Tuesday, January 31, 2023

2023 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 2: Visual Work Categories

Welcome to our continuing presentation of the Nerds of a Feather 2023 Hugo Award Recommendation List. Today will look at Graphic Story, and the two Dramatic Presentation categories.

As before, we here at 'nerds of a feather, flock together' are presenting a collective longlist of potential Hugo nominees that we think are worthy of your consideration. These selections represent the spectrum of tastes, tendencies, and predilections found among our group of writers.

As a reminder, this list should not at all be considered comprehensive. Some outstanding works will not make our longlist for the simple reason that we have not seen, read, or played it. We encourage you to think of this as a list of candidates to consider alongside works which you are already familiar, nothing more and nothing less. 

Nerds of a Feather 2023 Recommendation List Series:


Graphic Story


The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya Vol. 2, by Reimena Yee  Eat the Rich by Sarah Gailey, Pius Bak and Roman Titov Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod and Jess Taylor

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, by Ram V. and Filipe Andrade

Monstress Vol. 7, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda Nubia and the Amazons by Stephanie Williams, Vita Ayala and Alitha Martinez

Once & Future Vol. 4, by Kieron Gillen

Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh

Step by Bloody Step by Si Spurrier, Mathías Bergara and Matheus Lopes

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons Book 3, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Nicola Scott


Dramatic Presentation Long Form



(Note: We hope that Chengdu sees the ratification of the proposal to bring a Best Game or Interactive Experience category to the Hugo Awards. Until that time, as we have done in previous years, we are including a couple of video games here which we feel fit best under "Dramatic Presentation" rather than any other category - for now.)


Andor: Season 1
Dragon Age: Absolution
Everything Everywhere All at Once
God of War: Ragnarok
Pinocchio
Horizon: Forbidden West
Kotaro Lives Alone: Season 1
Ms Marvel: Season 1
Neptune Frost
Nope
The Northman
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Season 1
Paper Girls
Pentiment
Prey
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Severance: Season 1
Slash Back
Stranger Things: Season 4
Three Thousand Years of Longing
Turning Red
Wednesday: Season 1


Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)


(Note: Many of our favourite series are only listed in long form because we couldn't pick an episode or three! But individual episodes are also eligible and recommended in this short form category.)


Andor: "Announcement"

Andor: "Nobody's Listening!"

Andor: "One Way Out" 

Doctor Who: "Village of the Angels" 

The Expanse: "Babylon's Ashes"

For All Mankind: "Happy Valley"

For All Mankind: "Seven Minutes of Terror"

For All Mankind: "Stranger in a Strange Land" 

Paper Girls: "It Was Never About the Corn" 

Resident Alien: "Autopsy"

Resident Alien: "Radio Harry"

Severance: "The We We Are"

Station Eleven: "Who's There?"
Star Trek Discovery:
"The Examples"

Star Trek Discovery: "Species Ten-C"
Star Trek Prodigy:
"All the World's a Stage"

Star Trek Prodigy: "A Moral Star, Part 2"

Star Trek Prodigy: "Supernova, Part 1"
Stranger Things:
Chapter Four: Dear Billy


Monday, January 30, 2023

2023 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 1: Fiction Categories

One of our favorite jokes is that the Hugo Award season is eternal. No sooner have the awards been presented that we start thinking about who to consider for the following year's awards and then start building our lists and predictions and nominations and the cycle begins anew. This year is going to be a longer cycle than usual with the Worldcon in Chengdu taking place in October (though, perhaps not quite as long as the ceremony two years ago, which occurred in December).

As such, welcome to our presentation of the Nerds of a Feather 2023 Hugo Award Recommendation List. Today we will look at the Fiction categories of Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Series, and the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult.

As always, this is not - nor does it intend to be - a comprehensive survey of the field. Some stories that are undoubtedly "award worthy" are absent for the simple reason that we haven't read them yet. Additionally, our flock collectively read less in some categories than others, so shorter lists shouldn't be taken as an absence of quality in the category as a whole - we simply haven't experienced as much, as a team, in those areas. Thus we encourage you to think of this as a list of candidates to consider and discover, alongside others you may be already familiar with and other recommendation sources.

Also, while we've done what we can to ensure the recommendations are eligible in their respective categories, it is possible we've made a couple of errors. If you spot something on the list that isn't eligible in a particular category, please let us know and we'll correct it.


Nerds of a Feather 2023 Recommendation List Series:
  • Part 1: Fiction Categories (Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Series, Lodestar Award)
  • Part 2: Visual Work Categories (Graphic Story, Dramatic Presentation)
  • Part 3: Individual Categories (Editor, Fan Writer, Professional Artist, Fan Artist, Astounding Award for Best New Writer)
  • Part 4: Institutional Categories (Related Work, Semiprozine, Fanzine, Fancast)

Novel

(Editor's Note: At the time of compiling this list, the HarperCollins Union strike is still ongoing, and Nerds of a Feather is respecting the picket line by holding all reviews of HarperCollins titles. As this list doesn't constitute a review, we have chosen to include HarperCollins titles in recognition of the authors and the publishing teams who brought these fantastic works to readers - but we urge readers to familiarise themselves with the HarperCollins Union fight for a fair contract.)

Abdullah, Chelsea. The Stardust Thief [Orbit]
Addison, Katherine. The Grief of Stones [Tor (US)/Solaris (UK)]
Barnhill, Kelly. When Women Were Dragons [Doubleday (US)/ Hot Key Books (UK)]
Blake, Olivie. The Atlas Six [Tor] - Note: originally self-published in 2020, may not be eligible depending on the substance of revisions
Broaddus, Maurice. Sweep of Stars [Tor]
Buchanan, Andi C. Sanctuary [Robot Dinosaur Press]
Cooney, C.S.E. Saint Death's Daughter [Solaris]
de Bodard, Aliette. The Red Scholar’s Wake [Gollancz (UK)/ JABberwocky Literary Agency (US)]
Dawson, Juno. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven [Penguin Books (US)/Harper Voyager (UK)]
Dean, Sunyi. The Book Eaters [Tor (US)/Harper Voyager (UK)]
Deane, Maya. Wrath Goddess Sing [William Morrow]
Emrys, Ruthanna. A Half Built Garden [Tordotcom]
Felker-Martin, Gretchen. Manhunt [Nightfire]
Gailey, Sarah. Just Like Home [Tor (US)/Hodder & Staughton (UK)]
Gladstone, Max. Last Exit [Tor (US)/ Titan (UK)]
Griffith, Nicola. Spear [Tordotcom]
Hoffman, P.S. The Last Human [Self-Published]
James, Marlon. Moon Witch, Spider King [Riverhead (US)/Hamish Hamilton (UK)]
Jemisin, N.K. The World We Make [Orbit]
Jimenez, Simon. The Spear Cuts Through Water [Del Rey]
Kingfisher, T. Nettle and Bone [Tor (US)/Titan (UK)
Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Spare Man [Tor (US)/Solaris (UK)]
Kuang, R.F. Babel [HarperVoyager]
Lemberg, R.B. The Unbalancing [Tachyon]
Maxwell, Everina. Ocean's Echo [Tor (US)/Orbit (UK)]



Meadows, Foz. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance [Tor]
McGuire, Seanan. Seasonal Fears [Tordotcom]
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau [Del Rey (US)/Jo Fletcher Books (UK)]
Mueller, Sara A. The Bone Orchard [Tor]
Muir, Tamsyn. Nona the Ninth [Tordotcom]
Nagamatsu, Sequoia. How High We Go in the Dark [William Morrow (US)/Bloomsbury (UK)]
Nagata, Linda. Needle [Mythic Island Press]
Onyebuchi, Tochi. Goliath [Tordotcom]
Powell, Gareth. Stars and Bones [Titan]
Roanhorse, Rebecca. Fevered Star [Saga Press (US)/Solaris (UK)]
Robin, Emery. The Stars Undying [Orbit]
Scalzi, John. The Kaiju Preservation Society [Tor]
St. John Mandel, Emily. Sea of Tranquility [Knopf (US)/Picador (UK)]
Shepard, Peng. The Cartographers [William Morrow (US)/Orion (UK)]
Suri, Tasha. The Oleander Sword [Orbit]
Tan, Sue Lynn. Daughter of the Moon Goddess [HarperVoyager]
Vo, Nghi. Siren Queen [Tordotcom]
Yang, Neon. The Genesis of Misery [Tor] 
Wade, Juliette. Inheritors of Power [DAW]
Yanagihara, Hanya. To Paradise [Doubleday (US)/Picador (UK)

Novella

Barrett, Bendi. Empire of the Feast [Neon Hemlock]
Bergslien, Emily & Kat Weaver. Uncommon Charm [Neon Hemlock]
Chambers, Becky. A Prayer for the Crown Shy [Tordotcom Publishing]
Coelho, Mario. Unto the Godless What Little Remains [Solaris]
Elliot, Kate. Servant Mage [Tordotcom Publishing]
Ganguly, Gigi. One Arm Shorter Than the Other [Atthis Arts]
Grist, Rihannon A. The Queen of the High Fields [Luna Press Publishing]
Jamnia, Naseem. The Bruising of Qilwa [Tachyon]
Jimenez, Tiffany. The Moment you Remember, you Forget [Luna Press Publishing]
Lee, Fonda. The Jade Setter of Janloon [Subterranean Press]
Miller, Sam J. Kid Wolf and Kraken Boy [Solaris]
Monae, Janelle & Danny Lore. "Nevermind" [The Memory Librarian and other stories of Dirty Computer]
Polk, C.L. Even Though I Knew the End [Tordotcom Publishing]
Rather, Lina. Sisters of the Forsaken Stars [Tordotcom Publishing]
Roanhorse, Rebecca. Tread of Angels [Saga Press (US)/Solaris (UK)]
Robson, Eddie. Drunk on All Your Strange New Worlds [Tordotcom Publishing]
Robson, Kelly. High Times in the Low Parliament [Tordotcom Publishing]
Swirsky. Rachel. January Fifteenth [Tordotcom Publishing]
Tacchi, Francesca. Let The Mountains Be My Grave [Neon Hemlock]
Thompson, Tade. The Legacy of Molly Southbourne [Tordotcom Publishing]
Tolmie, Sarah. All The Horses of Iceland [Tordotcom Publishing]
Vo, Nghi. Into the Riverlands [Tordotcom Publishing]

Novelette

Hsyu, J.C. "Optimist Cleaver's Last Transmission" [The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2022]
Jones, Stephen Graham. The Backbone of the World [Amazon Original Stories]
Machado, Carmen Maria. Bloody Summer [Amazon Original Stories]
Maxfield, Mary. "Mother Hunger" [Strange Horizons, September 2022]
Melcer, M.V. Patterns in Stone and Stars [Giganotosaurus]
Monae, Janelle & Yohanca Delgado. "Save Changes" [The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer]
Monae, Janelle & Sheree Renee Thomas. "Timebox Altar(ed)" [The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer]
Pang, Y.M. The Mountains my Bones, the Rivers my Blood" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 366]
Sanford, Jason. "Blood Grains Scream in Memories" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 349]
Tanzer, Molly. "Les Chiméres: An Ode" [The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2022]
Willrich, Chris. "On Magog's Pond" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 367]

Short Story

Anderton, Joanne "Three on a Match" [The Art of Broken Things]
Baker, Celeste Rita. "Me and Seed Sheself" [Khoreo 2.1]
Bennardo, M. "A Prayer to St. Jude" [Noir Fire, The Future Fire 61]
Berman, Mary. "Cassandra Takes the Plunge" [Shoreline of Infinity 32]
Castroianni, Eleanna. "Our Heartstrings Howl the Moon" [Strange Horizons, December 2022]
Cervantes, J.C. "Eterno" [Reclaim the Stars]
Dickey, Dominique. "Slow Communication" [Fantasy Magazine Issue 76]
Diene, Mame Bougouma and Woppa Diallo. "A Soul of Small Places" [Africa Risen]
Drnovšek Zorko, Filip Hajdar. “For Whom the Psychopomp Calls”[Clarkesworld, Jan 2022]
Drnovšek Zorko, Filip Hajdar.  “Intimacies” [Strange Horizons, Feb 2022]
Forna, Victor. "Parebul of the Mother, Asked in Moonlight" [Fantasy Magazine 86]
Helms, Amanda. "The Blooms of Sorrow" [FIYAH Issue 24]
Hugenbach, Brian. "The Princess, NP" [Escape Pod 856]
Ijasan, Adelehin. "From Earth to Io, with love". [FIYAH Issue 21]
Jiang, Ai. "Give me English" [The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May/June 2022]
Kim, Isabel J. "Christopher Mills, Return to Sender" [Fantasy Magazine Issue 77]
Kusano, Iori. “can i offer you a nice egg in this trying time”[Uncanny Magazine Issue 49]
Liddle, Loki. "Snake of Light" [This All Come Back Now]
Lin, Su-Yee. "The Pigeon-Keeper's Daughter" [Strange Horizons, March 2022]
Miller, Sam J. "Iconophobe." [The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2022]
Mills, Samantha. "Rabbit Test" [Uncanny Magazine Issue 49]
Moreno, Nina. "Magical Offerings" [Reclaim the Stars]
Ogundiran, Tobi. "The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library" [Africa Risen]
Ortega, Claribel A. "Killing El Chivo" [Reclaim the Stars]
Tsamaase, Tlotlo. "Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition)" [Africa Risen]
Villar, Gnesis. "Girl Eats Girl" [FIYAH Issue 24]

Series (With Qualifying Volume)


Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor (The Grief of Stones)
Bennett, Robert Jackson. The Founders Trilogy (Locklands)
Edwards, K.D. The Tarot Sequence (The Hourglass Throne)
Flint, Eric and co-authors. 1632 Series (1637: The Transylvanian Decision)
Kuhn, Sarah. Heroine Complex (Holiday Heroine)
Lewis, Linden A. The First Sister Trilogy (The Last Hero)
Liu, Ken. The Dandelion Dynasty (Speaking Bones)
Maresca, Marshall Ryan. The Maradaine Saga (The Quarrygate Gambit)
McGuire, Seanan. Incryptid (Spelunking Through Hell)
McGuire, Seanan. October Daye (Be the Serpent)
Mohamed, Premee. Beneath the Rising  (The Void Ascendant)
Muir, Tamsyn. The Locked Tomb (Nona the Ninth)
Nagata, Linda. Inverted Frontier (Needle)
Novik, Naomi. The Scholomance (The Golden Enclaves)
Okorafor, Nnedi. The Nsibidi Scripts (Akata Woman)
Tchaikovsky, Adrian. Children of Time Trilogy (Children of Memory)
Wade, Juliette. The Broken Trust (Inheritors of Power)
Yong, Jin, tr. Anna Holmwood, Gigi Chang and Shelly Bryant. The Legend of the Condor Heroes (A Heart Divided)

Young Adult (Lodestar)

(Note: Daughter of the Moon Goddess, by Sue Lynn Tan, was originally listed in this category but has been moved to the best novel list, as it is not a Young Adult book. All of the titles below are novels and are also eligible in the Best Novel category.)

Anders, Charlie Jane. Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak [Tor Teen (US)/Titan (UK)]
Barker, Kathryn. Waking Romeo [Flatiron]
Clarke, H.A. The Scratch Daughters [Erewhon]
Dennard, Susan. The Luminaries [Daphne Press [UK]/Tor Teen (US)]
Deonn, Tracy. Bloodmarked [Simon and Schuster]
Hardinge, Frances. Unraveller [Pan Macmillan]
Hartman, Rachel. In The Serpent's Wake [Random House]
Ibañez, Isabel. Together We Burn [Wednesday Books (US)/Titan (UK)]
Ireland, Justine. Rust in the Root [Balzer + Bray]
Lee, Yoon Ha. Tiger Honor [Rick Riordan Presents]
Lin, Judi I. A Magic Steeped in Poison [Feiwel and Friends]
Okorafor, Nnedi. Akata Woman [Viking Books for Young Readers]
Older, Daniel José. Ballad & Dagger [Rick Riordan Presents]


Friday, January 27, 2023

6 Books with Marshall Ryan Maresca

Marshall Ryan Maresca is a fantasy and science-fiction writer, author of the Maradaine Saga: Four braided series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine, which includes The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages, The Holver Alley Crew and The Way of the Shield, as well as the dieselpunk fantasy, The Velocity of Revolution. He is also the co-host of the Hugo-nominated, Stabby-winning podcast Worldbuilding for Masochists, and has been a playwright, an actor, a delivery driver and an amateur chef. He lives in Austin, Texas with his family.


Today he tells us about his Six Books


1. What book are you currently reading?

I just finished reading Jordan Kurella's I Never Liked You Anyway, which was a fun, modernized version of Orpheus & Eurydice.  Which is a story that's been big in adaptations of late, it seems, and this is one I really enjoyed.  Jordan has a fantastic authorial voice and if there is any justice in the literary world, we'll see so much more from him in the future.







 


2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

Listen, Kritika H. Rao's The Surviving Sky is phenomenal, there's a reason why it's ending up on a lot of folks 2023 lists.  It's science fantasy focusing on an older, married couple (such a rarity in the genre) who have to both rediscover their love for each other and save their civilization from destructive storms.  Kritika is an absolute talent who everyone should be keeping their eyes on.










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

I'll rave to anyone who'll listen about Jade Legacy, and with it the whole Green Bone Saga, I want to go back and re-read Jade City.  I had a significant gap between reading that (right after it came out in 2017) and the other two (back-to-back as Legacy came out), and I want to revisit the first one again knowing where it's going and everyone's fate.  And, I think Fonda Lee has crafted an absolute masterwork of the genre that people will still be talking about for decades to come.









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

So, as a teenager, I voraciously read Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, which. has not aged well at all.  And it's also a series that fell more and more apart as it went on.  I wonder how much I, as a teenager, just plain refused to see that out of some idea that of course it's all good, it's a published series after all.  The naivety of youth.  But in said naivety, I also glossed over things that as an adult are screaming out to me now, like how much of a virgin/whore complex the entire text has, how it uses time travel to legally justify a relationship between a judge and an underage girl, or how the culmination of the arc-plot, prophesied in the first book that a character would be a Senator and cast a critical deciding vote, ends with said character casting said vote in the US Senate that God is dead and by doing so, God is actually removed from office as the Incarnation of Good, leaving a vacancy that must now be filled.  It's one of the few SFF literary things that will actually get me ranting.






5 What's one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that 
holds a special place in your heart?

That's got to be Watership Down, which remains a masterclass in storytelling, character-defining, mythmaking and worldbuilding, all rolled together.  It's not only my most re-read book, I'm actually on my third beat-up paperback of it, having already had two fall apart on me.  










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

It's Hultichia, which is a novelette set in the larger Maradaine universe.  This story centers on Aurien Pemmick- who regular Maradaine readers know as Reverend Pemmick, the priest at a nearby church who often helps Veranix in the Thorn books.  Here we see Pemmick as a younger man, before he's earned the rank of Reverend, as he's summoned to find his old mentor who had been a missionary in a neighboring country, Kellirac.  We've also gotten hints about Kellirac before, as characters like Veranix, Minox and Corrie all from Kelliracqui descent.  So this story lets me dive a little deeper into that culture, which is strange and foreign to Pemmick, as he arrives on the eve of one of their sacred holidays, the eponymous Hultichia.  Their beliefs come into conflict with his own faith as he tries to find out what happened to his mentor in his time there.  Hultichia is the second of these "Maradaine Saga Shorts" that highlight a place or character outside of the main track of the Saga, following The Mystical Murders of Yin Mara.  My plan is to put out a total of five, while also finishing up the main arcs of the various Maradaine novels in their own series, all as part of Phase Two of the Maradaine Saga.



Thank you, Marshall!

If you want to learn even more about Maresca's work, read this interview Adri Joy did with him in November 2022 right here at Nerds of a Feather.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Microreview[Graphic Novel]: Real Hero Shit by Kendra Wells

 A genuinely funny romp through an RPG-style world, with enough meat under the comedy to be a really substantial read.


Real Hero Shit follows a fairly standard RPG style group on a mission to investigate shady goings on, while we explore the group dynamics and get to know (and love) the characters along the way. We have the mysterious elven rogue leader of the group, who is quiet and determined to get the mission done. We have the badass cleric with a massive hammer who seems nice... right up until e sees someone doing a Bad, and then we see es angry, disappointed and well armed side come through. We have the extremely grompy sorceror who is done with everyone's shit. And we have... Eugene, the inexplicably purple and horned prince of the realm who's bored of fucking around in the literal sense, so is trying it in the metaphorical one for a nice change of pace.

It's very much the introductory volume of the story - we follow Eugene getting to know the rest of the party and exploring the world, while they undertake a relatively simple quest to see why people are going missing in a nearby town. And purely in terms of the story any worldbuilding, it's nothing stunningly original. We seem to be in approximately fantasy pseudo-medieval Europe for our tech level, fashion and general vibes, with modern vernacular, modern attitudes to sex (and the casual having thereof) and modern gender and sexual mores.

The latter point is one of the things that really makes this book stand out for me.

D&D has got quite queer recently. I've only been playing for six or so years, and the shift has been visible even in the time I've been involved in it. It is really enjoyable then to see stories written in D&D style worlds and modes that really reflect what the hobby is for many players. Real Hero Shit is precisely that. We have bi characters, gay characters, characters whose gender is not confined to the male/female binary, without any of it feeling like it's a big deal. It's a story where it feels like... well it's D&D, of course it's queer as heck.

Which isn't to say it's alone in this - it's something plenty of D&D/RPG inspired stories are doing at the moment, as the literature around the hobby catches up to much of the playerbase - but it's still not the dominant mode enough, at least in what I'm seeing, that it remains refreshing. 

Likewise, it's a story willing to put its politics front and centre. This is not a party full of murder-hobos, or people whose moralities wander hither and thither depending what the story needs. We start out with a clear mandate to find the missing villagers, and that's the driving narrative and moral tone that carries us through. This is particularly useful for making the cleric character, Hocus, feel like a bedded in member of the party. So often, paladin and clerics are odd ones out, either slightly compromised (or maybe simply non-standard) in their portrayal of their character archetypes, or else constantly at low key odds with the rest of the party who want to do crimes have adventures. But because we come in with this clear mandate that we are, indeed, doing real hero shit, Hocus feels truly part of the group, and we never have reason to doubt em and es cohesion with everyone else.

But the thing that really makes it stand out is the humour - it is, while being at points serious, absolutely laugh out loud funny. And almost all of that humour is down to Eugene. Eugene is a horny, low attention span, well-meaning yet utterly spoilt lovable idiot. Eugene flirts with everyone. Eugene has no filter. Eugene will piss everyone off and apparently not notice. And it makes for great comedy that isn't complicated or particularly clever, but is hitting the mark time after time. Some of its success is simply that it is willing to acknowledge that the story, the setting and the characters are inherently ridiculous and just... embrace it. And some of it is leaning into the ridiculousness super hard with a knowing wink to the reader and a vibe of "I know your mind went there too". It feels like the author is colluding with you while reading, in the way of good D&D parties everywhere with players who make each other cackle and escalate their shenanigans.

It's not perfect though; there are some weaknesses. Critically, the worldbuilding feels somewhat underdone, and relies heavily on giving you the broad strokes (are we in typical D&D fantasy medieval land? Yes we are!) and then letting you assume the rest from this shorthand. And obviously that does work - medieval fantasyland has been so thoroughly done and done and done that you don't need to spell it out for the reader to get the gist. But it's nice if you do. When so much of what you're doing just rests on those familiar tropes, except in the moment where you're doing something different, the worldbuilding does start to feel somewhat low effort. It's not nothing, and we do begin to see peeks here and there of details of what Wells' world has to offer, but it's always a light touch rather than anything approaching a deep dive, and it does feel at times like it would benefit from a bit more exposition and originality, just to flesh things out a bit.

Of course, this is only the first book in what feels inevitably likely to be a series, so we can't expect to have everything spelled out straight off the bat. But at the same time, there has to be enough to pull you in, to make you want to learn more about the world, and it does feel like Wells has barely got us there while they focussed on other things, with a few tidbits at the end dangled as a hook to lead us into volume two. It's a very slim volume, and I think we could have stood a little slow down on the pace to do the grounding now, rather than the risk of crowding in exposition later when it will, hopefully inevitably, be needed for events to be fully embedded in the world, or worse, risk that it never comes through as fully as we need, and the story fizzles out after the excitement of volume one.

That being said, there was enough that I want to read volume 2 - enthusiastically so - so for all my grumbling, they did clearly do enough for it to work, just about.

In the same vein, while I have no real complaints about the art style, which is absolutely fine for the story it's telling and the characters it's building, neither do I have any real praises to sing either. It's perfectly cute, functional and dynamic, but it's not going to stick with me for years to come, and nor is it going to be the reason I push this into someone else's hands.

But I am going to be pushing it into people's hands. And that's because the combination of the characters, the humour and just feeling incredibly reflective of D&D as it is now was a joy to read. It has flaws, it's not perfect, but the core of what it was doing was so wonderful, I'm entirely happy excusing them for the time spent with these people. They made me laugh, time and again, and they made me sad that the book was only as small as it was, because I just wanted to spend more time getting to know them and seeing their dynamics. And it's that chemistry, the spark between characters, that really grabs you while reading. Like a good D&D session, one that really sticks with you, it's a story full of people who just vibe with each other, in different ways, and that's what makes it all work out.

--

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +2 amazing characters that make you want to spend time with them, +1 laugh out loud funny

Penalties: -1 not enough worldbuilding to tell me why this isn't just off the shelf medieval fantasy Europe

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Reference:  Kendra Wells, Real Hero Shit [Iron Circus Comics, 2022]

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Microreview: Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

An attempt at a cosy fantasy historical romance whose lack of attention to detail manages to undercut any charm it pulls together.



We’ll get to the more substantive critique in a minute, but I want to start off with something that will be entirely irrelevant to most readers, but intensely annoying for a few. The protagonist is a female scholar – a professor, in fact – in Cambridge in 1909. Cambridge did not begin to award women degrees until 1948. When they did try to change the rules, for instance in 1921, there were riots. It was not an uncontroversial situation.

Based on some other choices in the book (for instance, it is set in a queernorm universe), I am reasonably sure Fawcett has intended this as a deliberate choice, making the world of 1909 just… a better place than it really was, to give herself the space to write the story she wants to write, without having to put in a load of homophobia and misogyny. And while this is certainly an approach one might take, it's not one that sits entirely well with me, not only here, but in many other historical works, as well as steampunk and adjacent genres. There’s an episode of Star Trek: DS9 (S7E15) in which Sisko, asked as a black man to play dress-up in a sanitised version of 1960s Las Vegas, sums it up nicely: "We cannot ignore the truth about the past.". While he changes his mind by the end of the episode, I think the validity of his initial concerns remains - by writing this nicer, cleaner, happier version of the past, are we erasing the truth of it? I think by writing that version of the past in which everyone gets to be happy, as they could not in truth, you erase the very real problems, and the struggles of the people who lived them, just to enjoy an aesthetic. And here, where the struggles are something we can pinpoint easily to dates and specifics, it's hard to ignore that discrepency.

I know other people have a different take on this, and the argument that the people who were excluded at the time can enjoy reclaiming what they ought to have had access to in the first place is a perfectly reasonable one… just not one that works for me. It niggles, in the process of reading.

It doesn't help, then, that Fawcett has managed to make some factual errors about her protagonist's university alongside all of this:

- I’m reasonably sure the author uses “professor” in the American sense, not the British one, despite the academics in the book being English and Irish
- The references to the geography of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire never evoke anything real in them, and at times, mention things which, while technically possible, are rather implausible (forests and hills and other things when the Cambridge area is almost entirely fenland)
- The protagonist has a BSc, when everyone who graduates from Cambridge gets a BA (if it's a B-anything)
- The university seems to have a modern US tenure track system, rather than anything resembling a historical English setting, or even modern Cambridge
- Several characters mention "quads" and "quadrangles". These aren't a thing in Cambridge at all.
- Despite mentioning Cambridge approximately one gazillion times (to the point where it does become a little annoying to the reader, in fact) throughout the course of the novel… the author never once mentions a Cambridge college.

That last point may seem trivial, and in fact it took me a while to notice when reading, beyond a vague sense of something being deeply off, but once I did realise, it was impossible to ignore. It is one of the defining features of Cambridge (and Oxford), and anyone there, or who once was there, will have a collegiate affiliation that will, in some ways, be a significant part of how they identify themselves, especially amongst other Cambridge people. It's a default of self-presentation. So to go through a whole novel about a character who has such fond and constant feelings about Cambridge, and for her to never mention her own college, nor her friend/rival/person’s college, or even if they’re at the same one, is deeply bizarre, and really throws off immersion in the story once noticed.

Of course, none of this matters to most readers. It is, for the most part, irrelevant. But once you know, once you notice, it belies a rather deep absence of research on an even basic level which is somewhat offputting for a novel in a historical setting.

There are also some other issues outside of this, if historical accuracy isn't something that bothers you.

The story follows Professor Emily Wilde, a dryadologist, on fieldwork out in Ljosland (which appears to be a fake Scandi island, using the name of a real town in Norway) to uncover details of a particular type of faery for her great work – the first real encyclopaedia of all faeries. While out there, she is, to her disgruntlement, joined by her annoyingly charming and handsome friend and academic rival, Wendell Bambleby.

Yes, you read that right, Wendell Bambleby. No, I never got over it. I’m still not over it. Moreover, Wendell Bambleby, despite having what I can only consider a parodically English name, is actually Irish. There is precisely zero acknowledgement at any point in the text that there might, maybe, just slightly, be some Anglo-Irish tensions in 1909.

Together, they investigate the mysterious local faeries, as well as getting drawn into the faery-related problems experienced by the villagers. In something that may sound like a spoiler but absolutely isn't one - indeed, it is blindingly obvious even from the cover blurb of the book - they also fall in love.

All of this is... fine. It’s not stunningly original or anything, but it could still be some fun fluff done well.

Alas, it was not.

The story is written as, for the most part, diary entries by Emily… which is fair enough at the start, but as events go a bit pear-shaped, it begins to strain credulity somewhat that she/whoever would be writing them when the entries claim to be from. The prose style also strays very quickly away from even vaguely plausibly her writing a diary to something that feels much closer to a more normal 1st person narration voice. I would, quite frequently, forget it was a diary format until I hit a new chapter heading, which has the date at the top of it to remind you. This feels something of a shame. Interesting formats or framing devices can be really great, but it feels like if you’re doing one, you should actually embrace it in order to get it to that greatness. Halfway houses tend to feel a little haphazard.

This then highlights how shallowly the characters feel drawn. If the diary format had been fully realised, this could quite easily be handwaved away as being stuck inside Emily's head and only getting her view. But it isn’t, and quite frankly, even she, our first person narrator telling us her actual thoughts, feels distant and hard to grasp. She just lacks substance. Of course the side characters never stood a chance.

The plot, too, is a bit thin on the ground. Events hang together by tenuous threads, often of motivation that we simply do not see spelled out in how people act. They behave unexpectedly, and things just sort of happen.

And then… well there’s the whole premise really. Emily is a scholar in 1909 doing fieldwork. One of the few bits of genuine historical accuracy that remains in the book is the entitlement obvious in Emily’s attitude towards the people who form the basis of her study. I am not certain if this is deliberate, on the author’s part. Emily Wilde goes in, despite claiming to have done extensive fieldwork before, and proceeds to just assume the world always follows the rules she knows at home, and being utterly baffled that other people in other cultures… have different mores. And even when she notices that she’s offended someone, someone she needs on her side to get her work done, she doesn’t ask what it is she’s done, not even the friendly young boy who seems to think she’s great for reasons unclear to me. It is only when Wendell turns up to be charming at everyone/thing and points out to her that people are people that she manages to make friends. Which is not to say Wendell is perfect – he’s just as bad as her, except that he notices it, and is willing to try to get his way by being charming and manipulative, rather than obtuse. That might actually be worse. And while, yes, this feels like absolutely the sort of attitude an English scholar in 1909 would have, why, when you’re doing queernorm, gender equalitarian past, did you have to leave that in? Why am I meant to be sympathetic to someone who is trampling all over other cultures like that? Because it feels a difficult thing, especially at the start, to sympathise with her while watching her behaviour. And it’s a book that really does need that sympathy to get you through.

The world-building is also a little odd. We’re in an imagined Scandi island, but the protagonist has come from a real place. But she’s also done research in a made-up southern European country. It feels like the world-building has been done very much on the fly, and, to be blunt, just to get around having to do any research for points where the author didn’t feel confident flying blind. To take a book doing something quite similar, if Fawcett had followed the same approach as Marie Brennan in writing the Lady Trent books, making up a fake country (that we all know is totally England), giving it a made up name and a made up university, however obvious the analogy to real world places, it would have given everything just that bit of plausible deniability necessary to suspend disbelief. It wouldn't have to be accurate then - it's made-up. But once you make choices that encompass real world places and events, you have to at least get it a little bit right. Make it so people don’t notice right from the off. But this half-in, half-out approach doesn’t manage to give you the wins of either side, and leaves it all feeling an unplanned mess, rather than a coherent, cohesive, thought-out whole.

That being said, there are some good points. For all its lack of commitment to the framing device, the writing is very easy to get into, and it’s a very fast, pacy read that would be easy enough to get through in a single day. Despite the characters, and some of the events, the romance part manages to be somewhat compelling. Mostly, this is because Wendell is, at times, very funny. You can see why someone would both like and want to smack him, in those moments where he gets some actual character development. But it is really hard to stack all this up against the litany of various gripes that are evident throughout.

I don’t hate it. It’s not that bad. It’s just also… not very good. And it’s trying to do the sort of cosy, romantic fantasy that is currently enjoying a surge of popularity, so it’s not even as though it deserves points for originality. There are simply plenty of other books out there willing to provide cosy historical fantasy romances, and many of those just do a better job of it.

--

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for easy, pacy reading

Penalties: -1 constant historical inaccuracy and strange world-building choices that make it hard to ignore the flaws, -1 lack of commitment to framing device

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10

Reference:  Heather Fawcett, Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries [Little Brown Book Group, 2022]

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Microreview: Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

Maurice Broaddus’ Sweep of Stars starts a new series in a deftly and imaginatively created near future interplanetary society.


You are, for the purposes of this review, immersing yourself in the culture of Muungano. A future interplanetary society whose bounds and customs, rules and structure, are unfamiliar to you, but you will come to learn them. Through the characters in this society, from the young scion who has reached a milestone in her life and is ready to take her place as a full member of society, to a group of soldiers on a planet on the other side of a interstellar gate, you will come to learn, and perhaps love this diverse and well imagined Afrofuturistic society, especially as it deals with the challenge of a new conflict with the society it defeated in order to come into being in the first place.

You are reading a review of Maurice Broaddus’ Sweep of Stars.

I wrote the above in second person because right from the get go, giving a number of chapters in the second person, Broaddus immerses us into the world of Muungano in a strong and unrelenting way. It ungrounds the reader, putting us into the head and perspective of Leah, a young member of the society on the precipice of a new phase of her life. It also cleverly allows for a lot of information to be rapidly pressed into the reader as we get a flood of this new and different early 22nd century culture and society. While we soon will alternate between Leah and mostly more traditional forms of point of view¹ Leah’s chapters set the tone for the book, and what Broaddus is trying to accomplish with the book.

There has been a fair amount of Solar System space opera in recent years, and in many scales and stories told, from Ian McDonald’s Luna series, to the wild success of the Expanse, to the re-release of Laura Mixon’s Up Against It, to the more narrowly focused Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Spare Man, set on an interplanetary cruise liner. In that tradition, Sweep of Stars goes for the wide scale approach, with a number of points of view ranging across the solar system, and a story that reaches into another solar system entirely by means of an Interplanetary Gate.

Too, Broaddus’ solar system future stands apart from the others, and most of the ones I have recently read, in being an Afrofuturist focused vision of the future in space. This is not entirely virgin territory, the Bindi novels of Nnedi Okorafor come to mind, but this is a novel, the first in a series, that aims to tell the entire story of the Muungano civilization. The novel provides a fair number of point of view characters to this, and the build toward the conflicts that hit in the back half of the book do take time to develop. Broaddus uses that time, I feel, wisely. There is a lot of worldbuilding and development of the society under display here. Given the conflicts of the novel when they do arise, Broaddus’ strategy appears to be to be able to show Munngano as its strength, at its optimal, one might even say reaching-for-utopian ideals of a young culture, before putting it under stress with external conflict.

To that end, through about a half dozen point of view characters and several locations and subplots, see Muungano at a growing level and stage at its development, a young and burgeoning civilization, a diverse range of West African derived cultures and societies scattered across the solar system. From an utopian colony city, to the frontiers of the solar system, to a military unit, we get to know Muungano as it stands right now, and Muungano, instead of being a monoculture, is itself a web of differing ideas, roles, political systems and societies. This makes a high wire act for the author--he is not really just showing one future society where all that societal development is channeled into one template, he’s showing a spectrum of a future society where the different habitats and parts of Muungano have commonalities, but they are significant differences that need to be respected.

The novel is also intensely political in that many of the conflicts and lines drawn, especially when we move to the second half of the book, are intensely political and diplomatic in nature. Autocracy is a predominant mode (long live the King/Queen/Empress/Emperor), or in science fiction too commonly these days, Long live the CEO, may long they reign. While there are reasons, historic and otherwise, for this concentration of political power in SFF works, it does miss some opportunities.

However, Muungano provides the author with a diffuse political as well as a culturally diffuse society to work with, meaning that the politics and diplomacy are not autocratic, there is negotiation, meetings and some rather sharp political factions across Muungano. It is especially in politics that we see some of the other sides of this culture and it provides us more ways to get a hold of and understand the kaleidoscope of a future world that the author provides.

One perhaps unusual SFF space opera that I kept thinking of as I was reading Sweep of Stars is the Okie (City in Flight) novels by James Blish. Those novels are set in a world where antigravity and longevity have both been discovered, and the form of interstellar society that develops is a set of formerly bound to the earth cities who pick up and go wandering the stars. The cities meet, clash, go through cycles of power and development and build a whole stage of civilization through their adventure and efforts. Where the Okie novels really intersected my brain and my thought is in the endpaper matters where Blish lays out the cycles of the Okie novel civilization in terms of Oswald Spengler.(2). Blush clearly saw the Okie civilization over time (there is a fairly wide time scale in the Okie novels) evolving along the lines laid out in this way.

Where Muungano comes in is that I was able to apply that lens to Muungano. Muungano is a young civilization, in its Spring period. It’s new, it's in conflict with an older civilization (O.E, Original Earth, who definitely want to bring Muungano back under its aegis). Muungano is developing its own unique and flowering sciences and especially art and culture. It’s a society that is growing and developing, and in terms of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga, is about to run into its first crisis period (3) in the books that we have. In Sweep of Stars, then, we are getting an ambitious look at something unusual in science fiction outside of writers like Blish and Asimov--we are getting a look at a flowering of a culture, a society, a civilization. We see it in the language, the art, the food, the rituals, the greetings. It’s a very tangible book in that regard.

And of course all of this grand civilizational sweep is in the context of telling the stories of these characters, of this place, of this moment in time. Broaddus starts the story with the Naming Day of Leah (our second person POV). Even as he is showing this grand epic to us, he keeps us in the human, in the tangible, in the real, in a way that, say, Asimov as above, never can manage with his own civilizational epochal story.

Sweep of Stars is a big space opera, and it needs to be, to contain everything that Broaddus’ strong and deep ambition is trying to make it become. My only real criticism of what is a stunning and inventive novel is that the timeline of the history feels too compressed for my taste. I am not sure that the events, as described, and the society as depicted, could all resolve and arise in the relatively short amount of time that Broaddus assigns to it. This is hardly a fault unique to Broaddus’ work of course, but I think that the rise of the Muungano civilization, including the precipitate events that led up to it, the milestones in the growth and development of the solar system, would and will take decades more than the rather brisk time frame shown here. I understand how and why Broaddus chose this, so as to have characters who could have personal ties to the end of the conflict between OE (Original Earth) and Muungano, but I don’t think the timeline works.

With that caveat, I found Sweep of Stars, a bold and bright space opera that confidently tells the story of a new civilization, it’s triumphs, culture, society and its people (from its point of oview characters on outwards) and then plunges that young and vibrant culture into what appears to be a series-spanning conflict that will certainly change the culture and the entire solar system in the process.


Baseline Assessment: 7/10


Bonuses: +1 for a diverse (on all axes) and inclusive, and interesting world and canvas, an amazingly imagined civilization


+1 for very strong notes of a variety of point of view characters


+1 for the bold ambition to tell this story.

 

Penalties: -0.5 The timeline of the events of history feel too compressed.

 

Nerd Coefficient: 9.5/10

 

Reference: Broaddus, Maurice, Sweep of Stars [Orbit, 2022]


¹It should be noted that there is also a First person plural point of view character in the book. It seems to me that the author was definitely having fun with the experience of telling his story by using a variety of point of view techniques.

²Oswald Spengler had some notions about civilizations (his best known work is The Decline of the West) on their origin, rise and fall, seeing how civilizations, to his lens, have similar cycles and characteristics in their path. Spengler's work is marred by him being somewhat adjacent to more unsavory elements of 1920's and 1930's Germany, although his civilizational ideas would influence historians like Arnold Toynbee and Will and Ariel Durant. 

3I don't know that Asimov read Spengler, but per note 2, he definitely read Toynbee. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Nanoreviews: The Assassins of Thasalon, Lost in the Moment and Found



The Assassins of Thasalon, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Subterranean Press)


The Assassins of Thasalon is the first full length novel in the the Penric / Desdemona series following nine previous novellas. Penric (Temple Sorcerer) and Desdemona (the demon which resides within Penric) is off to Cedonia to investigate a demon attack on his brother in law, Adelis, and hopefully defend his life from future attacks.

Interestingly, that aspect is much less of the novel than readers might expect because when the would-be assassin is identified the story takes a different direction as she was only doing the job out of coercion and that underlying conflict is a much larger concern - a concern specifically of interest to Penric’s god.

As a general rule, readers can jump into a Lois McMaster Bujold novel (or novella) pretty much at any time and fully understand the story - and that is absolutely the case with The Assassins of Thasalon, though long time readers will find much to appreciate as Bujold brings back characters from Penric’s past. Bujold is a masterful storyteller and The Assassins of Thasalon is another absolute winner.

 



Lost in the Moment and Found, by Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom Publishing)

Bolstered by a content warning leading into the novella, the first quarter of Lost in the Moment and Found is deeply upsetting as Seanan McGuire introduces readers to Antsy, a small child who had a very good life until her father died and her mother remarried to a man who was not…good. Because this is a Wayward Children novel, she leaves. She runs. She finds a door and she is sure.

Where the Drowned Girls Go introduce another school that is run very differently than Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children. Throughout the series, McGuire has alternated between the present day at the schools and the backstory of a child who doesn’t belong finding a door. Lost in the Moment and Found is a story of a child escaping into a door, but moreso than any other novella in the Wayward Children series it expands the universe far wider than anything McGuire has revealed thus far because Antsy’s door doesn’t lead to another world, it leads to a shop between worlds, a nexus as other characters described it.

This is to be appreciated because while a long running series can be comfortable in formula, those moments that break the formula or escalate the story beyond where it was before are to be treasured. Lost in the Moment and Found offers that moment once the reader is allowed to breathe.

 

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner. Minnesotan. He / Him