Friday, January 22, 2021

Microreview [book]: The Mask of Mirrors by M A Carrick

An epic fantasy that sets a high bar for itself, and winningly meets its own standards.

On the mean streets of the Venice-inspired city of Nadezra, young Ren’s life is not a good one. Under the thumb of the criminal Ondrakja, her existence is precarious and dependent on her capricious moods. Is it any wonder that she takes decisive action to get her and her siblings to escape, by poisoning her? 

Now, years later, Ren is back. Now she’s an adult, and with Tess, her skills have morphed into con artistry of a high order. She has a plan for wealth and power by targeting the weak and precarious noble family of Treamentis. Once the Treamentis was one of the leading families of Nadezra, but they have fallen on very hard times, a crumbling ruin of their former glory. But by posing as Renata Viraudax, a daughter of Letilia, a family member who fled long ago, Ren can infiltrate herself into high society and make some good coin. She has enough inside knowledge of “Renata’s” mother that she can socially engineer this. And as the Gods as her witness, she will never go hungry again. But it is a tough assignment, the Treamentis family are wary even given Renata’s polished patter, a local crime lord turned respectable businessman is suspicious of Ren, and just what are a number of the city nobles up to?

But that's not all by half. Ren’s major problem, unbeknownst to her, is that as she tries to infiltrate and fleece the family, she will be drawn, despite herself, into a plot that could topple the entire city, and everyone, including Ren, within it. There are dark forces afoot indeed. Ren is no hero, but when the city of her birth is existentially threatened, she might have to become one, like it or not.

This is the story of M. A. Carrick's - the pen name for authors Alyc Helms and Marie Brennan - The Mask of Mirrors.

Let’s set this up as a three card spread of Pattern Reading. In Nadezra, the tarot-like cards are used for fortune telling. There is the standard nine card spread, and then there is the simpler and more straightforward three card spread. The book goes into detail regarding this, as it forms a strong strand of the worldbuilding and the plot as well. Cards have positive and negative aspects, adding to the complexity of a potential reading, and providing maneuver room for interpretation. So where did this book come from, where does it stand in the course of this review, and where is it going?

The Face of Flame:

Making Something, pouring their heart and soul in the endeavor

This book is, very clearly, a labor of love from the two authors. This is the authors giving their all to characters and a world, not stinting on any of the good parts, putting it all out there and hoping that it is good enough and that it will resonate with readers. From the complex and complicated worldbuilding, to the richly described verse we have here, to the strong central character of Ren, it is clear that the authors decided to shoot for the moon. 

The Mask of Mirrors.

And here we come to my review and a rather appropriate card, being the title of the book itself. There is a lot I want to talk about in this review, and yet there is a lot I feel I should withhold, as that pleasant surprise for readers. There are plenty of pleasant secrets, lies, revelations, and things uncovered in the novel that it would be difficult for me to spoil everything and everything about it.

Sisters Victorious.

Rise to the Challenge. Reach inside for Strength. The negative side works well to talk about here. This book started as something that seemed insurmountable--something written for fun between Alyc and Marie. It was not something that I think anyone imagined could become a real life book--and yet, they rose to the challenge, reached inside for strength and now have a series to write. Can they build on the success of something they started for each other for fun into a series?

I’ve already mentioned Ren in the context of her posing as Renata Viradaux, but Ren is a complicated character. In the keeping of “threes” as being a foundational number, there are really three Rens.. There is the Ren of her youth, the thieving urchin. There is Ren in her guise as the noble Renata. And then there is her alternate  guise as Arenza, a fortuneteller of the Pattern. Her deck of cards, the only thing she has of her deceased mother, is not only a totemic object for her, but it seems that it has power of its own--or is it that Renata herself does? As the titular Mask of Mirrors card indicates, there are plenty of secrets and revelations in this novel. Many of them swirl around Ren, and we get flashbacks to her life on the street in addition to the opening sequence that sets her early life in the city, and provides the foundation for both of the present day Rens...and more than harkens back to her past in current events. 

Three is indeed a magic number. Three members of Ren’s adoptive family (herself, Tess and Sedge -- and can we talk about the interesting worldbuilding we have in this novel about families, both by blood and by choice) Three cards to the short spread. Nine (three threes) for the longer spread. Three living members of the Treamentis family that Ren is trying to infiltrate--Matriarch Donaia, and her children Leato and Giuna. Other numbers, particularly two and five, resonate throughout the novel. The authors do a great job with these patterns and structures and the more I read, the more I found, and I encourage you to do the same. Quaerendo Invenietis!

So let’s talk about Nadezra and the world the authors have created. Nadezra has a base chassis that is definitely meant to invoke Renaissance italy. Canals, masks (an important part of the culture), an entrepot of a port that connects far flung places, a oligarchy of powerful families in control, (a moon to the distant sun of other powers, Nadezra starts off with that chassis and then runs with it in fantastic invention. There are a number of magic systems and magic elements to the city--from the aforementioned Pattern cards through relatively inexpensive magics common to the city, to curses (and their removal)  to the geometric numinatria, geometric magics that range all the way from the small to complex and strange rituals that can affect the entire city. There is no one single magic structure here, there is a variety of them coming into contact, a reflection and a metaphor for the two cultures and peoples that make up the city. The authors reflect the worldbuilding of the local population and the ruling elite and their relationship and cast that across not only social relations, but magic, belief systems, and more. Nadezra is a much more socially complicated place than that original inspiration of Venice (or, frankly, a lot of other fantasy cities which are also inspired by Venice). The undercurrents of competing cultures and power create a rich tapestry for the city and its characters.

And such characters. Ren with her tripartite aspects is the center of the novel, and forms a trio with her found family Tess and Sedge. The Treamentis form another nexus of characters, in and of themselves even beyond Ren’s attempt to insert herself into that family. Then there is Vargo, a criminal gangster turned respectable businessman, or attempting to be the same. He is very much like a Wilson Fisk character who is trying to shed his disreputable past and insert himself in the upper echelons of society. He has an uphill climb, not only because he is a lower class Vraszen trying to be part of the dominant minority Liganti upper crust and so there is a double barrier there to his rise. Vargo was for me the most fascinating character beyond Ren herself, and he has complexity and depth to match. A novel of the events here with him as  primary, rather than secondary point of view would be fascinating (although it would prematurely reveal some of the mysteries about him that we get as the novel unfolds). The authors provide a variety of other characters from across the spectrum of societies, with interlocking and interdependent relationships. The world of the novel is very queer friendly as well, and this is a tolerance that is baked in on all levels of society. This is simply a world where queerness is normalized and accepted. 

The plotting is clockwork. While our entry into the world is Ren's impersonation, it is through that and the other characters that the greater overarching plot, and its elements, slowly become clear, an interlocking series of gears. By the time the reader (and Ren) is immersed into her own plot, she is also interlaced into the main plot, and with the reader joins the main story, and takes action. There is plenty of action and adventure to go along with the social maneuvering. As I mentioned above, the authors shot for the moon in putting everything they love--worldbuilding, characters, action, adventure, intrigue, grand plots, petty criminals and much more. And it all works together. It could have been easily a farrago but under the skilled writing here, it comes together into a wonderful package.

I do admit that with such a large cast on display, a couple of secondary characters could possibly have used another beat or two of character development (Tess, I am looking at you) and this is a complex secondary world fantasy that I would not hand to someone new to the genre. Otherwise, however, this is a collaboration that hits all the marks that I had hoped it would given the track record of the collaborators. It is clearly the first of a series, but it provides a solid complete story here that you can off ramp should you decide that you only want a one book visit to Nadezra. As for me, I look forward to what subsequent volumes will bring. M A Carrick, in the personage of Helms and Brennan, are really just getting started.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses : +1 for a rich, diverse, fractally complex and envisioned fantasy world

+1 for an intriguing and central main characters, whose strengths, flaws, character arc and depiction are all top notch.

Penalties: -1 A couple of the secondary characters could have used a tad more fleshing out. Hopefully book two will provide this.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 very high quality/standout in its category

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

Reference: Carrick, M A. The Mask of Mirrors [Orbit, 2021]

Thursday, January 21, 2021

2021 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 4: Institutional Categories


Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of the Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together 2021 Hugo Awards Longlist!

This time we are looking at what are, for lack of a better term, the "nonfiction and institutional categories": Best Related Work, Best Semiprozine, Best Fanzine and Best Fancast. Some of these categories are the hardest to figure out eligibility for, either because they require intimate knowledge of Hugo rules ("Semiprozine", why are you a word in our vocabulary) or because the precedent for them has historically been weird (e.g. recognising the podcasts of profit-making websites in Best Fancast). Nonetheless, we have done our best, and ask that you a) forgive us and b) gently bother Adri on Twitter if you feel we've got something wrong.

There are still a couple of sticky issues that made putting this list together a bit difficult. For example, deciding on when to put single author ventures in fanzine or recognise their authors in fan writer (or both!) continues to pose a challenge. We have tried to create clear and consistent guidelines for inclusion in this category. Thus, we have tried to recognise publications in this category which are (1) a fan venture (i.e. must not generate a significant amount of money, or pay professional rates for work); (2) publishing a substantial amount of content under a unified "brand" in a given year; and (3) (obviously) publishing "award worthy" content.

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

Best Related Work was also an interesting category for us this year. The longstanding catch-all nature of this category means that this year we feel there's a plethora of both fandom achievements and genre non-fiction that is worthy of consideration. While the dichotomy raises long term questions about the future of Best Related Work as a single category, we suggest voters follow their heart and embrace the wide range of things eligible this year, from groundbreaking virtual events to (b/v)logs to academic work. What's an award without a little chaos variety, after all? 

Before moving on to the recommendations, we'd like to remind everyone once again that this list is not and does not intend to be a comprehensive survey of genre or fandom. Rather, these are recommendations we suggest you consider alongside whatever other candidates you have in mind.

Nerds of a Feather 2021 Recommendation List Series:

Related Work
A Handful of Earth. A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, by Lynell George (Angel City Press)
Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall”, by Alec Nevala-Lee (, 7 Jan 2020)
Biology and Manners: Essays on the Worlds and Works of Lois McMaster Bujold ed. Regina Yung Lee and Una McCormack (Liverpool University Press)
ConZealand Fringe by Claire Rousseau, Adri Joy, C, Marguerite Kenner, Alasdair Stuart, Cheryl Morgan and Cassie Hart
Europa28: Writing by Women on the Future of Europe, ed. Sophie Hughes and Sarah Cleve (Comma Press)
FIYAHCON, by L.D. Lewis, Brent Lambert, iori Kusano, Vida Cruz, and the FIYAHCON team
Flights of Foundry by Dream Foundry
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics!, by Tom Scioli (Crown Books for Young Readers)
Into the Omegaverse: How a Fanfic Trope Landed in Federal Court, by Lindsay Ellis
Margaret Atwood: A Word After A Word After a Word is Power (Note: May be ineligible based on scale of original 2019 release)
Strange Horizons Reviews: A Twentieth Anniversary Roundtable, by Rachel Cordasco, Erin Horáková, ML Kejera, Samira Nadkarni, Abigail Nussbaum, Charles Payseur, Nisi Shawl, Aishwarya Subramanian and Bogi Takács
"The State of Black Speculative Fiction" by Eugen Bacon and Milton Davis (Hadithi & The State of Black Speculative Fiction)
Ties that Bind: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. Francesca T. Barbini (Luna Press Publishing)
"Timeless: A History of Chrono Trigger", by Aidan Moher

Anathema: Spec from the Margins
Augur Magazine
Baffling Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
FIYAH Literary Magazine
The Future Fire
Strange Horizons

Astrolabe  by Aidan Moher
The Fantasy Inn by Hiu, Jenia, Kopratic, Sharade, Tam, Travis and Wol
The Full Lid by Alasdair Stuart
Genre Grapevine by Jason Sanford
Insert Cartridge by Aidan Moher
Lady Business ed. Ira, Renay, Susan, KJ and Jodie
Quick Sip Reviews by Charles Payseur
The Quiet Pond by CW, Joce and Skye
The Rec Center by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Elizabeth Minkel
SF In Translation by Rachel Cordasco
Women Write About Comics by Nola Pfau and Wendy Browne

Claire Rousseau
Chronicles of Noria
The Coode Street Podcast
The Fantasy Inn Podcast
The Functional Nerds
Hugo, Girl
Hugos There
Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men
My Name is Marines
Onyx Pages
Perpetual Pages
SFF Audio
SFF Yeah!
Skiffy and Fanty
Sword and Laser

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Interview: Samuel Marzioli, author of Hollow Skulls and Other Stories

Samuel Marzioli is an Italian-Filipino writer who specializes in dark fiction and horror.   His short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Shock Totem, Perihelion, Urban Fantasy Magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and multiple anthologies.   In 2018, his short story "Multo" was featured on LeVar Burton Reads, you can listen to it here, and read it here.

Hollow Skulls and Other Stories is Marzioli's debut collection, and if you like eerie tales, urban legends, and folklore that is very real, this is the collection for you! The thirteen stories in the collection showcase Marzioli's best work of the last ten years, featuring stories inspired by his experiences becoming a father, an unusual medical condition, and the author's own Filipino heritage.  These stories will tease you with hope, and then take you to the edge of dread.  You may want to read them in the middle of the day, with all the lights turned on.

You can learn more about Marzioli by checking out his blog Tales from Marz and by following him on twitter, where he is @Marzioli. He was kind enough to chat with me about how Hollow Skulls and Other Stories came together,  weaving his Filipino roots into his fiction, what it was like to hear LeVar Burton read "Multo", and much more. 

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: Congratulations on the publication of your short story collection Hollow Skulls and Other Stories! How did you decide which of your works would appear in the collection?

Samuel Marzioli: Thank you! I dreamed for years about releasing a collection and without the good people at JournalStone Publishing—especially Scarlett R. Algee—it may have remained a dream. As far as how I chose my stories, I had several favorites in mind which I felt best reflected who I am as an author, whether because they mean something to me, or because they were thoroughly steeped in my voice. 

“Multo,” for instance, may be the story I’m most known for, at least among the small group of short story enthusiasts who know me at all. It was also the first of several I wrote inspired by Filipino folklore and urban legends. “A Pocket of Madness” highlighted an unusual condition I’ve had since my 20’s: hypnopompic hallucinations. Both “A Pocket of Madness” and “She Who Would Rip the Sky Asunder” were based on my experiences with fatherhood, albeit rendered into fiction, and filtered through the dark lens of my mind. 

Ultimately, with all my selections I wanted Hollow Skulls and Other Stories to be dark, depressing, and scary, but also introspective and hopeful, with just a glimmer of light peeking from an outer edge. I hope I succeeded, but I recognize that’s entirely up to the readers to decide.

NOAF: Once you decided to do a collection, what was the process like and how long did it take to go from “here's what I want to do!” to holding the finished product in your hands? 

SM: Some writers get invited to submit collections based solely on the strength of a few stories, or perhaps their reputation. I had to do it the old fashion way: by slogging waist-deep through the slush pile marsh. A few years back, I came across a notable publisher open to collection submissions, so I assembled my lineup, read their guidelines, and shot them an email. Months before I got a response. A “nope,” but one with a flattering personal rejection. That gave me enough encouragement to try again, and, in this case, second time’s the charm. Between submissions, the contract, and slipping me into the publication schedule, it took a little under two years—though technically, I still haven’t held a copy of my book yet.  

NOAF: Which stories in the collection are you most proud of? 

SM: Obviously “Multo” for reasons already stated, but also "Pagpag.” For “Pagpag,” I had to do a lot of research, and while ultimately the locations were fictionalized to serve the story, it does address real living conditions and struggles within poor communities of the Philippines. I never had Filipino protagonists in the novels and stories I grew up with. As a third generation immigrant from the Phillippines, including Filipinos and Filipino experiences in my stories means a lot. I’d count “The Last Great Failing of the Light” in the proud column too as it was very loosely inspired by pre-colonial Tagalog societies.

NOAF: And that cover art, wow!  Did you have input on the cover art? What did you think of the cover art when you first saw it?

SM: My editor Scarlett and I brainstormed ideas for what we thought the cover should look like. She sent these notes to the artist, Don Noble, who then sent back a design. The results were well done, a great example of the quality Don is known for, but went in a direction I hadn’t expected. I offered a few additional notes, and Don absolutely nailed it on the second go. The final cover has personality, sets a mood, and I feel it represents the content of the collection well.

NOAF: Are there particular things in your own life that terrify you?  Do you ever weave those things into your fiction?

SM: If I had to choose something, I suppose it would be death. It doesn’t matter how often it happens because new death never “gets old,” is still as sad and debilitating as the last one. It’s ubiquitous, the only true, lasting terror for anyone with the capacity for love. I incorporate it into my fiction, of course, both because it happens to be a fascinating subject, and because it helps me deal with my own grief and loss. 

NOAF: I hear you have an ongoing series of Filipino Monster stories?  Please! Tell us more!

SM: They’re only a series in the sense that I’ve written several, though none are explicitly connected. I’ve mentioned “Multo” and “Pagpag,” which are included in this collection, but the others are as follows. “Servant of the Aswang” is about a girl who is forced to select young victims for her aswang master. This was my first aswang story, and is far more faithful to the folklore than “Pagpag.” “Everything Mimsy” is a portal fantasy about a man who travels to a world inhabited by Filipino monsters of all kinds. Because this was meant to be lighthearted, I got to play with beasties I wouldn’t normally write about, like the duwende (goblin/elf) and the kapre (giant). “Devil on the Night Train” is about a girl and her grandfather, and the peculiar devil who stalks his victims from a phantom train. This one is inspired by the Devil Cigar Man urban legend, and gave me a great excuse to research World War II from a Filipino point of view. I’m pleased to say all of them have been published, and several of them podcasted too. I work by inspiration, so I can’t say when I’ll write another one, but I have every intention of doing so. I’d also love to include “Servant” and “Devil” in my next collection, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

NOAF: As luck would have it, your story “Multo” was one of the first episodes of Levar Burton Reads that I listened to, and what an experience that was!  And rereading that story, all I can hear is Levar's velvet voice pulling me into Adan's past. What was it like to hear Levar Burton read your story? As the author, did you have any involvement in providing pronunciation notes or production notes? 

SM: When the show’s producer Julia Smith approached me about the audio rights to “Multo,” I was gobsmacked. I’m reminded of a line from Romeo and Juliet: “It’s an honor that I dream not of.” Though I mean this only in the sense that I didn’t know it was something that could happen so dreaming about it never crossed my mind. I grew up on Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and LeVar Burton was my favorite in both. To hear him speak words I wrote? I might as well have been a clock melting over a tree branch, it was so surreal! Since I can only say a few words in Tagalog, I relied on the expertise of my Aunt Judith White for all translations and pronunciations. Though when I sent Mr. Burton audio of the story’s Tagalog content, I provided one pronunciation (“kumusta kayo”) just so I could say he heard me speak. Weird? Probably a little, but also kind of cool, right?

NOAF: Who are some of your favorite writers and artists? How has their work influenced you?

SM: I have too many, and quite a few of them the usual suspects, but this is a selection of excellent writers who I believe deserve far more recognition than they get: Ramsey Campbell, Mercedes M. Yardley, Michael Wehunt, Laird Barron, and David G. Blake. They’re all so different both in style and focus, but I’ve probably sampled all of them on the way to finding my own voice, Campbell most of all. He may disagree—and since he’s the expert of his style, he’s probably right—but every once in a while, I’ll notice a phrase sneak into my stories that I’ll feel has Campbell smeared all over it. 

As for artists, Adrian Borda is a Romanian surrealist painter and photographer whose work I adore. I own some of his paintings, and was even lucky enough to appear in an anthology (The Best of Apex Magazine) where one of his paintings was used as the cover. Isaac Marzioli is an illustrator and prop designer on Spongebob Squarepants. He focuses more on adorable than creepy, but he’s an incredible artist who just happens to be my brother. We’ve done a few projects on spec that combined the best of both of our talents, and they were a blast to work on.

NOAF: Thanks Samuel!

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.  

2021 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 3: Individual Categories

Welcome to the third part of our presentation of the Nerds of a Feather 2021 Hugo Award Longlist. Today we take a look at the categories recognizing individuals for their body of work during 2020:  Editor (Short and Long Form), Professional Artist, Fan Artist, Fan Writer, and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer

As before, we here at 'nerds of a feather, flock together' are presenting a collective longlist of potential Hugo nominees that we think are worthy of your consideration. These selections represent the spectrum of tastes, tendencies, and predilections found among our group of 14 writers.

As a reminder, this list should not at all be considered comprehensive. There are some truly outstanding editors, writers, and artists who will not make our longlist because we couldn't confirm they produced enough qualifying work, because the work they do is not genre-focused, or for the very simple reason that we are not just familiar with what they did during 2020. We encourage you to think of this as a list of candidates to consider alongside works which you are already familiar, nothing more and nothing less. In addition, while we have done our best to check the eligibility of everything here, some of these categories (*cough* pro artist *cough*) have eligibility requirements that can be hard to triangulate from an outside perspective. If you think we've made any errors in our categorisation, please get in touch.

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

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

Nerds of a Feather 2021 Recommendation List Series:

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

Editor, Short
Djibril Al-Ayad (The Future Fire)
Ellen Datlow (, Best Horror of the Year: Vol 12)
Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (The Dominion Anthology)
Michael Matheson (Anathema Magazine)
DaVaun Sanders (FIYAH)
Jonathan Strahan (, Made to Order)
Margret Helgadottir (Eurasian Monsters)
Lashawn Wanak (GigaNotoSaurus)

Professional Artist (example of 2020 work)
Tommy Arnold (Harrow the Ninth Cover)
Charlie Bowater (Star Daughter Cover)
Charles Chaisson (Raybearer cover (US edition))
Rovina Cai (Elatsoe Cover and illustrations)
Galen Dara (The Sisters Grimm cover (US edition))
Sija Hong (The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water Cover)
Ronan Le Fur a.k.a. DOFRESH (Phoenix Extravagant Cover)
Maurizio Manzieri (Seven of Infinities Cover (US edition))
Kerri Resnick (Fable Cover Design (UK edition))
Chris Sickels (The House in the Cerulean Sea Cover)
Hillary D. Wilson (Legendborn Cover)
Alyssa Winans (Empress of Salt and Fortune Cover)
Henry Sene Yee (Ring Shout Cover)

Fan Artist
Lorna Antoniazzi (Augur Magazine Cover art)
Karen Cheok (examples)
Cyan Daly (examples)
Cindy Fan (Anathema Issue 10 Cover art)
Vic Grey (examples)
Heather Brockman Lee (example)
Laya Rose (examples)

Fan Writer
Alex Acks
Rob Bedford
Cora Buhlert
Rachel Cordasco
Jeannette Ng
Charles Payseur
Jason Sanford
Stitch (Stitch's Media Mix)
Alasdair Stuart

Astounding Award for Best New Writer 
Gautam Bhatia (The Wall)
Echo Brown (Black Girl Unlimited)
Jordan Ifueko (Raybearer)
Simon Jimenez (The Vanished Birds)
Miciah Johnson (The Space Between Worlds)
A.K. Larkwood (The Unspoken Name)
Jenn Lyons (The Ruin of Kings)
Caitlin Starling (The Luminous Dead, Yellow Jessamine)
Emily Tesh (Silver in the Wood)
Aiden Thomas (Cemetery Boys)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2021 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 2: Visual Work Categories


Welcome to our continuing presentation of the Nerds of a Feather 2021 Hugo Award Recommendation List (see part 1 here). Today will look at Graphic Story, the two Dramatic Presentation categories, and the new one time Video Game category.  

As before, we here at 'nerds of a feather, flock together' are presenting a collective longlist of potential Hugo nominees that we think are worthy of your consideration. These selections represent the spectrum of tastes, tendencies, and predilections found among our group of 14 writers.

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

Nerds of a Feather 2021 Recommendation List Series:

Graphic Story
Gideon Falls, Vol 5: Wicked Worlds by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart
Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 8: Catalysis by Thomas Siddel.
Invisible Kingdom, Vol 2: Edge of Everything by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, DaNi and Tamra Bonvillain
Monstress, Vol 5: War Child by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, by Damian Duffy, Octavia E. Butler and John Jennings
Ghost Spider Vol 1: Dog Days are Over by Seanan McGuire, Takeshi Miyazawa, Rosie Kampe and Ian Herring*
A Thief Among the Trees by Sabaa Tahir, Nicole Andelfinger and Sonia Liao
Undiscovered Country, Vol 1: Destiny by Scott Snyder, Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli

Dramatic Presentation
Note: we would normally split this list into short and long, reflecting the category boundaries. However, like last year, we felt that there were a number of great TV show seasons which deserve consideration as a whole, although individual episodes for all of these are also eligible in short form. We've therefore split the list into movies and TV, and encourage you to make your own call about standout episodes from the latter.

Bill and Ted Face the Music
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Black is King
Color Out of Space
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
The Invisible Man
The Midnight Sky
The Old Guard
Over the Moon
Palm Springs
The Vast of Night

TV Shows
The Good Place: Season 4 (NBC)
Lovecraft Country: Season 1 (HBO)
The Mandalorian: Season 2 (Disney Plus)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Final Arc: Old Friends Not Forgotten / The Phantom Apprentice / Shadowed / Victory and Death (Disney Plus)
Upload: Season 1 (Amazon Prime)

Video Games
Note: Video Game eligibility may be affected depending on whether a game was released in beta/early access and how the Hugo Committee views the release or "publication" of a particular game. We have made our best attempt to recognize games which were either released in 2020 or had significant narrative changes to their 2020 editions, which we believe should make them eligible in the same way works released over multiple years in other categories are eligible in their year of completion.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Civilization 6: New Frontiers Pass
Doom Eternal
Final Fantasy VII: Remake
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Cindered Shadows DLC
In Other Waters
The Last of Us: Part II
LUNA: The Shadow Dust
Ori and the Will of the Wisps

*NOTE: An earlier version of this list mistakenly included Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider (2019) instead of this first volume of the most recent run. While we were fixing that error (sorry!), we realised there are two volumes of the current Ghost Spider run. The first was released in 2020 but compiles issues all released in 2019, and the second second (Ghost Spider Vol 2: Party People, by Seanan McGuire and Ig Guara) was released in 2021 and compiles issues released in 2020. Both raise some questions about eligibility, but on reflection and after informally consulting with a friendly former Hugo administrator, we would like to specifically recommend this first volume for consideration in the 2020 Hugo Awards.

Monday, January 18, 2021

2021 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 1: Fiction Categories

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

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

That said, this is not - nor does it intend to be - a comprehensive survey of the field. Some books that are undoubtedly "award worthy," for example, are absent for the simple reason that we haven't read them yet. Thus we encourage you to think of this as a list of candidates to consider--alongside others. Also, while we've done what we can to ensure the recommendations are eligible in their respective categories, it's possible we've made a couple of errors. If you spot something on the list that isn't eligible, please let us know and we'll correct it.

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

In the interest of being transparent, it is worth noting that several of our writers have published fiction in 2020. Because it would be a conflict of interest, we are not including them on our longlist, but would still invite anyone interested to take a look at their work.

Nerds of a Feather 2021 Recommendation List Series:


Barry, Max. Providence [Putnam]
Bear, Elizabeth. Machine [Saga]
Campbell, Lisbeth. The Vanished Queen [Saga]
Cooney, C.S.E. "The Twice Drowned Saint" [A Sinister Quartet, Mythic Delirium Press]*
Elliott, Kate. Unconquerable Sun [Tor]
Hairston, Andrea. Master of Poisons [ Publishing]
Jemisin, N.K. The City We Became [Orbit]
Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Relentless Moon [Tor]
Klune, T.J. The House in the Cerulean Sea [Tor]
Larkwood, A.K. The Unspoken Name [Tor]
Lee, Yoon Ha. Phoenix Extravagant [Solaris]
Mohamed, Premee. Beneath the Rising [Solaris]
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. Mexican Gothic [Del Rey]
Muir, Tamsyn. Harrow the Ninth [ Publishing]
Osborne, Karen. Architects of Memory [Tor]
Polk, C.L. The Midnight Bargain [Erewhon]
Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Ministry for the Future [Orbit]
Schwab, V.E. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue [Tor]
Sriduangkaew, Benjanun. Machine's Last Testament [Prime]
Stewart, Andrea. The Bone Shard Daughter [Orbit]
Tchaikovsky. Adrian. The Doors of Eden [Tor]
Wade, Juliette. Mazes of Power [DAW]
Wagers, K.B. A Pale Light in the Black [Harper Voyager]
Wallace, Matt. Savage Legion [Saga]
Wells, Martha. Network Effect [ Publishing]

Cho, Zen. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water [ Publishing]
Cipri, Nino. Finna [ Publishing]
Clark, P. Djeli. Ring Shout [ Publishing]
de Bodard, Aliette. Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders [JABberwocky Literary Agency]
Gailey, Sarah. Upright Women Wanted [ Publishing]
Harlan, Leigh. Queens of Noise [Neon Hemlock Press]
Huang, S.L. Burning Roses [ Publishing]
Jarboe, Julian K. "Everyone On the Moon is Essential Personnel" [Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel, Lethe Press]
Jennings, Kathleen. Flyaway [ Publishing]
Lemberg, R.B. The Four Profound Weaves [Tachyon Publications]
McGuire, Seanan. Come Tumbling Down [ Publishing]
North, Claire. Sweet Harmony [Orbit]
Oghenechovwe, Donald Ekpeki. "Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon" [Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, Aurelia Leo]
Onyebuchi, Tochi. Riot Baby [ Publishing]
Ow, Anya. Cradle and Grave [Neon Hemlock Press]
Polansky, Daniel. The Seventh Perfection [ Publishing]
Tesh, Emily. Drowned Country [ Publishing]
Vo, Nghi. The Empress of Salt and Fortune [ Publishing]
Vo, Nghi. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain [ Publishing]

Claybourne, Z.Z. "The Air in my House Tastes like Sugar" [Giganotosaurus]
De Bodard, Aliette. Tbe Inaccessibility of Heaven [Uncanny Magazine]
Elliott, Kate. "The Long Walk" [The Book of Dragons]
Garfinkle, Gwynne. "A Wild Patience" [Giganotosaurus]
Key, Justin C. "One Hand in the Coffin" [Strange Horizons]
Kritzer, Naomi. "Monster" [Clarkesworld]
Liu, Ken. "Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard" [The Hidden Girl and Other Stories]
Lynch, Scott. "Maybe Just Go Up There and Talk to It" [The Book of Dragons]
Schneider, Rebecca. "A Wild Divinity" [Giganotosaurus]

Short Story
Bryski, K.T. "The Bone-Stag Walks" [Lightspeed]
Clark, C.L. "You Perfect, Broken Thing" [Uncanny Magazine]
Cruz, Vida. "Have your #Hugot harvested at this Diwata-owned cafe" [Strange Horizons]
Datt Sharma, Iona. "Heard, Half Heard, in the Stillness" [Anathema: Spec from the margins]
Datt Sharma, Iona. "St Anselm-by-the-Riverside" [Consolation Songs ed. Iona Datt Sharma]
Dong, Maria. "The Truth at the Bottom of the Ocean" [Augur Magazine]
Fitzwater, A.J. "Cetaceous Secrets of the Jeweled Nadir" [The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper]**
Fraimow, Rebecca. "This is New Gehesran Calling" [Consolation Songs ed. Iona Datt Sharma]
Gonzalez, Aurelia. "The Wasteland Review" [The Future Fire]
Harrow, Alix. E. "The Sycamore and the Sybil" [Uncanny Magazine]
Hudson, Andrew Dana. "Voice of Their Generation" [Lightspeed]
Ilo, Innocent Chizaram. "Rat and Finch are Friends" [Strange Horizons]
Jerée, Tamara. "The Future in Saltwater" [Anathema Magazine]
Kindred, L.P. "Your Rover is Here" [FIYAH Literary Magazine]
Lingen, Marissa. "The Past, Like a River in Flood"
Miles, Jo. "The Longest Season in the Garden of the Tea-Fish" [Strange Horizons]
Nayler, Ray. "Outside of Omaha" [Nightmare]
Nunnally, Errick. "Uniform" [FIYAH Literary Magazine]
Ogundiran, Tobi. "Guardian of the Gods" [FIYAH Literary Magazine]
Onyebuchi, Tochi. "The Hurt Pattern" [Made to Order]
Prasad, Vina Jie-Min. "A Guide for Working Breeds" [Made to Order]
Raines II, Aurelius. "The Last Testament" [FIYAH Literary Magazine]
Rather, Lina. "Thin Red Jellies" [Giganotosaurus]
Tirado, Vincent. "Your Name is Oblivia" [FIYAH Literary Magazine]
Torzs, Emma. "High in the Clean Blue Air" [Uncanny]
Tu, L. "If you Want to Erase Us, You Must be Thorough" [Uncanny Magazine]
Wiswell, John. "Open House on Haunted Hill" [Diabolical Plots]

Series (inc. 2020 Qualifying Work)

Aaronovitch, Ben. Rivers of London (False Value and Tales from the Folly.)
Beaulieu, Bradley P. Song of Shattered Sands, (When Jackals Storm the Walls and The Flight of the Whisper King.)
Black, Holly. Folk of the Air (How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories)
Chakraborty, S.A. Daevabad Trilogy, (The Empire of Gold)
Cogman, Genevieve. The Invisible Library, (The Dark Archive)
de Bodard, Aliette. Dominion of the Fallen, (Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders)
Dickinson, Seth. The Masquerade, (The Tyrant Baru Cormorant)
Kingfisher, T. The Clocktaur Universe, (Paladin's Grace)
Kowal, Mary Robinette. Lady Astronaut (The Relentless Moon)
Kozloff, Sarah. The Nine Realms (A Queen in Hiding, The Queen of Raiders, A Broken Queen and The Cerulean Queen)
Kuang, R.F. The Poppy War (The Burning God)
McGuire, Seanan. October Daye (A Killing Frost and Shine in Pearl)
Scalzi, John. The Interdependency (The Last Emperox)
Wells, Martha. The Murderbot Diaries (Network Effect)
White, Alex. The Salvagers (The Worst of all Possible Worlds)
Yong, Jin (tr Anna Holmwood and Gigi Chang). Legends of the Condor Heroes (A Snake Lies Waiting)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
Black, Holly. The Queen of Nothing [Little, Brown] our readers have reminded us that this was a late 2019 release!
Deonn, Tracy. Legendborn [Margaret K. McElderry Books]
Gong, Chloe. These Violent Delights [Hodder & Staughton]
Hernandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe [Disney Hyperion]
Ibañez, Isabel. Woven in Moonlight. [Page Street Kids]
Ifueko, Jordan. Raybearer [Amulet Books]
Kingfisher, T. A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking [Argyll Books]
Little Badger, Darcie (author) and Rovina Cai (illustrator). Elatsoe [Levine Querido]
Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Destroys the World [Disney Hyperion]
McLemore, Anne-Marie. Darkest and Deepest Red [Feiwel & Friends]
Morrow, Bethany C. A Song Below Water [Tor Teen]
Roanhorse, Rebecca. Race to the Sun [Disney Hyperion]
Thomas, Aiden. Cemetery Boys [Swoon Reads]
Young, Adrienne. Fable [Wednesday Books]

*An earlier version of this list recommended "The Twice Drowned Saint" in novella. However, it has been confirmed that the word count puts this at novel length.

**An earlier version of this list recommended "Search for the Heart of the Ocean" from this collection, but it has been confirmed that as a reprint, this story is not eligible. We loved the whole collection and are happy to recommend this alternative, or any of the other four original stories from Cinrak.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Microreview [book]: Queen of None by Natania Barron

Natania Barron’s Queen of None explores a highly underutilized, if not outright forgotten figure in Arthuriana, to create a potent story from a new and fresh perspective. 

The basic lines of the major figures of King Arthur’s court are pretty well known. Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon. His wife, Guinevere. Gawain, the Green Knight. Lancelot, who fell in love with the Queen. Galahad, Lance’s son. Bedevere, Arthur’s closest ally  And of course Morgan Le Fay, Arthur’s half-sister. And Mordred, Arthur’s son, fated to bring the fall of Camelot.

It emerges, if you read the early sources, there are other figures in Arthuriana that did not extend into the later takes on Arthur. Not only the Welsh stuff, but it turns out that Geoffrey of Monmouth, author of the History of the Kings of England, stated that Arthur had another, full sister, Anna. This is a character that disappears from later Arthur texts, or gets melded into characters like Morgause. But what would she have been like if she was a character in full flesh and form, coming back to Camelot after being married to King Lot of the distant Orkney islands, but now returned to Arthur’s Court?

Anna’s story is the heart of Queen of None, by Natania Barron.

Natania has a MA in English with an emphasis on Medieval Literature, so tackling Arthuriana is in the very center of her wheelhouse. I had never heard of Anna before this book, and with such scant text on her as her before she gets dropped, combined with other characters, transmorgified, or plain forgotten, the author’s tack on the character is delightfully metatextual: Anna, you see, is given a prophecy by Merlin that she will be utterly forgotten. And when she comes back from the end of nowhere, the Orkney islands, with her dead husband’s crown to lay at Arthur’s feet, her goal is to avoid that erasure from the world and history. 

This character oriented plotting, a hallmark of Barron’s fiction, gets a full Arthurian workout as we get a unique perspective on Camelot (here, Carelon). Gawain here is Anna’s son, for instance, and the author explores how Anna relates to the other women in Arthur’s court, and those who come to court. This is a novel that makes me think of The White Princess TV series, where we see a story that we know from a strongly female oriented perspective, giving new light, new life and new interpretations of various characters and relationships.

One way in which Barron does that that I want to highlight and talk about briefly, is how the author decidedly queers Camelot. The center of this, is Anna’s realization that, as the novel progresses, is that her brother has her re-married to Lance because he wants to keep Lancelot in his Court, not only because of his sword arm, but because he lusts after him as well. Lanceloch (Lancelot), whose vows of chastity has made his own martial bed with Anna a cold one at best, and is thus caught on the horns. There is other queer eye in the novel, but having the Arthur-Anna-Lanceloch relationship firmly queer is a strong and bold choice that helps drive the character relationships and the plot and fleshes out the world.

And such a world. Carelon straddles lines and boundaries. It’s not the gritty, end of Roman Ages Britain Camelot that is popular nowadays, and it is not the fully romanticized view of those times, turning them into faux Medieval times, either. Magic is strange, dangerous and relatively “low” - very much in the sword and sorcery sort of mold. Anna herself has been using magic, even without her knowing, subtly.. As the novel progresses and her desire to escape the prophecy of Merlin, and her opposition to Merlin, she winds up making a choice to learn even more magic, a magic that will eventually change the face of her, Merlin and Carelon. 

And it is that slow burning campaign and the magic that she weaves of Anna’s that is the real story of the novel. For, you see, Anna realizes that to tangle with Merlin, she needs to become someone else, and so she crafts a magic that allows her to slip into another person, a new person, a person who might get close enough to Merlin in order to exact her retribution.

You already know the name, if you’ve read the Arthurian mythos. Anna creates, and inhabits a young woman named Nimue.

The author relishes in Anna/Nimue’s world and her, THEIR, interactions with the characters and giving us a full and rich picture of her life, but the novel has a slow and building tempo that accelerates as Anna’s goals start to become within reach. But as Anna and Nimue continue their slow approach, the boundaries between the two become blurred and just who really is the real person, the real force at court becomes not at all clear, even for Nimue supposedly being Anna’s servant. The use of point of view, switching between Anna’s first person and Nimue’s third person, is a masterful use of language to their stories as they wind up their plot.

Along that way, intersecting stories of the rest of the Court, come in and out. This feels like the inverse of a typical Arthurian novel, where Arthur and Gwen are a center and side characters’ stories intersect tangentially with theirs. Here, the tangents are elements of the Arthurian mythos that are more typically foregrounded. The novel spans years, decades, even in this under-represented pair of perspectives and Barron makes Carelon and it’s cast of characters seem as new and untrodden as when I first saw the banners of the knights of the  Round Table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Arms and Armor wing and asked what they were. That is no mean feat.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for a unique and amazingly vivid perspective on Arthuriana that rewards readers familiar with the mythos.

+1 for excellent use of language and point of view to immerse the reader into the characters and story.

Penalties: -1 Novel pacing is decidedly draggy in parts. 

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

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

Reference: Barron, Natania. The Queen of None [Vernacular Books 2021]