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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Semiprozine

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so.


Yeah, I don't know how to even pick eligible zines for this one. I have to look up the definition when nominating every year, and by the time the ballot is out, I've forgotten it again. and somehow it's always a tough competition. There are just so many great venues out there.


  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews - I've enjoyed this magazine in the past, but it somehow slipped off my radar for 2017. Scrolling through their 2017 issues, looks like the short story on the ballot is the only thing I've read. But it also looks like they published a story by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, which is reason enough to just skip them on my ballot this year.


  • The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James - I regularly read their reviews and occasionally read the quarterly almanac. And I backed their kickstarter. I like the stuff of theirs I've read quite a bit.


  • Escape Pod, edited by Mur Lafferty, S.B. Divya, and Norm Sherman, with assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney. They have hosted an Artemis Rising episode the last few years that is cool and do both audio and text versions of short fiction. 


  • Fireside Magazine, edited by Brian White and Julia Rios; managing editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry; special feature editor Mikki Kendall; publisher & art director Pablo Defendini -  The fact that they host the #BlackSpecFic report is sufficient reason to put Fireside at the top of my ballot.


  • Strange Horizons, edited by Kate Dollarhyde, Gautam Bhatia, A.J. Odasso, Lila Garrott, Heather McDougal, Ciro Faienza, Tahlia Day, Vanessa Rose Phin, and the Strange Horizons staff - I love Strange Horizons enough to make regular donations to them.


  • Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios; podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky - a ton of fiction from Uncanny made the ballot this year, so unsurprising to see them here as well.


Okay, the top spot is easy: Fireside. Followed by Uncanny, Booksmugglers, and SH. Escape Pod in fifth. 

Review: A Skinful of Shadows

A Skinful of Shadows - Frances Hardinge

I quested this being in the YA category for the first few chapters as the protagonist was so barely in the age range that it felt more like middle grade. Of course, after a few chapters, not only does the plot get out of MG, but time skips forward a few years and this turns into an honest to goodness MG novel. 


The main character is bold and reckless in a very appealing way. The setting is a historical one I haven't seen a million times. The worldbuilding is a little odd - really, is there only one blood line with this "curse"? But waving those slight concerns (and we see such a narrow part of the earth that who knows), this works quite well. 

Review: New York 2140

New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson

I feel like teenage me would have found this deep and interesting. But current me found it such a snoozefest that I only made it a few chapters in. Give me some goddamned characters to follow into your big idea, yo.

Review: The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

OMG, I finally did it! I finally finished a Scalzi novel! The first chapter was a real chore to read, but then I swapped to the audiobook. Somehow the prose that seems so corny in print is a delightful lark to listen to. 


It still has some problems. The whole plot and world are built around the western building block du jour of imperialism, undercutting the attempt at counter narrative of having an emperor who is horrified by the concept. She isn't trying to change the situation until the nature of the universe makes the construct untenable. 


But I did get quite a few laughs out of this. 

Revew: Binti: Home

Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

Undeniably well written and imaginative, but not a solid hit for me. I love that there are so many ideas this is practically bursting at the seams. But it ends in a very odd place. A place that feels more like the middle of a chapter than a break between serialized volumes. 

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire

Let's face it, I would not have read this if it wasn't on the Hugo ballot. I did not love the first novella in this setting, so why would I pick up another?


Turns out this is totally my jam. From the special hell of parental expectations in no way matching one's identity to the gory, rushed ending, this was a very satisfying, if unsettling, read.

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Fanzine

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so.


While I am terrible at listening to podcasts, I do peruse text based fan sites. I've even contributed to a couple over the years.


File 770, edited by Mike Glyer - This is a great site to follow fandom news, but also hosts shit like this.


Galactic Journey, edited by Gideon Marcus - This website is 55 years ahead of it's time and I'd probably have loved it as a teen. Now, it's interesting and clearly a lot of effort, but not my cup of tea.


Journey Planet, edited by Team Journey Planet - Yeah, still not my kind of thing.


nerds of a feather, flock together, edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry - A group blog that has some neat features, but not something I read regularly.


Rocket Stack Rank, edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong - Let's just say no, shall we? Hullender has since apologized, but, well, read the comments. That's 2017 RSR, and I'm not including it on my ballot. Yeah, deliberately not linking to their site directly.


SF Bluestocking, edited by Bridget McKinney - This is a blog I was introduced to via a previous Hugo ballot. Interesting and eclectic, but another I don't follow much.


I think what I've learned from this year's entries is that this may be another category for me to skip in future years. I'm just not heavily invested in this category. I'm not even sure I'm going to vote this year even having taken the time to look into the nominees. 

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven

The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang

I'm very interested in the setting and worldbuilding, but not super invested in the protagonist. There's just a certain lack of intensity? Something? But there are also raptors and magic. I may still pick up the sequel.

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Fan Writer

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so. 


This is always an interesting category. Some nominees are professional writers who also write about fandom or review works on their blogs. It tends to be a wide range. In a rare occurrence, I'm actually familiar with each of the nominees.


Camestros Felapton - Primarily known for his humorous dismissals of puppy logic, his blog is almost more performance art than essay. I enjoy his work quite a bit, but am I interested in rewarding a troll? Even if he's my troll?


Sarah Gailey - Her facing facts essay is great. Her other two essays, less so. Or maybe they're just on topics I've spent more time considering so they don't seem as fresh.


Mike Glyer - Mike continues to pour an enormous amount of work every day to covering fandom on File 770. I read his site frequently and have linked to it more than a few times.


Foz Meadows - I really hope Meadows is on the ballot again next year. Her critique of Last Jedi is fantastic, but isn't eligible for this year's award. Her long form analysis posts are consistently insightful and entertaining.  This one was included in the packet, and is probably my favorite.


Charles Payseur - Payseur is one of a small number of high output short fiction reviewers. The voter packet included several works, but the best were an essay from his review website that I hadn't previously read about smutty SF and a review of one of the YA nominees.


Bogi Takács - I mostly see Takács's writing on twitter, doing recommendations lists or long threads of observations that generally give me a lot to think about. The voter packet includes an essay and several reviews. The essay is outstanding, an analysis of the superhero registration trope as it relates to historical contexts and how it's become an anti-union power fantasy to some. 


This is a pretty strong group. I'll probably re-order these a few times. At the moment, Takács is in the first slot, followed by Meadows, Payseur, Glyer, and Gailey.

Review: Before Mars

Before Mars - Emma Newman

Third book in the series, and each is great in a totally different way. This one takes place concurrent to After Atlas, but instead of detective story, this is a psychological thriller where a protagonist fears her paranoia, but keeps finding reasons to mistrust the world around her. 


Once again, having not read the previous books wouldn't be an issue. There's some stuff at the end that would be quite obvious if you've read After Atlas, but the tension works either way. 


This is just such a great series. 

Review: Owl and the Tiger Thieves

Owl and the Tiger Thieves (The Owl Series) - Kristi Charish

I admit to struggling a bit with the plot in the previous one, but this installment was excellent. Fast paced, full of snark and a vampire hunting cat. Can't wait to read the next one.

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Fan Artist

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so.


I'm relying on the voter packet to bound myself in this category. That's the best way to ensure I'm looking at eligible works. I'm linking to each artist's website, though.


Geneva Benton - I like the style of these digital watercolors. The voter packet includes 4 of her works, most impressive being the outstanding FIYAH cover.


Grace P. Fong - Clearly a talented artist, but nothing here is really working for me.


Maya Hahto - A solid graphic designer. Back when I still managed artists, I'd have been happy to have someone with her eye, but I don't love any of her stuff either.


Likhain (M. Sereno) - Another artist I just don't love. Complex and interesting, but not my thing.


Spring Schoenhuth - I do like to look at some fine retro rockets and media inspired accessories. There's a picture of a rocket ring and a piece called "Tao of the Force" that are super interesting. 


Steve Stiles - Again, not my thing.


Well, this category turns out to be easy. Benton at the top. Shoenhuth second, and I'll just leave the rest of the spaces blank.

Review: Blood Cross

Blood Cross - Faith Hunter

This sequel to Skinwalker picks up right where the action left off. Plenty of action of the fighting sort, and an almost frustrating lack of any other sort of action. Jane has options, but always higher priorities than sex.


I'm still digging this series. Here, she works more with the police, taking advantage of their archives to do research, and finds some time to connect with her roots even while not understanding much of her heritage. There is also this sort of wonderful domesticity as her friend and her children fill the house with something other than raw steak and knives.


But let's face it, I'm here for the meat and bloodshed. And the action sequences continue to deliver.


Her alliances with humans and mostly humans seems to take the place of her shifting, but at the same time, she's in more communication (if not communion) with her Beast in this one. That's still the most interesting dynamic in the book, no matter how many gorgeous men wander through her path.

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Skipped Categories

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so.


I'm giving myself permission to not vote in every damned category this year. While there are many I love, there are some that are just outside of my interest in ranking. This year, I am skipping the following categories:


Best Fancast

The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace

Fangirl Happy Hour, presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams

Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts; produced by Andrew Finch

Sword and Laser, presented by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt

Verity!, presented by Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts


Best Editor – Short Form

John Joseph Adams

Neil Clarke

Lee Harris

Jonathan Strahan

Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

Sheila Williams


Best Editor – Long Form

Sheila E. Gilbert

Joe Monti

Diana M. Pho

Devi Pillai

Miriam Weinberg

Navah Wolfe


I'm also currently on the fence about Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form and Best Related Work. The former because of availability for 2 of the nominees (and my unwillingness to pay for them for reasons). I'll probably just go ahead and pay for the one and get the free trial for the other, though. I'm just putting it off in case one appears on a streaming service I already use.


The latter because of time constraints. I'd just rather be reading YA and series category stuff. But some of the books in BRW look so very good! No. I just don't have enough time to give them a fair shake. Onto the unread pile with it!


Best Related Work

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate, by Zoë Quinn (PublicAffairs)

Iain M. Banks (Modern Masters of Science Fiction), by Paul Kincaid (University of Illinois Press)

A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, by Nat Segaloff (NESFA Press)

Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, edited by Alexandra Pierce, and Mimi Mondal (Twelfth Planet Press)

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Liz Bourke (Aqueduct Press)

Review: Artificial Conditions

Artificial Condition - Martha Wells

Is anti-social sole passenger partners with ship AI to solve a mystery a new genre? Because the two best novellas I've read this year are both in it. 


A follow-up to the Nebula Award winning All Systems Red, this novella is a fun ride. This time, the murderbot wants to just watch some shows and figure out a little about their past, but a ship AI insists on explaining the flaws in the plan and then, of all the rude options, helping. And humans are, as usually, just the worst at risk assessment.


These stories have such a great sense of humor. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

2018 Hugo Ballot Project

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so.


As of a few days ago, the voter packet is out so no more stalling. I'd already read 4 of the novels and most of the short fiction before the packet was released, but I've still got a mountain of reading to do. Voting end on July 31st and the Awards are announced at a ceremony on August 19th.


I'll cover each category in an individual post, plus an additional post noting what categories I'm skipping. While I'll have all my voting done, I expect these posts may lag a bit. The plan is to have them all completed before the actual award date.


It's a ranked ballot. Each work I think deserves an award goes on the ballot in the order of my preference. I don't have to list all the works in the category, just the ones I'm interested in. Alternately, if I think something shouldn't have even made it onto the ballot, I can vote No Award above it. While I already know at least one work I'm not going to include on the ballot, I'm not expecting to use No Award at all.


If you are interested in this year's nominees, File 770 has a convenient list of links to freely available versions, some full text, some excerpts.