Thursday, July 9, 2020

Nanoreviews: In the Shadows of Men, Goldilocks, Endgames

Bennett, Robert Jackson. In the Shadows of Men [Subterranean]

I wish I was more familiar with Bennett's earliest work (Mr. Shivers, American Elsewhere, The Company Man) because I don't quite know if In the Shadows of Men is more of a return to Bennett's origins or a stretching in bold new directions. Readers who primarily know Robert Jackson Bennett from his Divine Cities trilogy will be in quite a surprise for realistically bleak this novella is.

Set in our world, in the wreckage of the modern oil boom, In the Shadows of Men is story of brothers and a past almost better left buried. This isn't a novella to read before bed because the combination of how Bennett hints at the supernatural and reveals an absolutely horrific family history is, well, not to overuse the word brutal, but brutal.

If it matters, it is never quite clear if this is fully in genre or if it is straddling a line in ways that some of Stephen King's work does - and the comparison to King is particularly apt.
Score: 8/10

Lam, Laura. Goldilocks [Headline]

It's interesting and always fun when you go into a novel knowing not much more than "space" and "that's a nice cover" only to find that it exceeded your most optimistic hopes. Folks, Goldilocks is fantastic! If you like rogue missions to colonize another planet, long space journeys, dying Earth stories, feminist dystopias, and just more space - you're likely to love Goldilocks as much as I did.

The publisher describes Goldilocks as a "bold and thought provoking new thriller for readers of The Martian and The Handmaid's Tale" and while the Andy Weir comparison seems more to say "spaaaaaace" and not much more, it is really the feminist dystopia that is the underpinning of Goldilocks, of the rights and expectations gradually stripped away day by day. Margaret Atwood is the big budget comparison, but Goldilocks hits the power and fear of more modern dystopias such as Red Clocks and Before She Sleeps (among many others). We can see how close we are to the edge, how few nudges it would take for the United States to start stripping rights away - and that's what Laura Lam is working around, why it was important for those women to steal the spaceship.

Goldilocks flips between the voyage and various events back before the launch. It's absolutely engrossing and I highly recommend Goldilocks.
Score: 8/10

Modesitt, Jr, L.E. Endgames [Tor]

While I would not normally recommend starting a series at Book 9 (Madness in Solidar) and then continuing on without ever going back to the first eight, Modesitt has a trend in his long running series to write particular story arcs set at different times in a world's history - so Madness in Solidar through Endgames has formed an extended story arc set fairly well in the middle of the overall Imager chronology. I just don't know what references from the earlier and later set novels these books are expanding on, what little miscellany might be given richer detail.

After plots and shenanigans, the new ruler of Solidar is a young man who hadn't expected to ascend to the position for many years, but assassination waits for no man. The core of Endgames is Charyn, the new Rex of Solidar, working desperately to do his best for Solidar and quell the simmering anger between workers and manufacturing owners - and in the process, save his own life. If that sounds overly political and down in the weeds, well, Endgames is not the place to begin reading Modesitt's Imager novels. There are numerous starting points (Imager, Scholar, Madness in Solidar, heck - even Assassin's Price), but this is not one. Endgames is the conclusion of both a four book arc as well as a slightly tighter two novel arc focused on Charyn.

Readers familiar with Modesitt's slow build know what to expect here. Endgames lives on characterization and gradual reveals, on the reader willing to dive deeply into the politics of not only a city, but into the ethics of choice and of action, on a good man trying to do the right thing in the face of increasingly impossible odds that might cost his life but is worth doing all the same because there really is no choice. Endgames is pure Modesitt, and that is a delight indeed.
Score: 7/10

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Reading the Hugos: Related Work

Welcome back to Reading the Hugos. Today we continue our series on the 2020 finalists with a look at Related Work.
3.3.6: Best Related Work. Any work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year or which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category
Related Work is a hodge podge of a catch-all category. It’s for work that is primarily non fiction and that is related to science fiction and fantasy, and which is not otherwise eligible elsewhere on the ballot. The history of the category will see critical works next to art books next to encyclopedias next to podcasts next to essays next to speeches next to documentaries next to websites. There may also be a single blog post competing and winning in the category. In this case of this year there is one memoir, two critical biographies, one documentary, another biography (though not a critical one like the other two) and an acceptance speech. Related Work is an interesting cross section of another side of the genre and another side of fandom.

  • Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood, by J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)
  • Joanna Russ, by Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press (Modern Masters of Science Fiction))
  • The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)
  • The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)
  • “2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, by Jeannette Ng
  • Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, produced and directed by Arwen Curry

Photo Credit "naye" @unnaye
2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech: In 2012 an acceptance speech from the editors of The Drink Tank fanzine (Christopher Garcia and James Bacon) was a finalist for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Up against three episodes of Doctor Who and one of Community, it didn't win (the Neil Gaiman penned "The Doctor's Wife did). So, it's interesting that Jeannette Ng's Campbell Award acceptance speech was nominated as a Related Work this year - though it does fit somewhat better here than in Dramatic Presentation. The Drink Tank also would have fit better in that year's Related Work category, matched up against Seanan McGuire's Wicked Girls album and a season of the Writing Excuses podcast, but that isn't really here nor there.

Jeannette Ng won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer last year and her speech was fiery, inflammatory, and absolutely perfect for the moment. You can read it or watch it if you need a refresher on what Ng said, but if you pay attention to the genre at all (if you're a reader of Nerds of a Feather and follow the Hugo Awards) you're probably already aware of it.

Ng's speech is important. It crystallized conversation within the genre that has been taking place for a number of years and was the final push that helped drive the change of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. That was an important and necessary change that ever so gradually moves the field forward and Ng's acceptance speech was a significant part of that change (though not the whole).

It seems that honoring Ng's acceptance speech here is a recognition of what the speech did more than what the speech was. Ng's speech was passionate, but it was not necessarily the best piece of genre related work from last year. What Jeannette Ng's speech did, however, that was vital and likely merits its inclusion here.

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein: I wonder if I was more familiar with Heinlein's work if I would have appreciated this more. The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein is a scholarly look at the works (and partially the life) of Heinlein. Farah Mendelsohn digs deep into Heinlein's work and examines his attitudes and beliefs as presented in the text - whether it is on guns or race or equality and the answers are more complex and surprising than a cursory understanding of Heinlein might suggest.

This is a major biography of one of the giants of the genre's history and it lives up to its billing. Unfortunately for me, I've only read Starship Troopers and Job and have no familiarity with any of Heinlein's short fiction - and that's left the The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein to be a bit of a dry tome. On the other hand, Paul Weimer reviewed the biography last year and described it as an "essential volume of genre criticism", which is certainly true.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin: I've joked with Adri the last couple of years about there always being another Ursula K. Le Guin work eligible for the ballot and there always will, whether it is a work you could reasonably consider being created by Le Guin or "simply" about her and her work. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is this year's / last year's Le Guin.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin also happens to be a rather excellent documentary and is engrossing from minute one to the end. I watched it back in August 2019, so my memories are a little fuzzy - but what I remember most clearly is that it was one of the best genre related documentaries I was likely to watch. It's a thoughtful film of a thoughtful writer and I won't be surprised if it wins this year - especially after Le Guin won Related Work in 2017, 2018, was a finalist in 2019 and her illustrated Earthsea book won for Art Book based on the illustrations of Charles Vess. It's the late resurgence of non-fiction Le Guin.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: If you haven't paid much attention to the history of animation in the United States (or even if you have), you may not have heard of Milicent Patrick - one of the first female animators at Disney and the primary creature of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon has a dual narrative - the triumphs and drama of Patrick's life, as much as could be gleamed from limited records, and that of Mallory O'Meara's quest to discover what she could of Patrick's life. There's as much story in the discovery as there is in Milicent Patrick herself. As such, this is a less traditional biography but is an effective way to tell the story of a woman so central to monster movies and yet so erased. It seems that Milicent Patrick never quite shared the sense of loss for the career she could have had if only she had any real institutional support for her skill and her craft - but Mallory O'Meara conveys it all the same - it's a loss that occurs time and again in so many fields.

Joanna Russ: I can be a sucker for an accessible critical biography and that is exactly what Gwyneth Jones has delivered with this look at Joanna Russ. This is a deep dive into the work of Joanna Russ, not quite into her personal life and Jones examines the scope of Russ's career.

In her earlier review of this volume, Adri wrote "Jones's reading of The Female Man, in particular, was interesting in the way it presented a radically different lens than the one I had read the novel in, taking the different aspects of the Joanna personality as a reading of identity across time rather than dimensions. It's a reading which brings Russ into conflict with her own identity as an SFF writer and Jones doesn't hold back from the implications of that reading, tracing it throughout the rest of her work and noting where the seeds come in at earlier points. If, like me, you don't often approach literature from a strongly academic lens, some of this will probably be well in the realms of "well I'd never thought of it like that", but it never comes across as particularly prescriptive or inherently dismissive to other readings, so I was able to enjoy the different ways of thinking about the texts rather than feeling put in my place by them, as is always the risk with more academic takes."

I generally agree with Adri's take here, both in her wishes about more of Joanna Russ's conversations with other writers, as well the general appreciation of the breadth of this volume. It's exceptional.

Becoming Superman: For more than half of this book I came out of each chapter wanting to give J. Michael Straczynski a hug. If someone made a movie of his life and incorporated his childhood and then his family's backstory, it would be unbelievable. Straczynski's childhood is just about as bad as it can get, and yet each time a revelation about his family comes up - it gets even worse.

The good thing is that we know from the subtitle that this is his "journey from poverty to Hollywood" and we know as science fiction fans that he is the creator of Babylon Five, winner of two Hugo Awards and a finalist for two others. We know that he makes it out and he is successful. Becoming Superman is an incredible story and Straczynski keeps it engaging the entire time. He never shies away from the worst, but the worst never overpowers either - possibly because we know there is a better life ahead.

My Vote
1. Becoming Superman
2. Joanna Russ
3. The Lady of the Black Lagoon
4. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin
5. The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein
6. 2019 John W. Campbell Acceptance Speech

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Interview: Ariela Housman

Congratulations to Ariela Housman, for her Hugo nomination for best fan artist!

Ariela Housman discovered her love of calligraphy at a young age.  While still a teenager, she interned at an art studio that specialized in Judaica artwork.  She's been doing freelance calligraphy and scifi-fantasy freelance artwork ever since, often combining the two.   In 2015, Housman and her best friend Terri Ash started Geek Calligraphy,  where most of Housman's artwork is currently displayed and available for purchase.  Ash is happy to take the blame for Housman's recent addiction to steampunk.

In her artwork, Housman combines traditional inked calligraphy with very modern sayings and slogans, as can be seen in her Geeky Professional Oaths artwork, and if you're looking for something that appears even more old fashioned, look no further than her Illuminated First pages.  She combines words that published within the last few years, with artwork styles that have been taught for centuries.

In 2019, Housman and Ash proposed changes to the rules for the Hugo award for best fan artist, specifically, what counts as "on display"?   What if artists are unable to attend events, where their artwork will be on display?  Does going viral on twitter count as "on display"?  As the ways in which fans interact with artwork changes, shouldn't our rules change to match?

Housman was kind enough to answer my nerdy questions about how she got started in calligraphy, training to be  calligrapher of Jewish marriage documents (Ketubot) and other Judaica, why the current rules for the Hugo for best Fan Artist should be amended, and much more.

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: What media do you typically work in? (paints, pen and ink, digital, mixed media, etc) How did you first get started working with these materials?

Ariela Housman: I usually work in ink and watercolor. I have been working with both of them since age 10. My parents bought me a set of watercolor pencils for my 10th birthday, and I got my first calligraphy lesson in art class at my school the same year.

NOAF: How would you describe your art style?

AH: When I am not working with pure calligraphy, I gravitate to art nouveau.

NOAF: What led you to create art that speaks to science fiction and fantasy fans?

AH: I started my professional art career as a calligrapher of Jewish marriage documents (ketubot), which are usually decorated with art as well as nice writing. In the space of 18 months, I got two requests for ketubot with Star Trek art, one for Star Wars, one for zombies, and one for Steampunk. I realized there was an extremely niche market that was unfilled and got to work. Eventually I started doing other art prints that were not marriage documents.

NOAF: Do you have a piece or grouping of pieces in your Hugo voter packet that is especially meaningful to you? Can you tell us the story behind it?

AH: "Lady Astronaut Nouveau" and "Dragon Naturalist Nouveau" are, in some senses, a set. Both feature Jewish women who fought for their right to be included and recognized in their field. It was a privilege to get to work in the universes of authors whose work I had greatly enjoyed and to get to put my own interpretation of their characters out there with their blessing.

NOAF: How did Geek Calligraphy get started? How do you come up with all the funny (and serious) phrases? And . . . am I seeing the train cars from Ticket to Ride on the "Families that Game Together" print??

AH: When I was 17, I apprenticed at Caspi Cards and Art. That's where I learned to write ketubot. Mickie Caspi, the artist, told me that the secret to her success in the business was that she had a partner who managed the business side of things. Geek Calligraphy was founded on that model, with me as the artist and my best friend, Terri Ash, as the business manager. Terri used to work at a Judaica store where she handled most of their orders for ketubot, so she knows about the retail end of things that I don't. We have complementary skill sets. Getting to work with my best friend was a happy bonus.

When working on one of our Oaths, I tend to email a bunch of people in the relevant field and ask them to tell me about some of the common frustrations in their vocation/hobby/calling. I try to turn those into short, humorous sentences and then run them by my "test audience" again for feedback. The Judaica quotes tend to be something I come up with and run by Terri.

And yes, those are Ticket to Ride train cars in the "Families that Game" print. There are also a meeple from Carcassone, a settlement token and a city token from Catan, some Monopoly pieces, and many more.

NOAF: I was thrilled to see that you do Ketubot, I wish I knew about you when my husband and I were getting ready to get married! I am so fascinated by contemporary religious calligraphic artwork! Is there special training or certification involved with making Ketubot and Mezuzah parchments?

AH: There is no certification necessary to make ketubot. As long as the officiant of the wedding is okay with the text, you're good. Mezuzot, on the other hand, are subject to a lot of strictures in Jewish law (halaḥah) about how they are written, on what, with what, etc. The term for someone who can write mezuzot, as well as the parchments of tefillin and Torah scrolls is "Sofer/et ST"aM," which stands for Sifrei torah, Tefillin, Mezuzot. Sofer is the male title, Soferet is the female title; Hebrew is a gendered language and totally fails at anything gender-neutral. There is no formal accreditation program for that; you apprentice with an experienced Sofer/et and when they say that you are ready to begin work, then you do. I did my apprenticeship for STa"M with Soferet Jen Taylor Friedman.

NOAF:  You run Geek Calligraphy with Terri Ash, and at Worldcon in Dublin in 2019, Terri submitted a very important amendment that could drastically change the rules in regards to what artwork is Hugo eligible. Can you tell us about the amendment, and what led Terri to submit it?

AH: The current rules for the Best Fan Artist category are ambiguous. They read:

The work by which artists should be judged is not limited to material published in fanzines. Material for semiprozines or material on public displays (such as in convention art shows) is also eligible.

This can be read narrowly, that only work in fanzines, semiprozines, and convention art shows is eligible, or widely, that anything "on public display" is eligible. When I was nominated last year, I was told by the Hugo Administrator that Lady Astronaut Nouveau could not be submitted in my portfolio for the 2019 Hugo Awards as it had only been displayed on the internet, not in a convention art show. "I'm afraid that the rules exclude pieces that have only been displayed online" was the exact quote.

We both found the idea that the internet did not count as a public display to be ludicrous. Terri put together that amendment as a band-aid on that particular problem.

Both of us agree that the Fan Artist and Professional Artist categories need to be seriously updated. As you may have noticed, I sell my art, but I am eligible in the Best Fan Artist category rather than the Best Professional Artist category. The category definition for Best Professional Artist refers to the definition of "professional" further up the page, but that definition only lays out what professional means for publications, not for individuals, leaving the impression that only art published in one of those publications is professional. Redefining the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist categories entirely was too big a task for Terri to manage before the 2019 Worldcon, so Terri put this forward as a stop-gap fix.

NOAF: thank you so much!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Interview: Iain J. Clark

Congratulations to Iain J Clark, for your Hugo Nomination for best fan artist! 

If you were at the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin, you've seen Iain J. Clark's artwork.  He created a lot of the promotional artwork for that Worldcon, including the Souvenir Book.  If you enjoy fan art of franchises such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, and The Expanse, oh boy are you gonna have a great time at Clark's website,!  You can also follow Iain on twitter, @IainJClark.

On top of all the SFNal artwork he does, Clark is also involved with creating artwork for the Professor Howe parody books, which raise money for BBC Children in Need. He has also been a film and TV reviewer for Strange Horizons.  At home, Clark works hard to make sure his young daughters are raised on a proper diet of Doctor Who and other SFF.

Clark was kind enough to answer my questions about the promotional artwork he did for Dublin2019 and the souvenir book,  blending digital and traditional media,  the wonderful fantasy he grew up reading, and much more.

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: What media do you typically work in? (paints, pen and ink, digital, mixed media, etc) How did you first get started working with these materials?

Iain J. Clark: There are a lot of really good artists out there. I mean, really good. Inferiority-complex-inducingly good. For years I shied away from painting because I was constantly measuring myself up to those people, professionals and fans alike. I think it's because I'm mainly self-taught and painting felt worryingly like something that "proper" artists did. Pencils and Inks were my comfort zone, and I was working exclusively in those until 2015, when everything changed.

It started when my friend Emma England asked me to draw a picture of a Kraken attacking the Samuel Beckett bridge for the Dublin 2019 Worldcon bid. I duly created an ink drawing which they loved (phew!), and because they wanted to use it in adverts I had a go at colourising it in Photoshop. (I used the comic book technique of 'flats' to mask areas of the image and apply colour and texture to them.) I was still determined to avoid the TERROR of proper painting so I created acrylic washes and paint splatters on watercolour paper, scanned them in and blended them onto my art digitally. I still prefer the black and white version of that drawing but those textures were my first tentative step towards painting.

Dublin didn't know how to get rid of me after that. I kept chucking more and more pieces of art at them and they kept politely accepting them until they gradually disappeared under a big heap of unsolicited art. Gradually the painted parts of my work became more and more substantial. It was a critical mass of increasing confidence and becoming frustrated with how long it was taking me to photoshop everything together. I remember I'd done an ink drawing of a Kraken tentacle grabbing a Dublin banner (Jurassic Park style) and ended up repainting the entire tentacle in acrylics, and I suddenly thought "maybe a full painting is something I'm ready to do. . ." I've never looked back. Not all of them have been great by any means. I still feel like I'm learning constantly, with plenty of false starts, trial and error, but that journey culminated with the painted cover to the Dublin 2019 Souvenir Guide which is an opportunity I grabbed with both hands and something I'm very proud of.

These days I work mainly in acrylic paints and acrylic inks with occasional forays into oil paints, but I still keep my hand in on the pencils and inks though. In fact I just did an inked piece for use in a colouring competition run by the Glasgow bid.

NOAF: How would you describe your art style?

I.J.K.: I'm still metaphorically and also literally throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. I'm slowly starting to find what works for me in each medium, settling on approaches that I like. For example I've been gravitating towards very dilute acrylics and acrylic inks in washes, using acrylics almost like watercolour. I’ve participated in the online Inktober event for the last couple of years which forces you to work quickly in a lot of different styles and I've found that quite creatively helpful, although I never make it much past halfway through the month before I get burned out! I also do plenty of fan art in all types of media, and that’s great because it lets me just do whatever I'm feeling, lots of smaller pieces where I can try things out.

I find have an instinctive tendency towards adding detail, which is not always where I would like to be artistically. Like many artists, the stuff I admire is often the stuff I'm bad at. I'm wary of making art that's too 'stiff'. I admire economy of style, the ability to deftly convey detail without slavishly recreating it. I don't think I’m ever going to be 100% that artist, but it's an aspiration in my head, and I've been enjoying working more loosely.

NOAF:  What led you to create art that speaks to science fiction and fantasy fans?

I.J.C.: I grew up with science fiction and fantasy. I can't really remember it not being there. I learned to read for pleasure with the Doctor Who Target novelisations from the local library. As a teenager it was Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur C Clarke, Barbara Hambly, Bob Shaw, David Eddings, Jennifer Roberson, Raymond Feist . . . I gulped them all down.

Some of my earliest artistic inspirations were the covers to those old Doctor Who books; I used to dream of following in the footsteps of people like Chris Achilleos and Andrew Skilleter. I also remember being in awe of John Ridgway's stunning work on the Doctor Who comics, Tim Bradstreet's art for the Vampire: The Masquerade role playing game and Vertigo's Hellblazer comic, and Jerome Moore’s covers for Star Trek: The Next Generation comics. The earliest art of mine that I still own is my Doctor Who fan art as a teenager - mostly not very good! I did a lot of Star Trek art in my late teens, some of which has been declared sufficiently not embarrassing to find its way onto my website. Later I worked on art for my University's roleplaying society. I think it’s fair to say I was a nerd. Okay, am a nerd.

NOAF: Do you have a piece or grouping of pieces in your Hugo voter packet that is especially meaningful to you? Can you tell us the story behind it?

I.J.C: Apart from the Dublin souvenir cover which I’ll talk about later I’m very fond of the 'Girder Dragon' image for the Glasgow In 2024. I was asked by the Chair, Esther McCallum-Stewart, for an iconic image to use on banners and flyers and I was drawn to Scotland's distinctive blend of mythology and industrial heritage. I ended up creating a dragon (or Nessie if you prefer!) out of twisted girders against a vivid sunset. The girders were quite complex to visualise, so much so that I ended up making a 3D model out of foam which I glued together and then twisted and contorted until I found the right shapes. That was a new approach for me! The sky is based on a photo I took but it was originally going to be a much more conventional painting of sunlit clouds and it just wasn’t working. In frustration I started playing around with great dollops of acrylic ink in vivid colour, swirling them around so they flowed into each other. It felt a little bit heart-in-mouth, working more or less on instinct before the paint dried, but it was one of those magical times when you hit on something that works and it carries you through to the end. I don't know if it’s my best painting or not but it was very satisfying to create.

NOAF: You created a lot of promotional artwork for the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin. Did the convention give you any prompts or suggestions for what images they were looking for?

I.J.C.: In the main, no. I mentioned the Kraken piece which got everything started but otherwise they were very hands off. They did brainstorm a lot of ideas, many of which I took on board, but they were kind enough to let me follow my instincts in what I produced. That’s the advantage of working on a volunteer-run endeavour!

I was very conscious of not being Irish myself and feeling like a bit of an English interloper (culturally at any rate; I still consider myself more European at heart!) I was cautious about blundering into something horribly stereotypical and "oirish", which I have hopefully avoided. There is such a rich mythological heritage in Ireland as well as the more concrete imagery of Dublin. I did Selkie, Sidhe, the Morrigan, the Salmon of Knowledge, Neolithic monuments, various Dublin landmarks, and I still barely scratched the surface!

NOAF: I love the Souvenir Book cover you created for Dublin 2019, how did you decide on the final design? What can you tell us about the uniquely Irish imagery that is this painting?

I.J.C.: Thank you! I'd used a lot of mythological images from Ireland in the course of my virtual 'residency' with them and since this was to be the cover of the main convention guide it felt like it had to encapsulate all of that somehow in one image. I worked with Sara Felix to narrow down ideas and the concentric circle design came from a desire to produce almost a collage of different aspects of Irish culture. The concept is of moving outward from the convention centre, the CCD, where the Worldcon was held, to the River Liffey beside it, out into Dublin with the stunning library at Trinity College, out again to the Neolithic carvings at Newgrange, then the ocean, the island of Ireland and the curve of the Earth, and on to the moon and deep space. In and amongst those circles are a raven, a Selkie (a seal that can shed its skin to become a woman), and a dragon. I originally had more creatures, including the Salmon of Knowledge again, but it was becoming far too busy!

NOAF: Among the other galleries on your website is a Doctor Who artwork gallery, my favourites are Inktober 2019: Time Lord and Spirit of Adventure. Do you have a favourite Doctor, or favorite character from the show? Are there any Doctor Who characters who were especially challenging to paint?

I.J.C.: While it's not quite true that there's no bad Doctor Who I do sort of love it all. I've painted or drawn most of the Doctors and many of the companions at this point. I grew up with Tom Baker's Doctor, but my favourite Doctors are probably Patrick Troughton and Matt Smith. In terms of art, Peter Capaldi is one I've returned to quite often and he’s such a pleasure to draw. I'm also a fan of Jodie Whittaker and the current era is always going to get some artistic love. It did take me a few goes to get her face right though: Capaldi's face is a craggy map full of landmarks and hers is more subtle, but also really expressive. I think she really clicked for me when I stopped trying to channel all the serene promo images and just painted her mid-"Scronch", nose all wrinkled, giving it some attitude. I love mixing her up with the classic show; there’s the one you reference with the 'badass' Time Lord collar, and I've also pitted her against Ice Warriors on Peladon and the Giant Robot K-1.

I'm also a huge fan of The Expanse and I've done several fan paintings for that, which were exhibited (with lots of other talented people's) at the Season 4 fan launch party.

NOAF: Thank you so much! 

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.

Friday, July 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 2, 2020

New Books Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princess Sun has finally come of age.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Morning Superhero: Free Comic Book Summer

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

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

Shipping July 15:

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

Shipping July 22:

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

Shipping July 29:

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

Shipping August 5:

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

Shipping August 12:

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

Shipping August 19:

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

Shipping August 26:

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

Shipping September 2:

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

Shipping September 9:

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Microreview [Book]: Driftwood by Marie Brennan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

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

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

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

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

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

Reading the Hugos: Short Story

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

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

Let's take a look at the finalists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reading the Hugos: Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's take a look at the finalists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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