideas with me in everything I write. As Ellie learns: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome? 

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third book in my Wayfarers series, and it’ll be out in July. It takes place in the Exodus Fleet, the collection of generation ships that carried the last humans away from Earth hundreds of years before our story starts. The crux of the book is this: if the point of the Fleet was to find humanity a new home, and plenty of new homes have been found…why are people still living there? How has their culture changed due to alien influence? How can they preserve their traditions, and are those traditions worth saving at all? I had a lot of fun tackling those questions, and I hope readers will dig it, too.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reading the Hugos: John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Welcome back to Reading the Hugos: 2018 Edition! Today we're going to look at the writers up for the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

I know. I know. The Campbell is "Not a Hugo". It is only "administered" by the World Science Fiction Society. It is sponsored by Dell Magazines. But, beyond those technicalities, I'm not sure I really care much about the distinction. It's not a Hugo. It's totally a Hugo. It's not a Hugo.

The Campbell is an award for a writer whose "first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years." See here for eligibility rules, but it mostly follows the SFWA definition of professional publication or professional rates above a nominal fee. With the vagaries of publication, short story writers can be somewhat disadvantaged if they get one story published professionally and then years pass before they are truly noticed or place additional stories. Novels often make larger splashes, even if there is only one published in the eligibility window.

Writers like Rebecca Roanhorse have more of an uphill fight since she only has the one story published last year. That one story needs to make a huge splash.

Let's see how big of splash everyone has made over the last two years. It's a weird category.

Katherine Arden 
Sarah Kuhn
Jeannette Ng 
Vina Jie-Min Prasad 
Rebecca Roanhorse 
Rivers Solomon 

Jeannette Ng: Ng is one of two writers on the Campbell ballot on the back of a single novel, which for a novelist is not necessarily unusual because there is only a two year eligibility window. Under the Pendulum Sun is Ng's debut novel. In Victorian England, a missionary who journeyed to the realm of faerie in order to proselytize and bring the fae to Christ, has disappeared. Catherine Helstone, his sister, undertakes her own search of faerie and the estate of Gethsemane to find him.

Under the Pendulum Sun is beautifully written and atmospheric as hell. The weight and weirdness of Arcadia shines through on every page. The novel feels Victorian without bogging the reader down with faux Victorian prose. The only problem, and this is quite clearly my problem and not Ng's is that there is something about the novel that I struggled to engage with and care about. There was a distance growing between me and Under the Pendulum Sun and it wasn't one I cared enough to overcome. It's a weird dichotomy, understanding the novel is a beautifully written piece of fiction and still not being able to fully appreciate it. Even so, that's where I'm at with this.

Rebecca Roanhorse: Rebecca Roanhorse has only published one eligible story over the last two years and it's "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience". It's a major, important story. I wrote about it when discussing the short story finalists. While it didn't take the top spot on my ballot for that category, I noted that it marked the arrival of a major new talent and that Roanhorse is an author to watch.

That's where the Campbell is an interesting and a difficult category. We are only evaluating the writers based on their work during the previous two years, so we can't consider Roanhorse's debut novel Trail of Lightning even though those who have read it can't help but factor it in. Where the Campbell gets tricky is that there is an aspect to the category that makes me want to think about what the work of the last two years says about the writer's potential for the future. It's a forward looking category even though it only looks at the work of the past two years.

So I only have one story to work with here, but it's a damn good one. It's a story I'd rather read several times than I would read, say, Under the Pendulum Sun a single time. Novels and short stories aren't at all the same thing and if not for this category, it would be folly to compare them or to compare writers working in different forms.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad: Prasad is on the Campbell ballot on the strength of three stories: "A Series of Steaks" and "Fandom For Robots" are finalists for the Hugo Awards for Novelette and Short Story, respectfully. "Portrait of Skull with Man" was published at Fireside Fiction and is not on the Hugo ballot, which is not all that remarkable. It's much more remarkable to have a single author with more than one story on the ballot and even yet moreso for those stories to be almost the entirety of the writer's published output (Rebecca Roanhorse is another example of this, with one published story at the time of being a Campbell finalist).

It continues to be a difficult and uncomfortable thing to compare and rack and stack writers against each other. The stories, yes, but this is an award for Best New Writer. Are Prasad's three stories better than Roanhorse's one, and how do those stories compare to the single novel of Rivers Solomon or the two novels of Sarah Kuhn?

That's the real challenge here. Both of the Hugo finalist stories are quite good and show an author I want to follow and read more from, and the story from Fireside is a trippy bit of goodness. Does that make Prasad a "better" writer than Roanhorse? Probably not. But in comparing the writer of three stories against the writer of one, it does show that Prasad's skill across multiple stories. If Roanhorse and Prasad both make the ballot next year, we may have a different comparison because Roanhorse will also have an eligible novel out by then an we'll be able to see how she works in a longer form. But for now, Prasad get the nod.

Katherine Arden: Arden is eligible for the Campbell following the 2017 publication of her novel The Bear and the Nightingale. Comparatively, it is more similar to Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun in that the prose is more deliberate and beautiful on a sentence level than Heroine Complex or An Unkindness of Ghosts. That’s the only worthwhile comparison to the other novels because they are all so different in tone and function and story and emotion. The Bear and the Nightingale touches on Russian folklore and is a tight family story mostly set in remote regions of Russia.

I absolutely want to see more from Katherine Arden (and hey, she’s written two more books in the Winternight sequence that began with The Bear and the Nightingale). She’s an author to watch and follow and I’m as excited to read The Girl in the Tower as I am to see what she’s doing ten years from now. The Bear and the Nightingale is the announcement of a major new talent. It’s a slow burn of a novel, but it pays off and it sucks you in. Arden could so easily trade places with Sarah Kuhn on my ballot, but as of today, this is where I’m ranking her (which, as noted, is an impossible fool’s errand).

Sarah Kuhn:  Sarah Kuhn has two eligible novels, Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship (the third volume in the series, Heroine's Journey, was published this year). I'm basing my thoughts / placement on the ballot on Heroine Complex since I'm simply not going to have enough time to read Heroine Worship before voting closes.

Kuhn's been on my radar since Heroine Complex was published. The novel is set in a modern day San Francisco which, as far I can tell, is just like what San Francisco is like today except that random demon portals open and spew out minor demons that are then vanquished by super heroine Aveda Jupiter. So - just like the regular world. There are other low level super heroes around. Nobody is on the proper level of Wonder Woman, Wolverine, or Captain Marvel. The powers aren't that epic. The story, however, is. It's a wonder and a delight.

Kuhn's writing is punchy and compelling and I loved reading about Evie Tanaka impersonating Aveda Jupiter (who also happens to be her childhood friend), her adventures / misadventures, her romance. It's just so smooth and (seemingly) effortless. I was hooked early on and I immediately wanted to read Heroine Worship right away. Unfortunately, I was three hours away from my house, without an internet connection, and nowhere near a bookstore. The point being, Sarah Kuhn is fantastic and I can't wait to read more. It was exceedingly tough to decide how to slot Sarah Kuhn and Katherine Arden on my ballot. Kuhn got the edge simply because I am more excited to read the next Sarah Kuhn novel right this moment and I want to savor Arden's writing and take longer breaks between books.

Rivers Solomon: Solomon is here on the strength of An Unkindness of Ghosts, a debut that is as much a novel as it is a statement and announcement of arrival. I have long loved the concept and often the execution of a generation ship, but I have never read anything quite like An Unkindness of Ghosts. It is not uncommon to read a generation ship novel that focuses on the divide between the more affluent privileged class and the poor workers living in squalor in the underbelly on the ship. It is uncommon to read a generation ship novel that takes that conceit and drives a knife straight in the gut by running the ship like a plantation. The white overseers are in the upper decks and have significantly greater freedom and luxury. The darker skinned workers are exploited, stigmatized, and brutalized for their very existence.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a deeply uncomfortable novel to read, but every time I put the book down for the night I immediately wanted to pick it up and keep reading deep into the night. Solomon describes their novel as "a science fiction meditation on trans-generational trauma, race, and identity" and if you take that into the novel, you can see what they are doing. Slavery and trans-generation trauma is central to the storytelling of Unkindess of Ghosts, but so is that idea of identity. Through the generational trauma, so much family and personal histories have been lost. Characters barely know who their parents were, let alone grandparents or farther back. More, Solomon's writing of their protagonist, Aster, is so vital and central to the novel. Aster's voice and characterization of a neurologically atypical narrator is so incredibly well done and distinctive that it is almost impossible to imagine the novel written any other way.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is an almost impossibly accomplished and incredible novel and marks Rivers Solomon as an essential writer to watch.

My Vote
1. Rivers Solomon
2. Sarah Kuhn
3. Katherine Arden
4. Vina Jie-Min Prasad
5. Rebecca Roanhorse
6. Jeannete Ng

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story
Related Work
Professional Artist 
Fan Artist

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Joe's Books of 2018: Part One (January - June)

Good morning and welcome to my cataloging of all of the books I read in the first six months of 2018. I started this feature last year (see here and here) and it's something I really enjoy doing. I love making lists of books and I only review or even write about a small fraction of what I read in any given year. Doing all twelve months in one go would be overwhelming, but six months seems about right to me.

As with every year, I've read some pretty spectacular novels - though this time very few of them are 2018 publications. Readers who have followed me from Adventures in Reading will not be surprised that I absolutely loved Elizabeth Bear's The Stone in the Skull (my review). I've been a huge fan of her work for years and this is Bear operating at the height of her mighty powers. An Unkindness of Ghosts is a searing generation ship novel. It is uncommon to read a generation ship novel that takes that conceit and drives a knife straight in the gut by running the ship like a plantation. This debut novel marks Rivers Solomon as an essential writer to watch. It is difficult to maintain a high level of quality and excitement for a novel seven books deep into a series, but Persepolis Rising is one of my favorite novels from The Expanse. It resets the deck and expands the story in a natural way and still delivers a fresh story.

I still need to make it a point to read more novellas published in other venues, but I have been following and reading nearly every book put out by Publishing over the last several years. This year has been no different. The thing is, they publish some fantastic books that are quickly becoming some of my favorites. I've read 17 books from this cycle.

Taste of Wrath (my review) wraps up Matt Wallace's Sin du Jour series, damn, he goes out with a bang. Sin du Jour has been one of my favorite things running and if there is any justice, Taste of Wrath will be a Hugo finalist next year and Sin du Jour will also make the shortlist as Best Series. I love these books and they deserve the widest possible audience. Black Tides of Heaven received a exceedingly rare 10/10 score from me (my review), and anything Lois McMaster Bujold writes and publishes is of the highest quality. She's not yet one of the SFWA Grandmasters, but that should only be a matter of time.

One thing I look forward to every year is The Tournament of Books (here's a link to this year's offering). I've mentioned it before here, but think of it as March Madness for novels. Literary bloodsport. The good people at The Morning News recognizes and acknowledges the absolute absurdity in judging books in a competition and then leans in hard on that concept. The winners are chosen by the capriciousness of a single judge for each match up and half the fun is trying to read as much as possible before the tournament starts and half of the fun is reading the judgment and arguing (or agreeing) with that judgment.

Some of my favorites from this year's tournament were Manhattan Beach, Pachinko, and The Animators. Naturally, none of them made it to the final. If you're curious about how it all shook out, spoilers, but here's the final between Lincoln in the Bardo and Fever Dream. I didn't really care for either novel, but I pretty much hated Lincoln in the Bardo. Between that and Civilwarland in Bad Decline, I think I'm done with George Saunders.

Speaking of being done with George Saunders, there were a few reading disappointments (besides George Saunders). I'm a huge fan of Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels, but Good Guys just did not work for me. Likewise, I've enjoyed previous books from Caitlin R. Kiernan, but her last two works from Publishing felt, to me, to be disjointed messes. I'm still confused as to what story is being told and what's going on. Black Helicopters did nothing to help me out. Finally, even with all of the conversation about how Andy Weir's Artemis does not live up to The Martian (a tall order), I was still disappointed in the novel. I appreciate Weir looking to tell different science fictional stories, and I look to see what he does next in the hopes that he'll be able to equal the excellence of The Martian, but Artemis just wan't it.

Finally, I would like to take a look at my reading statistics for the first half of 2018 as it relates to gender. This is something I've been thinking about and working on for a number of years now and I have found that I tend to do a better job at meeting my goals when I check in after every month and continually monitor my progress. Even with four years of thoughtful reading choices, it is so easy to find myself reading fewer women than I would like.

It should go without saying, but I know there will be misunderstanding if I don't. This isn't about denying one set of books (written by men) for another (written by women). It's not. This is about embracing as much as possible. This is about discovering new favorite books and new favorite authors that I never would have discovered if I didn't make a point to see out authors I've "always meant to read" but never have. How many of these women have written my favorite books, if I only I took the smallest amount of effort to find them?

Ultimately, I want to read everything. All the books.

If my count is correct (and I have been known to miss a book or two, despite my obsessive list making), 41 of the 69  books I've read were written by women (59.42%). That's not bad and I aim to keep it going throughout 2018.

I should also note that I am only counting those writers who use female pronouns in my count of female writers versus male. Any mistakes in this count are mine alone and I apologize for any misunderstandings I may have propagated.

Here are my stats from the last four years for a point of comparison.
2017: 51.50%
2016: 56.21%
2015: 58.59%
2014: 45.92%

Now, on with the lists!

1. The Stone in the Skull, by Elizabeth Bear
2. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
3. Persepolis Rising, by James S.A Corey
4. La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
5. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
6. Dear Cyborgs, by Eugene Lim
7. The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard
8. Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich
9. Pachinko, by Min Jin Kee
10. The End of Eddy, by Edouard Louis
11. Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong
12. Stephen Florida, by Gabe Habash

13. The Warrior Within, by Angus McIntyre
14. The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker
15. The Barrow Will Send What it May, by Margaret Killjoy
16. The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
17. So Much Blue, by Percival Everett
18. Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza
19. Memory’s Blade, by Spencer Ellsworth
20. Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran
21. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson
22. Time Was, by Ian McDonald
23. Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz

24. The Atrocities, by Jeremy Shipp
25. Dark State, by Charles Stross
26. Oh Crap! Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki
27. Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
28. Tomorrow's Kin, by Nancy Kress
29. Taste of Wrath, by Matt Wallace
30. The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang
31. Good Guys, by Steven Brust
32. Penric's Fox, by Lois McMaster Bujold
33. Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee
34. A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire
35. Outbreak, by Melissa F. Olson

36. Void Black Shadow, by Corey J. White
37. Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire
38. The End We Start From, by Megan Hunter
39. Black Helicopters, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
40. The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang
41. The Mongrel Mage, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr
42. Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells
43. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
44. An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

45. Artemis, by Andy Weir
46. Emma in the Night, by Wendy Walker
47. Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime, by David Maisel
48. The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold
49. Mira's Last Dance, by Lois McMaster Bujold
50. Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
51. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, by Alexandra Pierce & Mimi Mondal
52. The Million, by Karl Schroeder
53. Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng
54. The Descent of Monsters, by JY Yang
55. Midnight Blue-Light Special, by Seanan McGuire
56. King Javan's Year, by Katherine Kurtz
57. Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells
58. New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

59. Crash Override, by Zoe Quinn
60. The Outsider, by Stephen King
61. The Black God's Drums, by P. Djeli Clark
62. So Lucky, by Nicola Griffith
63. Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
64. The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer
65. Modern Masters of Science Fiction:  Iain M. Banks, by Paul Kincaid
66. No Time to Spare, by Ursula K. Le Guin
67. Deep Roots, by Ruthanna Emrys
68. The Anomaly, by Michael Rutger
69. Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.