Friday, July 3, 2020

Microreview [books]: The Master of Dreams and The Mistress of illusions by Mike Resnick

In The Master of Dreams and The Mistress of Illusions, Mike Resnick introduces us to Eddie Raven, a seemingly ordinary fellow catapulted into a series of fictional and non fictional worlds.

Eddie Raven is living a good life. The woman he is falling for seems to feel the same way, and he seems ready to pop the question to her. But a fateful visit to a fortune teller leads to violence, sudden strangeness, and Eddie leaving his NYC life and winding up in another world. Now being hunted, chased and confused, Eddie has to figure out what he kicked off in that fortune tellers shop, and most important to him, find Lisa, the love of his life.

This is the premise of The Master of Dreams and its sequel The Mistress of Illusions.

Since I cut my teeth on books like Nine Princes in Amber and the World of Tiers series, I imprinted early on books, series and characters who can and do walk between worlds--willingly or not. So the basic premise and inciting incident appealed to me, and so I delved into the book, seeking connections with books in the genre and to see what Mike Resnick, an author I’ve not read in some time (but read plenty in the 1990’s, his oeuvre is rock solid) has been up to. Resnick does with the well-meaning, mostly clueless but with enough genre savvy and thinking on his feet approach to Eddie. Eddie’s characterization is not really deep, but his drive to find Lisa and return home are relatable. He doesn’t want to be stuck in a fantasy Casablanca, or Camelot, especially not when its made clear to him that his sojourn in these fantasy realms, without action, would be permanently and possibly with a short life span.

As the first book ends and the second book takes off, we go deeper and get some more questions raised, and a couple of questions answered. In particular, and an effective rug-pull for the unwary reader, is the nature of Lisa herself. The revelations about her nature set Eddie off of his carefully regained equilibrium again, and launches him into the next phase of the narrative. The novels reach the point where questions raised at the beginning of the series start to be answered, and the stakes are raised. We get more worlds, more scenarios and Eddie has to figure out how to harness his inner potential. The first novel finds himself completely as a passive protagonist, but it is in the second novel that he starts to gain more confidence in his abilities, but it's a very slow process. Eddie’s struggles are identifiable with anyone who has been put in a completely unfamiliar situation where the rules have to be figured out even as he is plunged into deadly danger.

However, I think in the end that I wanted something substantially more out of the books than they were willing to offer. I was intrigued enough, especially with the muddled main character dropped into the soup of The Master of Dreams to see more questions raised--and to see some questions answered, especially as to how Eddie got into this mess in the first place. The problem for me is the answers given do not quite align with the information and setup as presented. I can’t quite tell that it's a case of Eddie (and the reader) being lied to throughout, or an authorial change in what is going on. This is a massive failure of worldbuilding for me.

In any event, the ending portion of the second book was for me rather unsatisfactory in that regard, presenting scenarios that don’t align with the previous ones. Throughout the rest of the first two books, there were  things a reader could and did hang on in order to follow along with Eddie and either anticipate his problems, or have the issues subverted. The first world, with Eddie in a fantasy Casablanca. Peter Pan’s Neverland. Eddie as Frankenstein in a Noir verse, and others. These are all inventive, and interesting and follow a pattern. But a scenario where he actually seems to change real life history, and a scenario without any hooks whatsoever really don’t live up to the premises previously established. I’d expect in a trilogy that the premise is well established and questions answered so that the third book can launch us into the overarching conflict. And while the characters helping Eddie tell him that this is what happening, it just doesn’t align and it frustrates me. Whereas the first novel left me with questions enough to go onto the second book, I am well annoyed with the series so as not to go further. Given the passing of the author, an author that I’ve read for many years, I write that with regret, pain and reluctance.

The audio narration for both books is well done and the books flow well. Characters are well voiced and distinguished within particular scenes. I did notice a couple of characters, separately widely across the series, did (unintentionally I think) sounded similar but I never was confused as to whom was whom. I attribute this also to the easy flowing writing. On a sentence and paragraph level, the book’s writing does bring the reader flowing through the book.

Readers who can look past the faults that I found in it, and want a world-tripping story where an unlikely ordinary guy finds himself in strange and sometimes very clever fantastic worlds will enjoy The Master of Dreams and The Mistress of Illusions. The by-line writing, description, immersion of the character and the game of the reader themselves trying to figure out the scenario has appeal and interest for a stratum of readers, I am sure. I personally think that there are many other and better Resnick works to try besides these.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10.

Bonuses: +1  Inventive worlds that the main character is catapulted into for much of the two books.
+1 for good representation in the books.

Penalties: -1 for seriously wavering payoffs  at this point in the narrative
-1 for a loss of consistency in the worldbuilding that undermines the entire story.
-1 for the lack of anything approaching character arcs or development

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10 problematic, but has redeeming qualities

Reference: Resnick, Mike  The Master of Dreams [DAW, 2019]
                                          The Mistress of Illusions  [DAW, 2020]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? 2020 Hugo Finalist for Best Fan Writer. @princejvstin.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 new and forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about? Is there something we should consider spotlighting in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Beukes, Lauren. Afterland [Mulholland Books]
Publisher's Description
Children of Men meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this “bowstring-taut, visceral, and incredibly timely” thriller about how far a mother will go to protect her son from a hostile world transformed by the absence of men (Cory Doctorow).

Most of the men are dead. Three years after the pandemic known as The Manfall, governments still hold and life continues — but a world run by women isn’t always a better place. 

Twelve-year-old Miles is one of the last boys alive, and his mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs. On the run after a horrific act of violence-and pursued by Cole’s own ruthless sister, Billie — all Cole wants is to raise her kid somewhere he won’t be preyed on as a reproductive resource or a sex object or a stand-in son. Someplace like home.

To get there, Cole and Miles must journey across a changed America in disguise as mother and daughter. From a military base in Seattle to a luxury bunker, from an anarchist commune in Salt Lake City to a roaming cult that’s all too ready to see Miles as the answer to their prayers, the two race to stay ahead at every step . . . even as Billie and her sinister crew draw closer.

A sharply feminist, high-stakes thriller from award-winning author Lauren Beukes, Afterland brilliantly blends psychological suspense, American noir, and science fiction into an adventure all its own — and perfect for our times.  
Why We Want It: I've been looking forward to Afterland since sometime in 2016 when Beukes mentioned it in her 6 Books Interview and it was still called Motherland. Beukes is a fantastically good writer and I love the concept. This is one of so many can't miss books for 2020.

Elliott, Kate. Unconquerable Sun [Tor]
Publisher's Description

Princess Sun has finally come of age.

Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.

To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

Take the brilliance and cunning courage of Princess Leia—add in a dazzling futuristic setting where pop culture and propaganda are one and the same—and hold on tight:

This is the space opera you’ve been waiting for.  
Why We Want It: I'm behind on reading Kate Elliott and like many I had been hoping for a sequel to Black Wolves (my review), but since the vagaries of publishing (and sales) tells me that it isn't to be, I am absolutely thrilled to get Unconquerable Sun. Kate Elliot's return to science fiction and space opera? Yes, please.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Relentless Moon [Tor]
Publisher's Description
Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronaut series, following The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon. 

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.  
Why We Want It: I adored both The Calculating Stars (my review) and The Fated Sky (my review) and I welcome a return to the Lady Astronaut universe. I would say that this is a slight cheat because I've already read (and reviewed) The Relentless Moon, but we never promised that we wouldn't read some of the books we're excited about before we had a chance to recommend them. Mary Robinette Kowal is writing some of the best science fiction today with her Lady Astronaut series.

Kuhn, Sarah. Haunted Heroine [DAW]
Publisher's Description
The fourth book in the smart, snarky, and action-packed Heroine series follows Evie Tanaka, Aveda Jupiter, and Bea Tanaka as they combat a new supernatural threat. 

Everything in Evie Tanaka’s life is finally perfect. As a badass superheroine, she defends San Francisco from demon invasion on the regular. Her relationships with superhero partner Aveda Jupiter, little sister Bea, and hot, half-demon husband Nate have never been stronger. Maybe it’s possible for a grad school dropout turned put-upon personal assistant turned superhero to have it all?

Just when she thinks life can’t get any better, Evie learns she’s pregnant. Everyone around her is overjoyed…but Evie has major doubts about whether she’s cut out for motherhood. Before she can dwell on her dilemma, a local women’s college reports a string of mysterious “hauntings,” and Evie and Aveda are called in to investigate, going undercover as grad students during the creepiest time of the year: Halloween.

As she confronts terrifying ghosts and lives out a bizarre version of the grad school life she left behind, Evie can’t help but wonder about the road not taken: what would her life be like if she’d stayed here instead of pursuing superheroing with Aveda? And can an overwhelmed pregnant superhero truly have it all?

She’s about to find out.  
Why We Want It: I've only read the first of Kuhn's Heroine Complex novels, aptly titled Heroine Complex. but it was excellent and I've meant to read the second and third books. Now that we're on the verge of the fourth book it is well past time to push on and read them all.

Strahan, Jonathan. The Book of Dragons [Harper Voyager]
Publisher's Description
Here there be dragons . . . 

From China to Europe, Africa to North America, dragons have long captured our imagination in myth and legend. Whether they are rampaging beasts awaiting a brave hero to slay or benevolent sages who have much to teach humanity, dragons are intrinsically connected to stories of creation, adventure, and struggle beloved for generations.

Bringing together nearly thirty stories and poems from some of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers working today— Garth Nix, Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, Beth Cato, Zen Cho, C. S. E Cooney, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Kate Elliott, Theodora Goss, Ellen Klages, Ken Liu, Seanan Maguire, Patricia A McKillip, K. J. Parker, Kelly Robson, Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, Elle Katharine White, Jane Yolen, Kelly Barnhill, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Gailey, and J. Y. Yang—and illustrated by award-nominated artist Rovina Cai with black-and-white line drawings specific to each entry throughout, this extraordinary collection vividly breathes fire and life into one of our most captivating and feared magical creatures as never before and is sure to become a treasured keepsake for fans of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales.  
Why We Want It: Jonathan Strahan is one of the best and most significant anthologists working today and when his name is on an anthology, I pay attention. While he has edited fantasy anthologies, most of his work has been with science fiction. This is a major anthology with notable writers. Can't miss this.

Wallace, Matt. Savage Legion [Saga]
Publisher's Description
They call them Savages. Brutal. Efficient. Expendable.

The empire relies on them. The greatest weapon they ever developed. Culled from the streets of their cities, they take the ones no one will miss and throw them, by the thousands, at the empire’s enemies. If they live, they fight again. If they die, well, there are always more.

Evie is not a Savage. She’s a warrior with a mission: to find the man she once loved, to find the man who holds the key to exposing the secret of the Savage Legion and ending the mass conscription of the empire’s poor and wretched.

But to find him, she must become one of them, to be marked in her blood, to fight in their wars, and to find her purpose. Evie will die a Savage if she has to, but not before showing the world who she really is, and what the Savage Legion can really do.  
Why We Want It: After loving the seven volume Sin du Jour series, I was in for whatever Matt Wallace had for us next. What's next is one of the most notable releases of the year. Wallace is such a smart and razor sharp writer that I can't wait to see how he tackles epic fantasy.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Thursday Morning Superhero: Free Comic Book Summer

The current pandemic has moved San Diego Comic Con and other conventions online, but there is no stopping Free Comic Book Day! Traditionally held the first Saturday in May, Free Comic Book Day was delayed as COVID-19 prevented many stores from opening their doors.  In response Free Comic Book Day has expanded into Free Comic Book Summer to bring tidings of joy in a difficult time.

The books that are typically available at the same time will be shipped six issues per week along with your store's weekly shipment of comics.  There are 45 titles that we get to enjoy this year from publishers including Image Comics, Boom! Studios, IDW Publishing, and more.  To mix things up a bit I will highlight one book from each week of this event.

Shipping July 15:

FCBD 2020 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - My Little Pony came across my radar when I attended my first SDCC over 10 years ago.  I was fascinated by its passionate fan base and after giving the series a try with my kids and some of its spin-offs it is truly delightful and has a positive message that I appreciate. This book picks up where the television series ended and I am always on board for a new chapter of Ponies.

Shipping July 22:

FCBD 2020 Dark Ark: Instinct - It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who enjoys my post that I am excited about any book from Cullen Bunn.  I enjoyed this series when it ran last year and am looking forward to a new title.  This book is about the other ark (not Noah's) that was filled with demons, monsters, and other spooks.  While this is not a book I would recommend to readers of all ages, I recommend this to everyone else.

Shipping July 29:

FCBD 2020 Stranger Things and Minecraft - While I am not too excited about Minecraft (my kids probably are), I am stoked to have some new Stranger Things stories to read as I wait for Season 4.  I have enjoyed the previous Stranger Things comic books and I am on board for any story involving the Scoops Ahoy crew.  This one is rated for all-ages and should be a fun family read.

Shipping August 5:

FCBD 2020 Lumberjanes Farewell to Summer - This is a series I have really enjoyed and need to read more of.  This is an all new story and will be an appropriate read as the summer winds down and I start preparing my kids for another school year.  This is another amazing all-ages book that is great to read as a family.

Shipping August 12:

FCBD 2020 Blade Runner - I don't really know much about this book, but am intrigued as Michael Green, the writer for Blade Runner 2049, is co-authoring this one.  It kicks off a new chapter in this series and makes me wonder if I should go back and see what I've missed.  I definitely have the time for some increased reading this summer.

Shipping August 19:

FCBD 2020 Disney Masters Donald Duck Special - This is a collection of rare Donald Duck stories from years past, including "It's Bats, Man" and "Much Ado About Telepathy".  My family is a big Disney fan and it is always fun to read the old comics. While the image says that this is rated Mature, it is definitely an all-ages book.

Shipping August 26:

FCBD 2020 Only Matter of Space Time - Written by Jeffrey Brown, who wrote the delightful Darth Vader and Son series and started the Jedi Academy books, this book is a sneak preview to a new graphic novel that he has coming out soon.  If it is anything like his other books, be prepared to laugh.

Shipping September 2:

FCBD Owly: The Way Home - This is the book that started it all!  One of the first kids' comics I purchased for my kiddos, Owly is very accessible as it doesn't require you to be able to read to tell the story.  Andy Runton uses symbols in place of text when his characters are speaking to one another.  It really opens up your imagination and allows you to create your own dialogue and allows small children the ability to read this on their own.  I highly recommend this series.

Shipping September 9:

FCBD 2020 Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Splatoon Squid Kids - With a daughter named Zelda it should come as no surprise that my family enjoys the Legend of Zelda.  My son has devoured the graphic novels and assures me that this is a stellar pick for your final book of the Free Comic Book Summer.  Cheers!

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Microreview [Book]: Driftwood by Marie Brennan

Driftwood harnesses the power of the fix-up to tell the story of the people and characters living at the abattoir of all realities.

What happens after the world has an apocalypse and no help is forthcoming? What happens to dying worlds and the people living in them? In the verse of Marie Brennan’s Driftwood, dying worlds find themselves on the edges of a collection of broken realities and worlds and as new worlds join the fray, are slowly pushed from the margins toward the center. As they are pushed in, the world becomes squeezed, smaller and smaller, until what was once the size of a world is cut down to a country, to a province, to a city, a neighborhood, and then to even less. Once the world is pushed to the very center of Driftwood, and there, the bitter remnants of the world are extinguished. It's a continuous process, and even those who escape their world into the shards of another eventually have their cultures and societies extinguished and eventually themselves. It’s implacable and inevitable, and yet one mysterious character defies this rule.

Marie Brennan’s Driftwood is a collection of previous short stories using a recurring character, Last, and his relationship and connections to numerous characters and worlds within Driftwood. Lost is different than all others. His world must have gone to The Crush  long ago, and yet he is still alive. Or he was. The fix-up portions of the novel, the glue that binds the disparate stories together, is a meeting of a group of individuals who have heard of, or had their lives touched by Lost. But Lost himself seems to have disappeared, is gone. Has he been finally claimed by Driftwood?

The interstitial elements are, though, just a clothesline (and, honestly a rather thin one in my view, a weakness of the work) to get at the meat of the stories. The stories feature Lost as a character but he himself is really just a facilitator and opener that gives other characters a chance to have their Driftwood stories and adventures. In this way the interstitial elements are exactly the same at a more meta level--it exists just to allow the stories to be a little more than just a collection of short stories.

The stories themselves span a wide variety of tale types within the matrix of Driftwood. “A Heretic by Degrees” features a protagonist from a world relatively new to Driftwood, new enough that the King has declared that the world outside of his own does not exist...except that the King is dying and the cure might indeed exist in one of the worlds outside of his own.”Into the Wind” is a story of someone from a more fragmented world trying to rescue and save a piece of it from the apocalypse that ravages it still. “The Ascent of Unreason”  features someone who wants to make a map of Driftwood, a seemingly impossible task given its ever shifting and changing nature...but he has a cunning plan, and Last can help. “Remembering Light” is one of the darkest stories, making Last himself face his own doubts about being the last survivor of his civilization, and carrying the burden of that memory. It feels like the most personal of the stories, in terms of Last himself. “The God of Driftwood” shows the meanings people can attach to the randomness and utter nihilism of a place that destroys worlds, and the lies that we tell ourselves and each other. And “Smiling at the End of the World” is a short and intimate tale without Last at all, about the last two souls of their world, facing the Crush.

Beyond the individual stories, the core idea that Brennan works here is not knew--the interdimensional city where the laws of physics and magic vary even across a street goes back to Grimjack’s Cynosure, if not all the way back to Sidewise in Time, but Brennan makes it her own here by framing Driftwood as the end point of worlds and peoples and cultures. Whatever apocalypse happens to each world, and they are individual, the consequences of that apocalypse, at least as by the rules of her multiverse, is to bring that world into the sphere of Driftwood and slowly and inexorably be pushed and squeezed in and be destroyed. It reminds me of the city of Dis in the Planarch Codex supplement for the RPG Dungeon World, except Dis ion that world actively is eating other worlds and aggregating pieces to itself rather than other apocalypses bringing those pieces toward the singularity of the Crush.  It does occur to me, consequently, that Driftwood would be an interesting setting to set an RPG scenario within.

Brennan does soft pedal the various apocalypses that plague the worlds that are drawn to Driftwood and we’re left to wonder and speculate on our own (since the characters themselves don’t know) what brings a world into Driftwood in the first place, to inexorably be pushed to the Crush and be destroyed.And what brings worlds there in the first place to that doom isn’t the point, and as we learn in the stories, the slow destruction isn’t the point, either. The point is what the people of these worlds do with the time that they have. In the time of the Coronavirus, that’s a lesson worth remembering.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for a strong set of stories.
+1 for fascinating and inventive worldbuilding 

Penalties: -1 the connective material is the weakest element here by far.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 well worth your time and attention

Reference: Brennan, Marie. Driftwood  [Tachyon, 2020]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? Hugo Finalist for Best Fan Writer. @princejvstin.

Reading the Hugos: Short Story

Welcome back to Reading the Hugos, 2020 Edition! Today we are taking a look at the six finalists in the Short Story category.

None of the finalists were on my nominating ballot, but I read fewer stories last year than I would have liked. I've read some of the authors on this year's ballot before, but Nibedita Sen and Shiv Ramdas are completely new to me and I'm not sure if I've read S.L. Huang before, but that is certainly going to change after reading "As the Last I May Know".

Let's take a look at the finalists.

And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (, 23 October 2019)
Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (, 24 July 2019)
A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

A Catalog of Storms: When the weather is almost sentient and angry, the only defense is people who are willing and able to sacrifice their own lives by turning into a more soothing weather. "A Catalog of Storms" reads better than that description, but that's the best way I can wrap my brain around this story. There's a lot here to appreciate, but there's something about Fran Wilde's fiction that just doesn't grab me, just doesn't work for me. That remains the case with "A Catalog of Storms". I can see the emotional heart of the story, but it remains empty for me as a reader.

Fran Wilde is also a finalist for the Lodestar Award with her novel Riverland. Riverland was the winner of the Andre Norton Award and "A Catalog of Storms" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.

And Now His Lordship: There are stories you appreciate for the craft rather than the execution and this is one of those stories. The ending of "And Now His Lordship Is Laughing" is excellent, it's exactly what the story needed and what the story was leading up to. Shiv Ramdas is telling a story of colonization, magic in the real world, and the cost of those colonized and used for resources. Set back in World War II, the story resonates today. I admire so much about the story, except for my desire to actually read it.

"And Now His Lordship Is Laughing" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.

Ten Excerpts: Perhaps the story would not have worked so well if it was longer or fleshed out in a more conventional narrative form, but I really wanted more of this story. Sen rolls out the story in little disparate bits of academic commentary, moving through the titular bibliography and giving the story of the Ratnabar women more context and more heartbreak, though that heartbreak is suggestive from the beginning. "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island" is exceptional.

Nibedita Sen is on the Astounding Award ballot for Best New Writer this year. "Ten Excerpts" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award

Blood is Another Word for Hunger: It should be no surprise that a Rivers Solomon story is as good as it is powerful, and "Blood is Another Word for Hunger" is exactly that.  It's a story of an enslaved woman taking her freedom by taking the lives of her captors, but it each of those killings which drives the story forward by birthing spirit lives. This isn't a post-slavery tale so much as it deals with the trauma of slavery and it is a trauma that doesn't end with freedom - regardless of how that freedom is attained. This is an unrelenting story, an excellent one.

Rivers Solomon is also a Best Novella finalist for The Deep.

Do Not Look Back, My Lion: This is Harrow's first story since winning the Hugo Award last year for "A Witch's Guide to Escape" and it's another banger. Tightly written, "Do Not Look Back, My Lion" is a heartbreaking story of love and loss, of duty and promises to family. The story is perpetually on the edge of a war, but is centered on a desire to not have one of the children marked to be a soldier. This is a beautiful story, raw with grief.

Alix E. Harrow's debut novel is both a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist for Best Novel. "Do Not Look Back, My Lion" was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.

As the Last I May Know: S.L. Huang looks at the problem of nuclear weapons and the deeper problem of how easy it is for a single person (with or without checks and balances) to figuratively push a button and destroy millions if not billions people. Those weapons still exist, but the cost of using them is exorbitant - the access code is embedded the body of a young girl and the personal cost of using those weapons is that President must murder that girl. "As the Last I May Know" is perfectly told, painfully told - and it is a stunning perfect story.

My Vote:
1. "As the Last I May Know"
2. "Do Not Look Back, My Lion"
3. "Blood is Another Word for Hunger"
4. "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island"
5. "And Now His Lordship is Laughing"
6. "A Catalog of Storms"

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reading the Hugos: Novel

Today we are going to take a look at the six finalists for Best Novel. This is an absolutely stacked ballot. Recent Best Novel ballots have been as good as we could hope for, but the 2020 Hugo Awards takes it to another level. From Top to Bottom (and there is no bottom to this category), this is as good of a list of finalists and I've seen.

Which really goes to say that the six finalists for Best Novel appeal to my personal taste. Four out of the five novels I nominated are on the ballot here. The only novel missing from my nominations is Sarah Pinsker's excellent A Song for a New Day (also nominated for a Nebula Award) and I will not be surprised to learn that it was either seventh or eighth in the nominating tally when the statistics are released in August.

Tamsyn Muir and Arkady Martine are new to Hugo, but the other four finalists are very well known to Hugo voters. Kameron Hurley is a three time Hugo Award finalist for her nonfiction, winning twice in 2014 for "We Have Always Fought" (Related Work) and as a Fan Writer. She was on the ballot again in 2017 for The Geek Feminist Revolution (Related Work). Alix E. Harrow's short story "A Witch's Guide to Escape" won the Hugo Award last year for Best Short Story. Charlie Jane Anders is a previous winner for Best Novelette ("Six Month, Three Days") and won for Fancast last year.

Seanan McGuire is the Hugo outlier in this conversation, having been a 20 time finalist (14 times as Seanan McGuire, 6 times as Mira Grant). McGuire's novella Every Heart a Doorway won the Hugo in 2017, and she is also a two time Fancast winner.  The clear delineation for Seanan McGuire is that until this year, it was only under her Mira Grant pseudonym that she has been on the Best Novel ballot. Her longer series fiction have been recognized under Best Series, but no Seanan McGuire novel has been up for Beset Novel.

Suffice it to say that this an impossible ballot and that's a beautiful thing. I would be happy with any of these novels to win the Hugo for Best Novel. Every one of these novels are excellent and truly among the best of the year and may well be remembered and read for decades to come.

It's a sad thing to have to rack and stack these Hugo Award finalists. Any one of them could win, should win. It's a damn shame for any of them to be low on my ballot, but I can't rank them all at #1. That's not how this works, unfortunately.

Let's take a look at the finalists:

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor)
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir ( Publishing)
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga)
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook)

The City in the Middle of the Night: If somebody told me that 2019 would bring us a novel that has the strongest resemblance and feeling to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels, I’d have been more than skeptical – but The City in the Middle of the Night is so very much that novel. Several times, I had to check the cover to remind myself that this wasn’t Le Guin. It’s not, but The City in the Middle of the Night is a worthy successor to Le Guin’s work while still very much being a Charlie Jane Anders novel and its own thing. There is a tidally locked planet, fascinating characters, absolutely original and creative alien creatures, and a conversation about morality. The City in the Middle of the Night is a novel of big ideas and just as important, it’s a book you don’t want to put down. Anders is doing the work here. This is an absolutely compelling novel that I cannot recommend highly enough.(Paul's review)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Oh, what a lovely, lovely novel Alix Harrow has written. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a story about stories, or perhaps about the power of stories. It is also a portal fantasy - which automatically hits a lot of my buttons (it's more than one button). The Ten Thousand Doors is a love story, a story of pain and escape and of longing. It is a story of hope and of magic, of friendship and evil secret societies. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the story of everything and the deepest feelings of the heart. It is absolutely beautiful. (Paul's review)

Middlegame: Middlegame is perhaps the most ambitious novels from Seanan McGuire and is a showcase for her skill at telling a good and complex story. Twins, math, alchemy, murder, time-bending, family, secret organizations, impossible powers, and just about everything McGuire can throw into this wonderous novel. Seanan McGuire has blended together as much as she possibly could stuff into one novel and she makes the whole thing work. It’s impressive. McGuire goes big with Middlegame. Doubt Seanan McGuire at your peril. (my review)

A Memory Called Empire: Sometimes you finish reading a novel and one of the emotions you feel is anger that you waited so long to read it, even if "so long" equals "approximately twelve months", which is ridiculous, but A Memory Called Empire was so good that not only did I not want to put the book down, not want the book to end, but I was legitimately upset that I could have read this more than a year ago. Martine's novel is a wonderful melange of a minority outsider in a dominant culture, spectacular worldbuilding, almost diplomacy, colonization, empire, looming threats, politics, and quick witted smart people. A Memory Called Empire is a god damned delight. (Adri's Review)

Gideon the Ninth: The tag line I’ve seen all year long is “Lesbian Necromancers in Space” and while that is technically correct and was absolutely a selling point for the novel (as was the spot on cover art from Tommy Arnold) that’s not really what Gideon the Ninth is. This is a love story. This is a hate story. This is a locked room mystery (locked citadel on an abandoned planet mystery?). There is beautiful swordfighting, necromancy, magic, absolutely foul mouthed characters, and it’s all a friggin delight. In her review, Adri wrote about the claustrophobic atmosphere and that’s an apt description – which is why the “in space” part doesn’t really apply. The “Lesbian Necromancers” – yeah, it’s very much that and it’s pretty spectacular. One of the most impressive aspects to Gideon the Ninth is that it lives up to the massive hype. Gideon the Ninth is a brutal, sharp, nasty, wonderful novel. Tamsyn Muir will gut you. (Adri's review)

The Light Brigade: The Light Brigade is a bold novel in the tradition of Starship Troopers, The Forever War, and Old Man’s War. I don’t use this as an opportunity to list the titles of three significant military science fiction novels I’ve read. I view this more as a recognition of where The Light Brigade should be considered in the larger science fiction conversation about canon (as if there is a singular canon) and of which novels get to be held up as classics of the genre which revitalize and engage with the genre’s past. That’s a bold statement to make about a novel that was published less within the last twelve months, but there it is all the same. The Light Brigade does all of that while telling a strong story about a soldier in the middle of an absolutely messed up war (is there another kind?) that is messed up even further when her combat drops sometimes place her in the wrong battle at the wrong time – the wrong “when”. Hurley ties together all of the complicated timelines and fits it together perfectly. The Light Brigade is a gem of a novel.  (Paul's review)

My Vote
1. The Light Brigade
2. Gideon the Ninth
3. A Memory Called Empire
4. Middlegame
5. The Ten Thousand Doors of January
6. The City in the Middle of the Night

POSTED BY:  Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.