Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

It's not her best, but nobody did what Jackson did best any better.

Shirley Jackson is best remembered for her short story The Lottery, and it's a puzzle to me why that story never made more people seek out more of her other work. Shirley Jackson should've been a rock star, and not just of genre fiction like The Haunting of Hill House, which spawned arguably the greatest black-and-white horror movie ever made. Sure, many genre aficionados like Stephen King, notably, consider her a legend, and her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of the great books you're likely to read. All that is to say that I am a happy man when I find a stray copy of a Shirley Jackson book at my local used book store, and I approach them expecting quite a lot.

On the one hand, The Sundial isn't her best book. But on the other hand, it has a lot of what she does better than anybody in it, and it presages her greatest works, which were yet to come.

The Sundial tells the story of the Halloran House and its inhabitants, none of whom are what you'd call "likable characters." Out of the huge cast of characters, especially for such a slim book, the most prominent is Orianna Halloran, whom we meet when the book opens, just after the funeral of her only son, Lionel. Other members of the family, notably Lionel's widow and young daughter, openly accuse Orianna of killing Lionel by shoving him down the stairs, so that she could inherit the house. Orianna is a piece of work — she's cunning, ruthless, shrewd, and really just smarter than anybody else in the house. It's this characterization that makes her at least a fascinating character to read, if not root for, and her biting, clear-eyed manipulation of everyone else in the house is where Jackson's perceptive writing just absolutely shines. The extended Halloran family and staff who populate the home are put on their heels when Aunt Fanny, Orianna's sister-in-law and daughter of the late Mr. Halloran, who built the sprawling house, sees a vision of her departed father in the garden, by the sundial, and he informs Fanny that the world will shortly be consumed by flame, and all will perish, with the exception of those living in the house. Those, he can protect. Little-by-little, the house acquires a small handful of new residents (including a stranger Aunt Fanny picks up on a street corner in town and dubs "The Captain," for reasons known only to her), and what seems like the confused hallucination of beleaguered Aunt Fanny gains more credence with subsequent visions, and all who live in the home begin making preparations for the coming apocalypse.

I cannot stress enough how awful these people are. There is a long sequence late in the novel where they invite the townspeople up to the house and grounds for a barbeque, to give the little peons one last moment of happiness before the end of days — of which said peons are totally unaware. Because what joy in life could working people possibly have unless it is gifted them by the fabulously well-to-do Hallorans from the sprawling estate on the top of the hill? But Jackson's gift for capturing human behavior, and pettiness, sometimes, with such finely observed detail really shines in segments like this. It's a joy to observe Aunt Fanny's foolish entitlement juxtaposed with scenes of the villagers interacting with her, in which we realize she is so transparent in her cluelessness that everybody is in on the joke except her. The book's themes of wealth, entitlement, and gender roles still resonate today, and I think in large part that's less a statement about the stagnation of progress or anything like that, but more a tribute to Jackson's ability to grab onto the fundamentally human, and show us sad realities of how we interact with each other on a day-to-day basis.

On the whole, there are too many characters for such a short book, so we see some characters in razor focus, while others recede into a sort of literary soup, where it becomes difficult to remember which tertiary spoiled young woman is which. And even though the book is intended to leave some questions about the future, I felt it ended perhaps a page too early. After a shocking twist at the end that literally dropped my jaw (but was totally earned and set up deftly from the first page), I felt I'd been left dangling a little. So Shirley Jackson's best book about a sprawling house with its own personality is undoubtedly The Haunting of Hill House, and her best book about a wealthy, reclusive family is undoubtedly We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but The Sundial is still a fine example of the kind of writing that made Shirley Jackson such a force.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for Orianna Halloran; +1 for "The Captain"; +1 for just getting human beings right, warts and all (even if sometimes more wart than not)

Penalties: -1 for too many characters; -1 for too abrupt an ending; -1 for being essentially a rough sketch of better works to come

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

REFERENCE: Jackson, Shirley. The Sundial [Farrar, Straus & Cuddahy, 1958]

Our scoring system demystified.

Posted by Vance K — Emmy-winning producer, cult film reviewer, and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ESSENTIALS: 24 (mostly) Overlooked Science Fiction and Fantasy Titles

If you were online and blogging about books in 2010, a fairly popular thing to do was to put out a list of the "best" books published during the previous decade (I did). Now, unless this list is being read from the future (hello future, please don't burn down before I get there!), it should be apparent that we are not yet in 2020 and it is not yet time for another decade list.

The first reason I bring this up is because something that Jeff VanderMeer wrote in 2010 resonated with me and has stuck around in the back of my head (and in the back of my blog).

If a year’s best list is a kind of “possible impossibility,” then a decade’s best list is a fool’s errand, an absurdity, sometimes even an atrocity. I have seen decade lists with nothing on them from 2000 through 2005. I have seen decade lists weighted down with books from 2009. I have seen decade lists corpulent with the quivering fat of over-hyped books I am pretty sure will be footnotes sooner rather than later. I have seen decade lists supersaturated with one particular kind of fiction. In short, I haven’t seen much in terms of decade lists that I thought was comprehensive, level-headed, or fair.


Personally, I think everyone should post a list of the books that delighted or awed them over this past decade, without pretending it’s anything definitive.
The second reason I bring this up is because Renay Williams at Lady Business posted a list of 60 Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Reads and her list is fantastic, inspiring, and has inspired me to commit List Making.

Let's be completely up front here: Jeff VanderMeer is right. Attempting to put together any sort of list of truly "Essential" science fiction and fantasy books is a fool's errand, but this is part of why what Renay did with her list is so brilliant, and dare I say, essential. There is no singular canon in science fiction and fantasy. There are notable works, some of significantly greater renown than others, but there is no generally agreed upon canon. I'm not sure there truly is one in "Literature" either, but that is a separate and potentially contentious discussion better left for another time and place. Even in discussion of canon, I think it gets down to an idea Lin-Manuel Miranda raised in Hamilton, which is about "who lives, who dies, who tells your story."

The thing about defining a canon is that someone else is deciding what story should be told. There is value in this, but so much can be and is missed. The work that is missed is equally essential as the work often mentioned as "best", "greatest", "must read" or "canon" - and is often better. It just isn't talked about for a myriad of reasons. So what do you do? Maybe you can't just up and create a canon which will last for one hundred years, but what you can do is create a conversation about what it means for a book to be considered "essential". You can create a wonderful list of books that deserve to be read and talked about and considered as Essential.

Essential to whom? Essential compared to what?

Perhaps we should take what Jeff VanderMeer wrote six years ago and consider these to be books which delighted and awed me. Is that enough to make it "essential"? I don't know. What I know is that these are some of the books that I come to time and again when someone asks me for something awesome to read. These are some of the books I get excited to think about and talk about. These are the books I wave at other people and say "you must read this!" These are also some of the books that I don't see talked about enough.

I could work this list a dozen or more different ways depending on what perspective I want to take. A list of essential epic fantasy would look different than a list of the best books of the last decade, both of which would look very differently from a list covering the same concept, but looking at either the most popular or overlooked books.

So what I'm going to do here is consider those books which have delighted me over the years with a focus on those works which tend to not show up on those lists of the "all time greats" that are "essential" and "must reads" because I believe that they are.

I am also restricting this list to not include anything from the last five years. To the point that it matters, I am attempting to sidestep a small amount of recency bias and avoid my rampant desire to shout THE FIFTH SEASON! BLACK WOLVES! ANCILLARY JUSTICE! While I expect these novels will have a lasting impact on what and how I read, it really may be too soon to make that call. For me.Your mileage may vary.

There is also no doubt that not only have I overlooked something awesome I've read years ago that would more than merit inclusion, I likewise have to assume that there are dozens upon dozens (upon dozens) of novels which, if only had I read them, I would shout from the rooftops about how wonderful they are. To those authors, I apologize. I simply haven't read you.

Any list I make can only be considered inclusive of the books I have read, and suggesting anything grander would be hubris. The list is no more definitive than that. Let's do this.

Bear, Elizabeth. The Stratford Man [Roc, 2008]

"Kit Marley, playwright and spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth, has been murdered. His true gift to Her Majesty was his way with words, crafting plays infused with a subtle magic that maintained her rule. He performed this task on behalf of the Prometheus Club, a secret society of nobles engaged in battle against sorcerers determined to destroy England. Assuming Marley’s role is William Shakespeare— but he is unable to create the magic needed to hold the Queen’s enemies at bay.

Resurrected by enchantment in Faerie, Marley is England’s only hope. But before he can assist Will in the art of magic, he must uncover the traitor among the Prometheans responsible for his death…"(Goodreads)

The Stratford Man is actually two books, Ink and Steel (my review) and Hell and Earth (my review), but they tell one complete and stunningly good story of Shakespeare, Marlowe, faerie, and angels. Unfortunately, you probably missed this one, but there is still time to rectify that error. The Stratford Man is one of my all time favorites. (Joe)

Brust, Steven. Jhereg [Ace, 1983]

"The first to be published, this is actually the fourth novel in the timeline of the VLAD TALTOS series. The books recount the adventures of the wisecracking hired killer Vlad, a human on a planet mainly inhabited by the long-lived, extremely tall sorcerers known as the Dragaerans. One of the most powerful bosses in the Jhereg--Dragaera's premier criminal organization--hires Vlad, one of their guild members, to assassinate Mellar, who stole millions from the Jhereg leadership and fled. Unfortunately, this thief turns out to be protected in a way that makes it difficult for Vlad to do his job without gaining the permanent enmity of a friend. The reader also learns more about Vlad's past in this, and in other, lives." (Goodreads)

The series begins and ultimately focuses on a smart mouthed assassin, but each book is very much its own thing and you can see Brust playing with the form while still maintaining a cracking story. Jhereg stands out as a masterwork. (my review) (Joe)

Bull, Emma, et al. Shadow Unit [self published, 2007-2014]

"The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity's nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn't dream are real.

The Behavioral Analysis Unit sends those cases down the hall.

Welcome to Shadow Unit." (Goodreads)

My elevator pitch for Shadow Unit is "Criminal Minds meets The X-Files, but the monsters are human". Shadow Unit is one of the most engrossing, moving, painful, and wonderful things that I have read. It's as good as it sounds, and it's even better than that. It's written by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Amanda Downum, Leah Bobet, Holly Black, Stephan Shipman, Chelsea Polk, and Stephen Brust. Start here. Thank me later. (Joe)

Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower [Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993]

"When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister's young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny... and the birth of a new faith." (Goodreads)

A very human story of survival and hope for the future in the midst of a brutal, brutal post apocalyptic world. Parable of the Sower is the very definition of essential science fiction. (my review) (Joe)

Cherryh, CJ. Cyteen [Warner Books, 1988]

A brilliant young scientist rises to power on Cyteen, haunted by the knowledge that her predecessor and genetic duplicate died at the hands of one of her trusted advisors. Murder, politics, and genetic manipulation provide the framework for the latest Union-Alliance novel by the author of Downbelow Station. Cherryh's talent for intense, literate storytelling maintains interest throughout this long, complex novel. (Goodreads)

Trying to capture the enduring greatness of Cyteen in just a few words is the work of a better copywriter than I am, but this novel of isolation, genius, cloning, ethics, murder, political drama, social commentary, coming of age, morality, and any number of other things is so damned good that it hooked me on Cherryh from the first pages. (my review) (Joe)

Cook, Glen. The Black Company [Tor, 1984]

"Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead. Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her... So begins one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age—Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company." (Goodreads)

You like the Malazan novels from Steven Erikson? Try The Black Company. Glen Cook's story of a mercenary company is top shelf military fantasy with a grim cast of characters (Joe)

Duchamp, L. Timmel. Alanya to Alanya [Aqueduct Press, 2005]

"Seattle, February 2076. The Marq ssan bring business as usual to a screeching halt all over the world, and Professor Kay Zeldin joins Robert Sedgewick, US Chief of Security Services, in his war against the invaders. Soon Kay is making rather than writing history. But as she goes head-to-head against the Marq ssan, the long-buried secrets of her past resurface, and her conflicts with Sedgewick and Security Services multiply. She faces terrifying choices. Her worldview, her very grip on reality, is turned inside out. Whose side is she really on? And how far will she go in serving that side? (Goodreads)

A deeply compelling vision of a dystopian future where aliens come with the benevolent plan to reshape humanity's political and social structure while requiring humanity to do the hard work of change. Alanya to Alanya is a deeply human story that gets into how people interact and view each other based on gender. The aliens are only a quiet sideshow, the tool in which Duchamp uses to explore behavior and the repression (suppression?) of women. It is spectacularly good. (my review) (Joe)

Gloss, Molly. The Dazzle of Day [Tor, 1997]

"The Dazzle of Day is a brilliant and widely celebrated mixture of mainstream literary fiction and hard SF. Molly Gloss turns her attention to the frontiers of the future, when the people of our over-polluted planet Earth voyage out to the stars to settle new worlds, to survive unknown and unpredictable hardships, and to make new human homes. Specifically, it is a story about people who have grown up on a ship that is traveling to a new world, and about the society and culture that have evolved among them by the time they arrive at their new home planet." (Goodreads)

Jo Walton writes "The Dazzle of Day is an astonishing short novel of a generation starship" This isn't a novel so much about the destination as it is about the life of the people who will be the ancestors and first wave of the colonists of a new world. It's about the people and very much not about the journey or the science or the discovery. It's about the people and the more emotional challenges they face as the journey nears its end, not so much the physical challenges. (my review) (Joe)

Griffith, Nicola. Ammonite [Del Rey, 1993]

"Change or die. These are the only options available on the planet Jeep. Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony has lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep–and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company abandons its employees, leaving them afraid and isolated from the natives. In the face of this crisis, anthropologist Marghe Taishan arrives to test a new vaccine. As she risks death to uncover the women’s biological secret, she finds that she, too, is changing–and realizes that not only has she found a home on Jeep, but that she alone carries the seeds of its destruction. . . ." (Goodreads)

Nicola Griffith's exploration of the evolution and biology of humanity moves alongside her exploration of identity and what it means to have family will linger with readers long after the final page is turned. (my review) (Joe)

Hall, Sarah. Daughters of the North [Harper Perennial, 2008]

"England is in a state of environmental crisis and economic collapse. There has been a census, and all citizens have been herded into urban centers. Reproduction has become a lottery, with contraceptive coils fitted to every female of childbearing age. A girl who will become known only as "Sister" escapes the confines of her repressive marriage to find an isolated group of women living as "un-officials" in Carhullan, a remote northern farm, where she must find out whether she has it in herself to become a rebel fighter. Provocative and timely, Daughters of the North poses questions about the lengths women will go to resist their oppressors, and under what circumstances might an ordinary person become a terrorist." (Goodreads)

Daughters of the North is a novel which raises even more questions at the end as to what the nature of the story the narrator told us is. What was left out, what was missing, what was skewed to make a point or protect Carhullan? Daughters of the North is a quiet novel which packs a strong punch. (Joe)

Kerr, Katharine. Daggerspell [Doubleday, 1986]

"Even as a young girl, Jill was a favorite of the magical, mysterious Wildfolk, who appeared to her from their invisible realm. Little did she know her extraordinary friends represented but a glimpse of a forgotten past and a fateful future. Four hundred years-and many lifetimes-ago, one selfish young lord caused the death of two innocent lovers. Then and there he vowed never to rest until he'd righted that wrong-and laid the foundation for the lives of Jill and all those whom she would hold dear: her father, the mercenary soldier Cullyn; the exiled berserker Rhodry Maelwaedd; and the ancient and powerful herbman Nevyn, all bound in a struggle against darkness. . . and a quest to fulfill the destinies determined centuries ago." (Goodreads)

My inclusion of Daggerspell is partly because it is an excellent fantasy novel on its own and also because I want to represent the Deverry Saga as a collected whole. This book is so damned good. (my read of the first four novels) (Joe)

Kirstein, Rosemary. The Steerswoman [Del Rey, 1989]

"The Steerswoman is the first novel in the Steerswoman series. Steerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any question put to them with as truthful a response as is possible within their own limitations. However, they also require anyone of whom they ask questions to respond in the same manner, upon penalty of the Steerswomen's ban; those under the ban do not receive answers from the steerswomen.

 In this novel, Rowan is a Steerswoman who is interested in some strange jewels which have been found distributed in an unusual pattern. These jewels are made of strange materials bonded onto metal. Some think that such jewels are magically produced." (Goodreads)

What I love most about The Steerswoman is how Kirstein continually challenges the readers assumptions about the nature of the world and the interconnection of magic and technology and how things change over time. (my review) (Joe)

Kurtz, Katherine. Camber of Culdi [Ballantine, 1976]

"Camber was the greatest of the Deryni—that race of men who were gifted with arcane mental powers that set them above normal humans. In later legends, he was to become a figure of mystery, known as both the defender of humanity and the patron saint of dark magic. But now he sought only retirement on his family estates.

His dream of justice and amicable relations between the races had turned to ashes in his mind. The medieval kingdom of Gwynedd groaned under the tyranny of Imre and his sister and mistress, Ariella. Normal humans were savagely persecuted by the king, whose Deryni ancestors had seized the throne from the rightful human Haldane line a century before. Camber could not even save his own son from the murderous treachery of Imre.

When Camber learned that Cinhil Haldane, a descendant of the previous kings, still lived, he realized that the only hope for the kingdom lay in overthrowing Imre and restoring Cinhil to the throne. But Cinhil was a cloistered monk, hidden under his religious name in one of many monasteries, unaware of his heritage, untrained in politics. Could he be persuaded to leave the only life he knew and take on the leadership of a rebellion? And lacking the Deryni powers, could he hope to overcome the magic of the king?" (Goodreads)

Part of the inclusion of Camber of Culdi is for the Deryni series as a whole, but also specifically for the three volume Legends of Camber of Culdi series - which, by the end, is one of the grimmest series of epic fantasy you're likely to run across, though tempered with the grace of faith and the interaction of religion and society. (my review / re-read) (Joe)

Martin, George R. R. The Armageddon Rag [Nemo Press, 1983]

"Onetime underground journalist Sandy Blair has come a long way from his radical roots in the ’60s—until something unexpectedly draws him back: the bizarre and brutal murder of a rock promoter who made millions with a band called the Nazgûl. Now, as Sandy sets out to investigate the crime, he finds himself drawn back into his own past—a magical mystery tour of the pent-up passions of his generation. For a new messiah has resurrected the Nazgûl and the mad new rhythm may be more than anyone bargained for—a requiem of demonism, mind control, and death, whose apocalyptic tune only Sandy may be able to change in time . . . before everyone follows the beat." (Goodreads)

We've all heard of GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire. We've read the books, we've seen the show, we know Martin is capable of. But, the one book of his that few people speak about, except to note that it is the novel which failed so spectacularly that it drove Martin to write for television, is perhaps my favorite George R. R. Martin novel. Martin's blending of the fantastic with rock music is so intense and pounding that I could almost hear the music and almost feel myself getting sucked into it. Go behind the music on this one. (Joe)

Moon, Elizabeth. Sheepfarmer's Daughter [Baen, 1988]

"Paksenarrion — Paks for short — is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father's orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She's off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again.

And so her adventure begins... the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost ruler to his throne.

Here is her tale as she lived it." (Goodreads)

One of the best military fantasy novels you are likely to read. Sheepfarmer's Daughter focuses on the day to day slog of a military company going about its business and the dream of a young girl of being a soldier and the life that dream will give her. (my review) (Joe)

Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure [Atheneum, 1983]

"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight. 

And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.

But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.

Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's first adventure begins - one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land." (Goodreads)

A fantasy novel every kid (grown or otherwise) should read. (Joe)

Rawn, Melanie. Dragon Prince [DAW, 1988]

"Melanie Rawn's best-selling debut is a novel of love and war, magic and madness, and deadly dangerous dragons that hold the secret to unimaginable wealth that could prove key to mutual peace-or a bloody tyrant's reign. And among it all, an idealistic young ruler struggles to civilize a culture that understands the strength of the sword-but has yet to discover the true power of knowledge." (Goodreads)

Dragon Prince is simply one of my favorite fantasy novels. I've revisited it a number of times over the years and it continues to hold up to my memories and at this point it is an old friend. Despite that, when lists of the most notable and important fantasy novels of the 1980's and 1990's are put out, Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince is left off. No more. (my review) (Joe)

Rawn, Melanie; Jennifer Roberson; Kate Elliot. The Golden Key [DAW, 1996]

"In a land where art is prized above all else, the master painters of the Grijalva family stand apart from other artists. Theirs is an art that can alter Reality, a secret Gift passed down for generations and always used for the good of the kingdom. But now the most talented of the Grijalvas has decided to use his power for his own dark intentions--with results more devastating than anyone could imagine!" (Goodreads)

As a general rule, I did not want to include multiple books from the same author, but The Golden Key is a special case because it's not one author, it's three writers who bring the excellence time and time again. A generation tale where art is magic? This is a stunning achievement. (Joe)

Russell, Mary Doria. The Sparrow [Random House, 1996]

"In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human." (Goodreads)

The Sparrow is a beautiful and painful story. Perhaps knowing how the mission ends before it begins is part of what makes the doom bearable. The loss and death and failures are still shocking, but not unexpected. How can they be? The beauty and the grace and the pain is in the telling. Russell tells it well. (my review) (Joe)

Saunders, Charles. Imaro [DAW, 1981]

"Saunders' novel fuses the narrative style of fantasy fiction with a pre-colonial, alternate Africa. Inspired by and directly addresses the alienation of growing up an African American fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which to this day remains a very ethnically homogonous genre. It addresses this both structurally (via its unique setting) and thematically (via its alienated, tribeless hero-protagonist). The tribal tensions and histories presented in this fantasy novel reflect actual African tribal histories and tensions, and provide a unique perspective to current and recent conflicts in Africa, particularly the Rwandan genocide and the ongoing conflict in The Sudan." (Goodreads)

The African sword and sorcery of Charles Saunders is the very definition of an overlooked and so very essential fantasy novel. Imaro is a fully realized sword and sorcery novel set in an alternate Africa, one which respects the traditions and histories of Africa in general and Rwanda specifically, one which attempts to draw the Western reader into a world they have seldom encountered and never like this. (my review) (Joe)

Spencer, Wen. A Brother's Price [Roc, 2005]

"In a world where males are rarely born, they've become a commodity--traded and sold like property. Jerin Whistler has come of age for marriage and his handsome features have come to the attention of the royal princesses. But such attentions can be dangerous--especially as Jerin uncovers the dark mysteries the royal family is hiding." (Goodreads)

A Brother's Price is, at its core, a Regency romance with a gender flipped societal roles. I remain deeply curious about what the rest of the world is like and wish that Spencer would tell additional stories in this world. Until she does, we have this excellent novel. (my review) (Joe)

Stover, Matthew. Blade of Tyshalle [Del Rey, 2001]

"On Earth, Hari Michaelson was a superstar. But on Overworld, he was the assassin Caine. Real monarchs lived and died at his hands and entire governments were overthrown-all for the entertainment of millions back on Earth. But now Hari, stripped of his identity as Caine, must fight his greatest battle: against the powerful corporate masters of Earth and the faceless masses who are killing everything he loves. Enemies old and new array themselves against him. And Hari is just one man-alone, half-crippled, powerless. They say he doesn't have a chance." (Goodreads)

If there were any justice in publishing, Matthew Stover would be as much of a household name as Joe Abercrombie and would sell just as many books and we'd be awash in Caine novels and anything else Stover wished to write and publish. Alas, there is not and we are not. Stover's Acts of Caine is an impressive feat of fantasy fiction and Blade of Tyshalle is one of the high water marks in the genre, period. (Joe)

Traviss, Karen. City of Pearl [Eos, 2004]

"Three separate alien societies have claims on Cavanagh's Star. But the new arrivals -- the gethes from Earth -- now threaten the tenuous balance of a coveted world.

Environmental Hazard Enforcement officer Shan Frankland agreed to lead a mission to Cavanagh's Star, knowing that 150 years would elapse before she could finally return home. But her landing, with a small group of scientists and Marines, has not gone unnoticed by Aras, the planet's designated guardian. An eternally evolving world himself, this sad, powerful being has already obliterated millions of alien interlopers and their great cities to protect the fragile native population. Now Shan and her party -- plus the small colony of fundamentalist humans who preceded them -- could face a similar annihilation . . . or a fate far worse. Because Aras possesses a secret of the blood that would be disastrous if it fell into human hands -- if the gethes survive the impending war their coming has inadvertently hastened." (Goodreads)

City of Pearl is a military, environmental, and character driven science fiction novel that doesn't smack the reader in the face with any of it. This is so good and the introduction to a six volume series that I can only recommend as highly as something that you simply will not regret reading. (my review) (Joe)

VanderMeer, Jeff. Finch [Underland Press, 2009]

"In Finch, mysterious underground inhabitants known as the gray caps have reconquered the failed fantasy state Ambergris and put it under martial law. They have disbanded House Hoegbotton and are controlling the human inhabitants with strange addictive drugs, internment in camps, and random acts of terror. The rebel resistance is scattered, and the gray caps are using human labor to build two strange towers. Against this backdrop, John Finch, who lives alone with a cat and a lizard, must solve an impossible double murder for his gray cap masters while trying to make contact with the rebels. Nothing is as it seems as Finch and his disintegrating partner Wyte negotiate their way through a landscape of spies, rebels, and deception. Trapped by his job and the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever." (Goodreads)

Jeff VanderMeer's Finch was a revelation. A noir detective novel with betrayals and rebellion and fear, but VanderMeer has written such an atmospheric tale that builds as part of a larger story of the rotting city of Ambergris while still welcoming newer readers. Finch is a must read.(my review) (Joe)

So, that's it. How might you define "Essential" science fiction and fantasy? What would you want to include on your list? What perspective would you consider taking in creating such a list?

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.

Monday, August 29, 2016

6 Books with Lauren Beukes

Photo Credit: Ulrich Knoblauch
Lauren Beukes is most famous in the science fiction and fantasy world as the author of four novels, including Shining Girls and Broken Monsters. But did you know that she has also written for comics, most famously in her outstanding run on Bill Willingham's Fables spinoff: Fairest AND she that has written for television and directed an award winning documentary (Glitterboys & Ganglands)? Beukes is currently adapting her novel Zoo City into a screenplay. She can do it all, folks.

Today she shares her 6 books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading?
I’m late to it, but Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is just remarkable. It’s a turbulent period of history I (shamefully) didn’t really know about Jamaica that breathes through its huge cast of characters. His skill with voice makes me really envious, you disappear into every perspective.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?
I can’t wait for Laurie Penny’s novella, Everything Belongs to the Future. I’m a huge fan of her switchblade-sharp journalism and non-fiction - you might have already read her terrifying gonzo behind-the-scenes at the Republican GOP party. With her insight into social issues and activism, I can’t wait to see what she does with speculative fiction!

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, about a troublesome teen girl shapechanger who apprentices herself to a not-quite-evil villain. I’ve read it to my seven year old about six times now, but it’s such a pleasure to go back to.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about - either positively or negatively?
I’ve had to recontextualize the way I feel about HP Lovecraft, knowing that the creeping dread of the other was informed by his grotesque-even-for-his-time racism. Ditto Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card who has revealed himself as a bigot and a homophobe. I’d love to be able to separate the art from the artist, but you can’t. It’s there, in the words.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?
The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. I read it in installments in 2000AD Monthly when I was 15, this wild, gritty, high adventure, fun and also often devastatingly bleak science fiction about a slum girl who wants to “go out”, be more than she is. I love V for Vendetta, Watchmen is perfect storytelling, but Halo Jones is my true love.

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?
This is a tough one! My first two novels, Zoo City and Moxyland have just been reissued by Mulholland with gorgeous new covers, so that’s technically my latest? I also have collection coming out this year, Slipping: Stories, Essays & Other Writing and the trade paperback (or graphic novel) of Survivors’ Club, the horror comic I co-wrote with Dale Halvorsen, with art by Ryan Kelly is out in time for Halloween. But what I’ve been working on is a new novel called Motherland, about a world where most of the male population have died, and a mom is trying to get her teenage son to a place of safety where he can be a human being rather than a sex object or a reproductive resource or lab rat. My last two novels dealt with serial killers and I felt like I’ve said all I want to say, for the moment, about murderous psychos, and I was tired of killing people. So, I solved it by killing 3.5 billion men instead! Motherland will be out next year.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Microreview [book]: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

A powerful must-read


I’m going to start off this review by admitting to a bias: I once stated aloud “Colson Whitehead is one of our greatest living writers.” I’ve not only read all of his books multiple times, but I also routinely try to force them onto other people. So I might be a little biased when I say that his latest is a great and important and powerful book. But, let’s make this very clear, I’m so ridiculously biased towards Colson Whitehead because he’s such a phenomenally talented writer. Each of his novels, starting with The Intuituonist and going up to Underground Railroad have been drastically different while still being beautifully and excitingly written.

Underground Railroad uses some tropes of genre, including alternated history and fable, to tell the story of Cora. Cora, a slave on a hellish Georgia plantation, decides to try escaping via the Underground Railroad. Here, though, in Whitehead’s intricately re-imagined past, the Railroad is an actual underground railroad, complete with tracks and locomotives. Here is one of the descriptions: “The locomotive was black, an ungainly contraption led by the triangular snout of the cow-catcher, though there would be few animals where this engine was headed.”  Once Cora begins her escape, she goes through a series of places on her way to freedom. The book jacket copy makes an allusion to Gulliver’s Travels and it’s an apt one. This feels like a mythic heroic travel narrative, but one that is grounded in the horrifyingly real.

One of the aspects about the novel that, for me, showed Whitehead’s brilliance the most was how he approached the awfulness of Cora’s situation. He never shies away from violence and the gruesome nature of people, but he also never revels in it. There are no gratuitous moments and, because of that, it is even more deeply shocking and horrific when awful things happen. We, as readers, are not allowed to get inured to what Cora’s life is like.

By the end of this novel, I was not only deeply moved but I also felt like I had been through something. There is beauty in the horrible world of the novel and there is power in Cora’s strength, but the novel also reminds us that we are always only a few steps away from history and from the horror that people can do to one another.

This is a novel that everyone should read. I hope it gains Whitehead all of the acclaim and spotlight that he deserves. I hope it also causes readers to reflect on the world we live in.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for gorgeously evocative writing and for using alternative history tropes to such amazing effect

Penalties: None, it's one of the best books I've read in years

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10 "

Reference: Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad [Doubleday, 2016]

POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday Morning Superhero

As we near the end of another beloved series, I feel like reflecting on series that I miss, but that ended things properly on their own terms.  In no particular order I salute The Sixth Gun, Y: The Last Man, Locke and Key, Mind MGMT, and Sweet Tooth.  I hold a special place on my bookshelf for you all and enjoy revisiting your stories on an annual visit.  Chew will find a place on that shelf soon, but other series that seem to overstay their welcome and moved on.

Pick of the Week:
Chew #57 - All of the pieces of this bizarre puzzle are starting to come together.  Either John Layman is a genius, or he is doing one amazing job at connecting the dots in one of my all-time favorite series.  We last left with Tony Chu having to eat Mason Savoy to gain his knowledge of the avian flu.  Amazingly enough, Layman managed to utilize various food based talents as the root of the cause.  This somehow brings together all of the various cibo-related individuals we learned about throughout this series and this issue brings us to the source of their powers.  I don't want to give Layman a big head, but the way that everything is coming together is mighty impressive. The only negative thing I can say about this issue is the final message conveyed to Chu from Savoy.  I am going to pretend that it isn't true and that somehow Chu will find an alternative.  From what Layman has hinted at on social media, I don't think anyone is going to survive this series.  I'm still bitter about Poyo.

The Rest:
Star Wars #22 - I had thought this series was starting to cool off, but then we are treated to a high-octane issue with an immensely satisfying payoff.  The Rebels are trying to sabotage a Star Destroyer with the assistance of the Millennium Falcon and its standard crew.  This issue feels like watching a classic Star Wars battle with near misses, X-Wings sadly going down, and Luke using the Force to guide his actions.  In order to avoid spoilers I won't spill the beans on the payoff, but this issue, which felt like a simple and fun action oriented issue, ends up being a huge strategic move by the Rebels that should pay dividends immediately.  

Dept. H #5 - Matt and Sharlene Kindt's murder mystery under the sea has really picked up in this issue.  There are a lot of suspects as to who had the means and motivation to murder Mia's father.  This issue really intensified things in terms of how far our culprit is willing to go to prevent Mia from getting to the bottom of things.  This series features and incredible story and the visuals that I've grown to love from Kindt.  His watercolor style is absolutely stunning and really adds an erie element that works incredibly well for this series.   A reader in the letters sections compared this book to Bioshock, and while there are stark differences, the haunting underwater vibe is very similar.

True Stories #2 - Derf Backderf has collected some of his comics from The City, ranging from 2009-2014.  I was introduced to Backderf's autobiographical style in the amazing My Friend Dahmer, his account of growing up with Jeffrey Dahmer (a Nerds of a Feather Best Comic of 2012!), and this book has a similar feel.  This book is a collection of one page comic strips of first or second-hand accounts of people watching.  It is a nice slice of life book in which we are all flies on the wall observing humanity and all of its flaws.  Good stuff.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Microreview [book]: Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Its greatest fault: being too short to develop its tantalizing ideas/relationships further!

Nagamatsu, Sequoia. Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone. Black Lawrence Press, 2016.
Buy it here.

As my dozens of fans worldwide are no doubt aware, I’m generally not a fan of short story anthologies. That’s because there are only two types of short stories: (1) short stories so good the reader laments their shortness, wishing for a longer treatment, and (2) bad short stories. Ultimately, why read either one? Needless to say, I went into this assignment (and, you know, all other assignments) with a snarky, judgmental attitude.

The one glimmer of promise for this volume is that it’s a self-anthology, i.e. all short stories by the same author whose order, presumably, was also carefully considered by same, so it’s not as though it’s a typical third-person ‘throw it all in—the readers will never know the difference’ anthology hack-job.

The opening story in the volume took some time for me to get used to, but once I did, it fell neatly into category (1) above. (Not to ruin the suspense of this page-turner of a review, but I’m happy to report that actually all the stories were category (1)’s!) My reason for liking this story, about a family torn apart (in one person’s case literally!) by ‘kaiju’ (mega-monsters like Godzilla, etc.), was not so much the Japanese pop culture subject matter, though I’ll be the first to admit I like that stuff, but because of the central mystery: how, in just a few pages, did Nagamatsu manage to make me care about the characters involved? It’s written in a whimsical, nonlinear manner, from multiple perspectives, and although one of the central characters in this family drama had, it turns out, died years earlier, somehow I felt myself choked up imagining the trauma of this loss on the surviving family members. If you’d told me beforehand that I’d be crying at the end of a few-thousand-word story, I’d have chortled (a word that doesn’t get used nearly enough) right in your face, but sure enough, that’s what happened.

And it kept happening, for almost the entire collection! I began to perceive certain patterns to the stories, or perhaps to Nagamatsu’s own preoccupations: nearly all the stories (except, e.g., the one about the neck-extending yōkai and the one about the Kappa) feature a three-person family from which one person has been (usually violently) ripped away, and the stories, their supernatural content notwithstanding, are really all about bereaved family members making sense of their trauma. So even if you’re not really into the notion of, say, ghost visitations by a dead son inspiring his father to make a special fireworks display, I think you’ll find the way the father and the mother separately deal with their loss quite touching.

But that doesn’t absolve Nagamatsu of responsibility for writing category (1) short stories: almost any of these stories, in my novel-tinged opinion, would be better as novellas or novels, because that would afford Nagamatsu greater space to develop these triangular relationships more fully. So we’re back where we started, in the frustrating limbo of short story-land…let’s hope Nagamatsu will escape next time into the fully-fledged playground of the novel, because I can say with certainty that his ideas are great, and deserve longer treatment!

The Math

Objective assessment: 7/10

+1 for introducing a (hopefully!) wide audience to many of the coolest Japanese folk tales and supernatural legends, i.e. Kappa, rokurokubi, and more;
+1 for somehow making me care, in only a few short pages, about characters literally just brought to life on the page a few moments before!
+1 for the dendrophilic name!

Penalties: -1 for letting all these good ideas wither on the stupid vine of short storydom
-1 for the impossible-to-abbreviate title (a.k.a., WWGWAWWIG)

Nerd coefficient: 8/10 “It’s a bit of all right” in Australian, “kinda awesome” in American, and probably something silly like “capital” or “gobsmackingly good” in ‘English’ 

[For those unfamiliar with our draconian scoring method, see here.]

This little fireside chat (with the caveat that I’m not currently anywhere near a fire, and am not, in fact, chatting with anyone either) was brought to you by Zhaoyun, purveyor of exquisite long-form fantasy & science fiction and yes, even (ugh) short stories since forever, and reviewer at NOAF since 2013.

Extra-special bonus: +1 to Zhaoyun for using ‘chortled’

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Obligatory Hugo Awards Reaction Essay

The winners for the 2016 Hugo Awards were announced on Saturday night and I would like to offer a hearty congratulations to all of the winners. I've listed them below and for those who don't quite remember who all was nominated, here is a link to the full list of finalists.

Best Novel: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Best Novella: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (
Best Novelette: “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, translated Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Issue 2)
Best Short Story: “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer ( Clarkesworld , Jan 2015)
Best Related Work: No Award
Best Graphic Story: The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Jessica Jones : “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer (Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Productions; Netflix)
Best Editor - Short Form: Ellen Datlow
Best Editor - Long Form: Sheila E. Gilbert
Best Professional Artist: Abigail Larson
Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
Best Fanzine: File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
Best Fancast: No Award
Best Fan Writer: Mike Glyer
Best Fan Artist: Steve Stiles
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo): Andy Weir

There is one other link I would like you to keep in mind as we go through this, which is the final results and statistics. I'll be using the information contained there quite a bit throughout this essay.

First things first: The Fifth Season won for Best Novel and I am beyond thrilled. Novel was an overall strong category (my thoughts) and Jemisin's novel was my pick of the bunch. Here's my review of The Fifth Season.

This is really cool because, besides the fact that I loved it, all the predictors were going to Naomi Novik's Uprooted. Uprooted would have been a strong choice and Ancillary Mercy was an excellent novel, but The Fifth Season is really something special as a fantasy novel and I am so glad that this book won. It's so damned good I want to gush about it to everyone.

So, I'm happy, right? The night ended on a high note and it was an overall excellent list of winners (Binti!) that we can all mostly be excited about and thrilled for. Right?

There's a reason I started this by talking about how excited I am about The Fifth Season winning a Hugo. I don't want to lose perspective here that the best fantasy novel I read last year won the award I care most about.

Throughout my category by category coverage of the Hugo Award finalists, I made a choice to not focus too much on how any given work was on the ballot (see, Novel), except in the instances where doing so would be unavoidable (see, Short Story). I wanted to focus on the work itself, because even though the Rabid Puppies placed 64 works from their slate onto the final ballot (before any withdrawals), as I said back in April, "this year the Rabid Puppies presented a cross section of works that are legitimately good and worthy...and works that are quite obviously there to represent a giant middle finger to people who care about the Hugo Awards".

The one unspoken thing that went through my mind while I looked at the work that did make the ballot, much of it through Rabid Puppy means, was "I wonder what isn't on the ballot because of this damned mess"

That link to the voting and nominating statistics I mentioned earlier? This is where it becomes important.

Let's look at the Novelette category,

Best Novelette (1975 Ballots)
And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, (Uncanny 1-2/15)
“Obits”, by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
“What Price Humanity?”, by David VanDyke (There Will Be War: Volume X)
“Flashpoint: Titan”, by Cheah Kai Wai (There Will Be War: Volume X)

 Four of the five finalists were on the Rabid Puppies slate, which is not news at this point, but what we didn't know for sure is that Brooke Bolander's story would have not been on the ballot except for Jonathan Moeller declining his nomination for "Hyperspace Demons", which would have made it 5/5.

So what happens if we take the Rabid Puppies out of the conversation?  Well, if we look at the nomination chart we use the 414 nominations Moeller received as our baseline for the category. King's "Obits" received 443, but it was also on my ballot, Cheah Kai Wai received 441 and David Van Dyke 437. I hesitate to say that Moeller would not have received any nominations on his own, but for the sake of this exercise we're going to use his number as the total number of RP nominators in this category.

Obits drops to 29, What Price Humanity to 23, and Flashpoint: Titan to 27. Folding Beijing, however, would still have 162 votes.

Novelette would have looked like this:
"Our Lady of the Open Road", by Sarah Pinkser (214)
"So Much Cooking", by Naomi Kritzer (196)
"Folding Beijing", by Hao Jingfang (162)
"Another Word for World", by Ann Leckie (157)
"The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild", by Catherynne M. Valente (157)

I'm not going to spend much time analyzing the category that could have been, but I will say that I loved the stories by Sarah Pinsker and Ann Leckie and nominated Pinsker's. "Our Lady of the Open Road" was also the Nebula Awards winner for Best Novellete. It's really damn good, folks. Go read it.

Whether you think this would be a stronger list of finalists than what actually made the ballot is up to personal preference, though my opinion is that this would have been a MUCH stronger category. When I wrote about the announced finalists in April, I said that I wasn't angry, I was just disappointed and this remains true. I am disappointed because a group of individuals are taking their nominating orders in lockstep from someone who has a stated goal of burning down and destroying the Hugo Awards and that he doesn't care about the awards.

For the most part, I don't play the game of deciding who is and is not a "fan" or a "true fan" or "any other kind of fan" of science fiction and fantasy. If you love these stories, even if they're not the stories I necessarily appreciate, you're a fan and you're as much of a fan as I am. We're just fans of different stuff. If you tell me that "What Price Humanity?" was your favorite science fiction story published in 2015, I believe you. It's not mine, but I believe you. Hell, "Obits" was near the top of my list and was the top of my Novellete ballot. Our tastes might not diverge as fully as you think.

But, and this is where I'm going to go against what I just said, if you're telling me that you nominated "If You Were an Award, My Love" for the Hugo Award was one of the five best fucking science fiction or fantasy short stories published in 2015...I don't think you're actually a fan of science fiction and fantasy. I don't think you can be. I don't think there is any way that "story" can be nominated for an award for "best" anything except as part of a concerted effort to tell Rachel Swirsky, John Scalzi, and anyone who gives a damn about science fiction, fantasy, and the Hugo Awards that we can all go collectively fuck ourselves because that's what the story is. It's a big middle finger to anyone who calls themselves a fan of science fiction and fantasy. And as much as you may legitimately hate and not understand the appreciation and love for "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", nominating "If You Were an Award, My Love" is saying that you're not seeking the best of genre, you're seeking to get even, to get yours. It's not the same thing.

This is also where the divergence of the Sad and Rabid Puppies was this year. "Sad" Puppies came together to talk about science fiction and fantasy, participate in the process, nominate their favorites, and complain about the finalists like everyone else does. Sounds like a fan to me. Let's call them fans and perhaps dispense with the puppy nonsense, shall we? Unless they want to continue to claim it, in which case, okay. The Rabid Puppies came together to take over an award, nominate some stuff that actually is really good and also nominate some stuff for no better purpose than to take a steaming dump on someone else's lawn and they did it as a disciplined group. That doesn't sound like a group of fans, does it? It sounds like a group which enjoys trying to break someone else's toys and make others feel bad. 

Let's look at the Short Story category.

Best Short Story (2451 Ballots)
Asymmetrical Warfare”, by S. R. Algernon (Nature 3/15)
"Cat Pictures Please", by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
The Commuter, by Thomas A. Mays (Stealth)
“Seven Kill Tiger”, by Charles Shao (There Will Be War: Volume X)
If You Were an Award, My Love”, by Juan Tabo & S. Harris ( 6/15)
Space Raptor Butt Invasion, by Chuck Tingle (self-published)

Once again, note that the declined nomination from Thomas Mays (after the announcement, this time) is what allowed eventual winner "Cat Pictures Please" to make the ballot. This time we're going to take 387 as the number of Rabid Puppies nominating in this category as that is the amount of the lowest RP nominee, "The Commuter". "Assymetrical Warfare" had 452 votes, "Seven Kill Tiger" had 424, and "If You Were an Award, My Love" had 398. I can make an argument than 398 is the number I should really use and that a number of Core Rabids were disinterested in Thomas Mays, but I don't think that 11 will make a huge difference.

Without RP participation, the Short Story category looks like this:
"Cat Pictures, Please", by Naomi Kritzer (367)
"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers", by Alyssa Wong (253)
"Wooden Feathers", by Ursula Vernon (200)
"Today I Am Paul", by Martin Shoemaker (189)
"Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer", by Megan Grey (181)

Again, I think this is a stronger category than what was on the final ballot as a result of the Rabid Puppies, but this time I think I am objectively correct because Short Story contained two stories intended as nothing more than a big middle finger to the genre community, such as it is. "Space Raptor Butt Invasion" was the other one, if you weren't sure. It's just that Chuck Tingle flipped the script by his good humor and positivity throughout the process. His story still ended up below No Award, as it should have been, but while the nomination remains a bit of a stain on the award if you look back from twenty years out, it is one that still backfired on the Rabid Puppies and gave fandom another ally (and one with a fantastic sense of humor). But talking about Chuck Tingle is an essay all on its own and really doesn't get into my overall wistfulness about the ballot that could have been.

I'm not familiar with "Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer", though I remember it being discussed around Sad Puppies 4. Look! Participating and nominating stuff you love can get it on the ballot! Well, it can, but when an organized group comes in, you don't get to see any of your favorite things unless that group just happens to also nominate them (like grabbing Daniel Polanksy's excellent The Builders in novella - great story, got caught up in the damn RP slate).

This also serves as your annual reminder that every vote matters. To get to a category that is near to my heart, if you take out the RP slate, Fanzine looks like this:

File 770
Lady Business
Journey Planet
A Dribble of Ink (in its final year of eligibility)
Rocket Stack Rank

A scant two nominations behind in sixth place, the venerable and now defunct SF Signal. Four nominations behind SF Signal, oh, a little blog called Nerds of a Feather!!  We're number 7! We're number 7!  Two nominations behind us, Mad Genius Club. Nominating matters, people. Not slating matters. Also, Black Gate might have also been in the mix for that final slot (they declined, after being on the RP slate)

So what's the takeaway here? There's nothing really new, except that way the Rabid Puppies attempted to stack the ballot was different and this year they used some more legitimate "shield" targets and as a general rule, the voters could tell the difference and voted accordingly. Abigail Larson is an excellent artist and does fantastic work. Unfortunately, Matthew Callahan in Fan Artist took a big hit as part of a the RP slate, but his Star Wars Galactic Warfighters project is one of the best things I've seen in this or any other year of fan art. He had my vote and the eventual winner (not part of RP) honestly doesn't measure up or belong in the same conversation even though they work in very different media. I wish the voters would have looked past the RP connection here for Callahan has they did in other categories.

I don't know that there is a takeaway, except to wonder if there will be a mess next year and if so, of what size and shape. I hope not. I hope that the people who care about the award will stay and play and those who don't will take their energy and interest somewhere else. It's disappointing when the conversation has to be so much about everything else except for the nominees and finalists because one person has enough followers to change the whole thing. 

Also, thank you very much for every one of the 60 people who nominated Nerds of a Feather. Thank you. Thank you.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Contributor Profile: Shana DuBois

The flock is growing! In a moment of introspection, we noticed a Shana sized hole in our collective hearts and knew immediately that we could not go on without trying to fill it. Happily for the flock, Shana DuBois agreed to come on board and fill that hole. 

Many of you know Shana from her contributions to the lamentably defunct SF Signal, her own blog BooksAbound, twitter (@booksabound), and Luna Station Quarterly. She is also relaunching the SF Signal Mind Meld at the Barnes and Noble Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog. What we're saying is that she's awesome and that we're really glad to have her here. 

So, please give Shana a hearty welcome. 

And - as per tradition, here is Shana's Contributor Profile.

NAME: Shana DuBois

SECRET UNDISCLOSED LOCATION: Tennessee (apt to change at any given moment)

NERD SPECIALIZATION(S): Short Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology & Fairy Tales

MY PET PEEVES IN NERD-DOM ARE: People looking down on other fandoms and the lack of diverse offerings in all genre mediums.

VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, ZOMBIES, ALIENS OR ROBOTS: Werewolves. Or maybe Vampires? Possibly Robots. Werewolves are definitely on the list. And Robots.

RIGHT NOW I'M READING: Hahahaha, the stack is massive. However, a few titles are: Los Nefilm (Frohock), The Devourers (Das), Goth (Otsuichi), Join (Toutonghi).

...AND A COUPLE BOOKS I RECENTLY FINISHED ARE: A Head Full of Ghosts (Tremblay), The Geek Feminist Revolution (Hurley), Heart of Veridon (Akers), The Vegetarian (Kang), Silver on the Road (Gilman).

NEXT TWO ON QUEUE ARE: Beyond Redemption (Fletcher) and The Telling (Sirowy)

MY FAVORITE SUPERHERO AND SUPER-VILLAIN ARE: Storm has always been my favorite superhero. My favorite super-villain would be tied between Loki and the Joker.

IF I WERE A SUPERHERO/VILLAIN, MY POWER WOULD BE: The same shifting powers as Mystique.

THE BEST COMIC FILM OF THE PAST 5 YEARS IS: Guardians of the Galaxy and Green Lantern. Two very different movies and I enjoyed both.



I JUST WATCHED [FILM Y] AND IT WAS TERRIBLE: This is harder for me to pin down because if a movie looks like it will be crap I don't waste time watching it. Batman v Superman falls into this category.

EVERYONE SHOULD SEE [FILM Z] BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE: Raise the Red Lantern. I first saw this film nearly twenty years ago and it remains one of the most powerful films I've seen. It can be hard to track down but worth it.

BEST SCIENCE/SPECULATIVE FICTION SHOW OF THE PAST 10 YEARS: Because of the recent airing of Season 10 for X-Files I am going to make the executive decision to allow its inclusion for the 10 year limitation.

WORSE ENDING--LOST OR BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: Brace yourself...I haven't watched either series.


GAME OF THRONES--LIKE OR DISLIKE DEVIATIONS FROM THE BOOKS: While I own the seasons, I have yet to watch them all so I can't yet comment on deviations.