Monday, January 27, 2020

Microreview [book]: The Bone Ships, by R.J. Barker

The Bone Ships by R J Barker is a jump from low power and small scale fantasy into full and blazoning epic fantasy in a world where dragon bones provide the construction material for naval conflict and action.

Joron has been sentenced to a Black Ship, a ship crewed by the condemned in the Hundred Isles, an arcbipelago of islands in a world where ships are built out of dragon bones. His precarious abd brief role as shipwife (captain) ends quickly upon the arrival of Bloody Meas, a famous captain who, too, has been sentenced to the Black Ship. Now under her control, the sorry state of The Tide Child and the sorrier state of Joron and the rest of the crew will be put to the test as they search for something that has not been seen in many a year: A dragon.

This is the story of The Bone Ships, first in Barker’s new The Tide Child fantasy series.

First and foremost, this is a rich and well developed words whose complexity and depth filled me with joy to read. Right on a language level, Barker uses words, constructions and names of places and things to convey worldbuilding. Even in the space of an epic fantasy novel, the author carefully deploys his worldbuilding to  make an immersive and deep feeling world. Given the iceberg principle, we do feel the weight of the ice of the world that Barker has built beneath the surface, and he is generous too in what is above the waterline. This is epic fantasy in the mold of a complicated world that the author wants to show you, and also wants you to infer and think about. I came to some interesting conclusions and thoughts about the world about some aspects of it that Barker doesn’t hit the reader over the head with, but instead provides the background for the reader to come to their own realization about.

Take the central conceit of the novel. This is a world with very dangerous and tumultous oceans, and is a water world, so there is more water than land in the world. Sailing the seas effectively requires the bones of the seagoing dragons, and so it is invaluable as a construction material. Now, take it that none have been seen in a long while leads to all sorts of implications and consequences that the author definitely has thought about and puts his mind into building into the world.

The characters that Barkers bring to life are colorful and complicated. The author uses the main character and his relationship with Bloody Meas as the main thrust to explore the character relationships that she develops. This starts with the crew of the The Tide Child, as Meas establishes her position, and Joron must establish and maintain his new position. Their relationship to each other, as mentor and mentee did remind me of the strength of the bond of the relationship between Girton and Merela in the Age of Assassins. And like that series, developing and growing that relationship is the key to the lock of other relationships in the book as well. There is a range of relationships we see, from Meas and her very important and powerful mother, to the bond that Joron makes with the inhuman guillaime, and much in between. Character conflicts and relationships were a bedrock of the action beats in the Age of Assassins series, and even on a larger canvas, Barker does it here as well.

I want to mention the strength of theme in this novel. As mentioned above, the conflict of this novel is driven by the potential for more dragon bones. In this world, dragon bones are priceless and a limited resource, and a new dragon means new ships. And so the race for the dragon is just more fuel for the fire of the longstanding conflict between the powers. The precarious nature of war and the potential for peace, or for renewed and even more devastating war and conflict, is a theme that pervades the novel and the author really brings to light in his setup and plotting.

The big wide canvas has along with it a big plot, adventure and spirit of action that comes across the page. Taking command of a condemned ship, sailing the seas in search of a dragon, something thought extinct, Barker has Meas, Joron and their crew have all the action beats and adventure one could want--once the novel gets going, that is. There is a tendency in a lot of fantasy fiction to avoid the slow burn and try and hook the reader from the start in sharp action and relief. Hook the reader early, or lose them, is not just a cliche, it is a common practice. Barker has an inciting incident early on, but its not quite the same, and readers who want to be thrown onto the treadmill from the get go are going to be disappointed. Barker takes patient time in building his characters and his world, setting up everything with care before unleashing hell.

And does he ever unleash hell. Sea battles, land marine actions, sieges, and single combats punctuate the novel, In between all of the worldbuilding and character building and establishing of the ship, it’s customs and nature, Barker has his sharp action moments and uses those very well indeed to propel character and move the narrative along. But the early part of the novel has the action beats a little sparser than when the mission of the Tide Child really gets going. Until that point, some patience from action-oriented readers is needed.

That said, however, The Bone Ships for me worked  deliciously. Barker has learned from his previous Age of Assassins trilogy, moving to a larger canvas, a larger story and a more complicated narrative. And he succeeds in this very well indeed. The novel is the start of a series and this novel doesn’t quite give a good off-ramp for readers wanting a one-and done experience.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for strong and intriguing worldbuilding in a new and unique world
+1 for strong use of the themes of resource depletion, war and conflict
+1 for very strong and well done characters

Penalties: -1 The slow start might turn off some impatient readers
-1 for the lack of an offramp for one and done readers

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

Reference:  Barker, R J  The Bone Ships: Silver [Orbit, 2019]

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

Friday, January 24, 2020

2020 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 4: Institutional Categories

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of the Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together 2020 Hugo Awards Longlist! (Parts 12, and 3.)

This time we are looking at what are, for lack of a better term, the "nonfiction and institutional categories": Best Related Work, Best Semiprozine, Best Fanzine and Best Fancast. Now, those who follow this blog know how cranky The G can get on the subject of certain categories and their bizarre eligibility guidelines--and we've got two of them today (Best Semiprozine and Best Fancast). Nevertheless, I will do my best to stay calm and stick to the rules, frustrating as they can be. We reserve the right, however, to get a little snarky and passive-aggressive in the process.    

There are, however, some sticky issues that made putting this list together a bit difficult. Knowing what does or does not constitute a "fanzine" in the era of blogs, for example--and given that we may already be on the downward slide of that era, it only promises to get more difficult as time passes. Nevertheless, we have tried to create clear and consistent guidelines for inclusion in this category. Thus, to qualify, a fanzine: (1) must be a fan venture (i.e. must not generate a significant amount of money, or pay professional rates for work); (2) must publish a lot of content in a given year; and (3) must publish "award worthy" content. We did not discount single-author blogs from consideration, but criterion #2 makes it difficult for most single-author blogs to  merit consideration. Consequently, while a couple made it, most did not--including some very good ones.  

We also feel obliged to mention that 'nerds of a feather, flock together' is eligible in this category, but whether we belong on anyone's list (short, long, good or bad) is another story, and part of a conversation we aren't inclined to join. We'd much rather talk about all the other sites we like to read (and which meet the criteria outlined above). 

The category Best Fancast also presented issues, namely, on the question of whether podcasts hosted by profit-making websites were still fancasts. The issue here comes down to whether the podcasts qualify (given token-level payment for the podcasts themselves) or do not (given that the parent companies can employ at least some people full-time). There were internal disagreements on this question, but in the end we decided to include the podcasts in question, but make note that they may not meet the eligibility requirements. I personally encourage you to vote them in that category--both because they belong there and, consequently, because a rule that keeps them out is dumb. But that's just me. It is also worth noting that in the past 8-4 Play was a finalist for Fancast, and 8-4 Play is hosted by 8-4, a professional video game localization company. If 8-4 Play is eligible, and passed the vetting process of the Hugo committee, than so should most everything else. But that's just our opinion.

Before moving on to the recommendations, a gentle reminder that this list is not and does not intend to be a comprehensive survey of genre or fandom. Rather, these are recommendations we suggest you consider alongside whatever other candidates you have in mind.  - G & Joe

Related Work
Becoming Superman, by J. Michael Straczynski
Broken Places and Outer Spaces, by Nnedi Okorafor
The Dark Fantastic, by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
Joanna Russ, by Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press)
The Hugo Initiative, by Joe Sherry. Adri Joy, Paul Weimer, Michael Newhouse-Bailey
Lady from the Black Lagoon, by Mallory O’Meara
Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Desirina Boskovich
The Magical Readathon 2019 by Book Roast
Monster She Wrote, by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson
The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendelsohn
Shapeshifters: A History, by John B. Kachuba
They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin by Arwen Curry

Anathema Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The Dark Magazine
Fireside Fiction
FIYAH Literary Magazine
Strange Horizons
Uncanny Magazine

The Book Smugglers (Ana Grilo and Thea James)
The Full Lid (Alasdair Stuart)
The Hugo Book Club (Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne)
Lady Business (Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, Susan, eds.)
The Rec Center (Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Elizabeth Minkel)
Runalong the Shelves (Womble)
Quick Sip Reviews (Charles Payseur)
The Quiet Pond (CW)
Reading the End (Jenny Hamilton)
SF in Translation (Rachel Cordasco)
SFFReviews (Sara Uckelman and Sarah Grace Liu)
SFFWorld (Dag Rambruat, Rob Bedford, Mark Yon, and Nila White, eds.)
Women Write About Comics (Kayleigh Hearn, Kat Overland, Claire Napier, Kate Tanski, Wendy Browne, eds.)

Aces and Jokers
Axe of the Blood God
Books and Pieces
Bree Reads Books
Claire Rousseau
Coode Street Podcast
Ditch Diggers
Fangirl Happy Hour
Females in Fantasy
Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men
Kitty G
New Books in Science Fiction
Our Opinions Are Correct
SFF Yeah!
Skiffy and Fanty
Sisters of Sci-Fi
Sword and Laser
Two Chairs Talking

Thursday, January 23, 2020

2020 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 3: Individual Categories

Welcome to the third part of our presentation of the Nerds of a Feather 2020 Hugo Award Longlist (see parts 1 & 2). Today we take a look at the categories recognizing individuals for their body of work during 2019:  Editor (Short and Long Form), Professional Artist, Fan Artist, Fan Writer, and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer

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 11 writers.

As a reminder, this list should not at all be considered comprehensive. There are some truly outstanding editors, writers, and artists who will not make our longlist because they did not produce enough work for non-paying / non-professional venues, did not write enough genre focused work, or for the very simple reason that we are not just familiar with what work they did produce during 2019. 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. 

In an effort at brevity (you may scoff) and perhaps at propriety, for these categories we have decided to simply list the individuals we are collectively recommending as part of the longlist, rather than detailing why each person listed below is awesome.

Finally, in the interests of being transparent, while it may worth noting that we, the writers of Nerds of a Feather are individually eligible for the Fan Writer category; because it is a conflict of interest, it would not appropriate to include any of us on our formal longlist (feel free to check out our Awards Eligibility post, though).

Editor, Long
Nobody. But, we recommend that when you put together your final nominating ballot that you also look at who the editors were for your Best Novel selections and consider them for nomination for Editor, Long Form

Editor Short
John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed, Nightmare)
Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld)
Michael Matheson, Andrew Wilmot, & Chinelo Onwualu (Anathema)
Vanessa Rose Phin (Strange Horizons)
Julia Rios (Fireside Fiction)
Jonathan Strahan (Mission Critical,, Publishing)
Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damien Thomas (Uncanny)
Sean Wallace & Silvia Moreno-Garcia (The Dark)
LaShawn M. Wanak (GigaNotoSaurus)
Troy L. Wiggins and DaVaun Sanders (FIYAH)

Professional Artist
Tommy Arnold
Geneva Benton
David Curtis
Galen Dara
Maurizio Manzieri
Stephan Martiniere 
John Picacio
Greg Ruth 
Yuko Shimuzo
Will Staehle
Magali Villeneuve
Alyssa Winans

Fan Artist 
Iain J. Clarke
Caleb Hosalla
Ariela Housman 
Jemima Malkki 
Elise Matthesen
Layla Rose
Anna Steinbauer

Fan Writer
Emmet Asher-Perrin (previously writing as Emily Asher-Perrin)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer
Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone)
Rena Barron (Kingdom of Souls)
K.A. Doore (The Perfect Assassin)
Isaac Fellman (The Breath of the Sun)
R.F. Kuang (The Poppy War)
Paul Krueger (Steel Crow Saga)
Jenn Lyons (The Ruin of Kings)
Alexandra Rowland (A Conspiracy of Truths)
Nibedita Sen (short fiction)
Tasha Suri (Empire of Sand)
Emily Tesh (Silver in the Wood)
Amelie Wen Zhao (Blood Heir)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

2020 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 2: Visual Work Categories

Welcome to our continuing presentation of the Nerds of a Feather 2020 Hugo Award Longlist (see part 1 here). 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 11 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 or read 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.  


Graphic Story

Gideon Falls – Vol 3: Stations of the Cross, by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart
Invisible Kingdom, Vol 1, by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward
Mare Internum, by Der-Shing Helmer
Magnificent Ms Marvel, Vol 1: Destined by Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung
Monstress, Vol 4: The Chosen by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Ms Marvel, Vol 10: Time and Again by Saladin Ahmed, Hasan Minhaj, Rainbow Rowell, G. Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc, Gustavo Duarte, Nico Leon and Bob Quinn
Paper Girls, Vol 6 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Sabrina the Teenage Witch,Vol 1, by Kelly Thompson, Veronica Fish and Andy Fish
Skip, by Molly Mendoza

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Note: this year there were a number of great TV show seasons which deserve consideration as a whole, although individual episodes for all of these are also eligible in short form. For ease of consideration, we've separated movies and shows in the list below.


Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)
Avengers: Endgame (Marvel Studios)
Captain Marvel (Marvel Studios)
Fast Color (LD Entertainment)
Frozen 2 (Disney)
Joker (Warner Bros Pictures)
Parasite (Barunson E&A)
Prospect (Gunpowder and Sky)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (Marvel Studios)
Toy Story 4 (Pixar)
Us (Monkeypaw Productions)


TV Seasons:
The Dragon Prince: Season 3 (Netflix)
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)
The Expanse: Season 4 (Amazon Prime)
Good Omens (Amazon Prime)
The Mandalorian: Season 1 (Disney Plus)
Stranger Things: Season 3 (Netflix)
Undone: Season 1 (Amazon Prime)
Watchmen (HBO)
The Witcher: Season 1 (Netflix)



Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
The Good Place Season 4, Episode 4: Tinker Tailor Demon Spy (NBC)
The Good Place Season 3, Episode 10: The Book of Dougs (NBC)
The History of the X-Men (Marvel)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 3, Episode 3: "Once Upon a Time in the Waste" (Netflix)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 4, Episode 13: Destiny Part 2 (Netflix)
Steven Universe Season 5, Episode 29: Change Your Mind (Cartoon Network)
Watchmen Episode 8: A God Walks Into Abar (HBO)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2020 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 1: Fiction Categories

Several years ago our erstwhile founding editor The G asked the flock here at Nerds of a Feather if we would come together to put out a longlist of works we would recommend for Hugo consideration. Flock Together we did.

The rules for inclusion were simple--just: (a) meet the eligibility criteria; and (b) be "award worthy" (i.e. good). Given the subjectivity of the latter, it should come as no surprise that the selections on our longlist reflect the spectrum of tastes, tendencies and predilections found among our group of writers. You'll find selections ranging from the obscure and literary to the unabashedly popular and commercial, and from all corners and subdivisions of the genresphere.

That said, this is not nor intends to be a comprehensive survey of the field. Some books that are undoubtedly "award worthy," for example, are absent for the simple reason that we haven't read them yet. Thus we encourage you to think of this as a list of candidates to consider--alongside others.

Given the vast number of Hugo categories, we've also made the decision to split the longlist up into multiple posts. Today we look at the fiction categories (Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story, Series, and the Not a Hugo Lodestar Award for YA Novel). For fiction that is available free of charge, we've embedded a direct link to the story. For novels and works of short fiction that are not available for free, the embedded link redirects to a review.

In the interest of being transparent, it is worth noting that several of our writers have published fiction in 2019. Because it would be a conflict of interest, we are not including them on our longlist, but would still invite anyone interested to take a look at their work. Chloe has her list of fiction here.

Anders, Charlie Jane. The City in the Middle of the Night [Tor]
Bear, Elizabeth. Ancestral Night [Saga]
Cho, Zen. The True Queen [Ace]
Czerneda, Julia. The Gossamer Mage [DAW]
Drayden, Nicky. Escaping Exodus [Harper Voyager]
Hurley, Kameron. The Light Brigade [Saga]
Krueger, Paul. Steel Crow Saga [Del Rey]
Leckie, Ann. The Raven Tower [Orbit]
Lee, Fonda. Jade War [Jade War]
Landsman, Keren. The Heart of the Circle [Angry Robot]
Martine, Arkady. A Memory Called Empire [Tor]
Maughan, Tim. Infinite Detail [MCD x FSG Originals]
McGuire, Seanan. Middlegame [ Publishing]
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. Gods of Jade and Shadow (Del Rey)
Muir, Tamsyn. Gideon the Ninth [ Publishing]
Nagata, Linda. Inverted Frontier: Silver [Mythic Island]
Newman, Emma. Atlas Alone [Ace]
O'Keefe, Megan. Velocity Weapon [Orbit]
Pinsker, Sarah. A Song for a New Day [Berkley]
Starling, Clarice. The Luminous Dead [Harper Voyager]
Tchaikovsky, Adrian. Children of Ruin [Orbit]

Bear, Elizabeth. "A Time to Reap" [Uncanny Magazine, Issue 31]
Bennett, Robert Jackson. Vigilance [ Publishing]
Chambers, Becky. To Be Taught, If Fortunate [Harper Voyager]
Clark, P. Djeli. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 [ Publishing]
El-Mohtar, Amal and Max Gladstone. This is How Lose the Time War [Saga]
Howard, Kat. "Once, Future" [A Cathedral of Myth and Bone]
Lee, Yoon Ha "Glass Cannon" [Hexarchate Stories]
McCormack, Una. The Undefeated [ Publishing]
McGuire, Seanan. In an Absent Dream [ Publishing]
Moore, Scotto. Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You [ Publishing]
Rather, Lina. The Sisters of the Vast Black [ Publishing]
Solomon, Rivers. The Deep [Saga]
Talabi, Wole. "Incompleteness Theories" [Incomplete Solutions, Luna Press]
Thompson, Tade. The Survival of Molly Southborne [ Publishing]
Wilde, Fran. The Fire Opal Mechanism [ Publishing]
Yang, JY. The Ascent of Godhood [ Publishing]

Berger, Michele Tracy. "Doll Seed" [FIYAH, Issue 11]
Brown, Jen. "When Dragons Claim the Sky" [FIYAH, Issue 10]
Clark, M.L. "To Catch All Sorts of Flying Things" [Clarkesworld 155]
Duncan, R.K. "The Thirty-Eight Hundred Bone Coat" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 277]
Gailey, Sarah. "Away With the Wolves" [Uncanny, Issue 30]
Goonan, Kathleen Ann. "One / Zero" [, 3 Apr 2019]
Qiufan, Chen. "In This Moment, We Are Happy" [Clarkesworld 155]
Yang, JY. "Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy" [, 30 Jan 2019)]

Short Story 
Adhyam, Shweta. "One Found in a World of the Lost" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 287]
Bear, Elizabeth. "Deriving Life" [, 31 Jan 2019]
Brennan, Marie. "Vis Delendi" [Uncanny, Issue 27]
Broaddus, Maurice. "The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor" [Uncanny, Issue 29]
Bronstein, M.E. "Elegy of a Lanthornist" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 284]
Chen, Ruoxi. "The Price of Knives" [The Dark, Issue 52]
Chu, John. "Probabilitea" [Uncanny, Issue 28]
Francisco, Ben. "Aging Elements" [Fireside Fiction, June 2019]
Harrow, Alix E. "Do Not Look Back, My Lion" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 270]
Le, T.K. "2086" [Strange Horizons, 7 Jan 2019]
Medieros, Zoe. "My Sister is a House" [Fireside Fiction, May 2019]
Mitchell, Lis. "Blue Morphos in the Garden" [, 4 May 2019]
O'Brien, Brandon. "Due by the End of the Week" [Fireside Fiction, Feb 2019]
Osborne, Emma. "A Salt and Sterling Tongue" [Uncanny, Issue 28]
Ponce, Joe. "Raices (Roots)" [Anathema, 7 Apr 2019]
Pratt, Tim. "A Champion of Nigh-Space" [Uncanny, Issue 29 / Patreon]
Sen, Nibedita. "We Sang You As Ours" [The Dark, June 2019]
Stephens, Dean-Paul E. "Pimento" [FIYAH, Issue 11]
Swirsky, Rachel. "Your Face" [Clarkesworld 155]
Wiggins, Troy L. "Fury at the Crossroads" [Beneath Ceaseless Skies 276]

The Alliance-Union Universe, by C.J. Cherryh

The Amberlough Dossier, by Lara Elena Donnelly
The Assiti Shards / Ring of Fire, by Eric Flint
The Axiom Trilogy, by Tim Pratt
Custard Protocol, by Gail Carriger
Elemental Logic, by Laurie J. Marks
The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey
The Imager Portfolio, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr
Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman
Incryptid, by Seanan McGuire
Luna, by Ian McDonald
Nanotech Succession, by Linda Nagata
Planetfall, by Emma Newman
Recluce Saga, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr
Wild Cards, by George R.R. Martin
The Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden

Black, Holly. The Wicked King [Little, Brown for Young Readers]
Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox [Putnum for Young Readers]
Clayton, Dhonielle. The Everlasting Rose [Freeform]
Denard, Susan. Bloodwitch [Tor Teen]
Hardinge, Frances. Deeplight [MacMillan Children's]
He, Joan. Descendant of the Crane [Albert Whitman]
Johnston, E.K. The Afterward [Dutton Books for Young Readers]
Kritzer, Naomi. Catfishing on Catnet [Tor Teen]
Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl [Rick Riordan]
Lucier, Makiia. Song of the Abyss [HMH Books for Young Readers]
Mejia, Tehlor Kay. We Set the Dark on Fire [Katherine Tegen Books]
Power, Rory. Wilder Girls [Delacorte Press]
Ursu, Anne. The Lost Girl [Walden Pond Press]
Wilde, Fran. Riverland [Harry N. Abrams]