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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 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. 

Fantasy Flights June Meeting - Urban Fantasy

Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older Owl and the Japanese Circus - Kristi Charish Zero Sum Game (Russell's Attic) (Volume 1) - SL Huang Drink, Slay, Love - Sarah Beth Durst Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes

The librarian usually sends out links for each months topic. This month, her links include an article titled something like "what is urban fantasy" that only says it's a marketing category and a list of "where to start" that has more male authors than female authors. I, just, I don't know, ya'll. If I were introducing someone to UF, I'd probably talk about the use of noir tropes in contemporary fantasy settings, broken vs unbroken masquerades, and Carrie Vaughn's theory, "these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power." But, sure, here's a dude saying it's meaningless marketing and a list of mostly dudes to read.


The other big UF reader in the group is going to be out of town for this one, so I'm trying to psych myself up to deal with a room full of guys all talking about Harry Fucking Dresden. 


I'm also bounding myself by recommending in-progress series or stand alone books. A few months back, one of the members asked for recommendations for completed UF series that weren't PNR, and I want to avoid repeats. Okay, he didn't say PNR, he asked for books that weren't all about vampire sex. So at least one person may have some non-Dresden. . . take a deep breathe, Saturdays, you don't want to start another fight in book club.


Whatever. I love this genre. 


Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older. So far this series has 2 novels and 3 novellas and is dynamite. The protagonist is an artist who discovers her legacy includes channeling spirits into physical forms. She makes her graffiti come alive. Yeah, that's right, I talk all that shit and then start off with a book by a man.


Owl and the Japanese Circus - Kristi Charish. Action packed with an unlikable heroine, this series follows an antiquities thief and her vampire hunting cat through endless poor decisions and explosions. I adore that she isn't good with weapons and doesn't have powerful magic abilities. I just recently finished the 4th installment, and the heroine is consistently a train wreck.


Zero Sum Game (Russell's Attic) (Volume 1) - SL Huang. Fast paced, plenty of violence, and her magic power is being really good at math. Do I need to go on? 


Drink, Slay, Love - Sarah Beth Durst. A teenage vampire gets stabbed by a unicorn and finds herself able to go out in daylight. Her family decides to enroll her in high school so she can lure teens back to the rest of the bloodsuckers. This is a lighthearted, almost rom-com book that is exactly as much fun as my first sentence indicates.


Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes. The protagonists are all human in this not-quite police procedural where strange murders point toward incomprehensible motives.


 And I think I'll stop there. I really want to add about 10 more books. We'll see where the night leads.

Review: Space Opera

Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente

File under "Appreciated More Than Enjoyed." 


The tag line for this is epic and perhaps I set my expectations too high. I expected the long asides, they're the glue that holds together the nonsense ride of a plot in HHGTTG. I liked the referenced, and recycled, but not quite stolen whole cloth versions of the babblefish and infinite improbability drive. I expected the spectacle of Eurovision as illustrated through wildly different alien species. I did not expect the talking cat, but I did like the talking cat. 


I also didn't expect that, after publishing The Refrigerator Monologues, a book dedicated to the female characters of comics who died to provide motivation for male comic book heroes, Valente would center the character motivations of her two male protagonists on the death of a woman and build the narrative around her absence. I thought Trillian got the short end of the stick in Adam's comedy, but at least she was there.


I have other complaints, that the asides are a little too long and the end a little rushed. Mostly, though, I think they all boil down to the same issue: If this had been a novelette instead of a novel length work, I'd probably have loved it. This is just too long for as little as happens, and I had too much time to think about what I didn't like while waiting for anything to happen.

Review: The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal

Alt-history &  hard SF where a meteorite crashes off the east coast, forcing the ramp up of manned spaceflight in the 50's. The main character is a computer with a doctorate in physics who wants to be an astronaut, but sexism.


This is excellent, warm, funny, sad, and everything in between.. This is a book I didn't know how badly I wanted until I got to read it. Great characters, great science and engineering, and great story! 


I read a manuscript that I won in a charity auction and look forward to reading the final book as soon as it is out.


Review: Under the Pendulum Sky

Under the Pendulum Sun - Jeannette Ng

DNF at 34%. Queen Mab has finally appeared on the scene, but I'm tired and bored and increasingly convinced that the narrator is going to either fuck her brother or reveal that they have previously been lovers.


Impending incest or not, this just isn't the book for me. The prose is great. There just isn't enough action for my bloodthirsty tastes. Like the narrator, I long to flee the grueling repetition of being stuck in the same manner with the same odd people and take to the wilds. Sadly, when she does finally break and make a run for it, she almost immediately turns around.


Probably great for fans of Goblin Emperor, another excellent novel I couldn't get into. 

Fantasy Flights May Meeting - Nebulas

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak

Every month, I go to a book club that meets at a local taproom. Rather than reading a specific book, each month has a theme. May's theme was the Nebula Awards because, well, they are awarded in May. The Nebulas are one of those awards I've always been vaguely aware of from stickers on books, though I do enjoy Ceridwen's Blogging the Nebulas posts. I was a bit surprised to see how many previous nominees I'd read. I had to cull down to just a handful of recommendations. 


Here's what I ended up bringing from this year's ballot:


Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty. I wanted to read something on topic for the month, so I compared this year's Nebula and Hugo nominees. The overlap included Six Wakes, which I hadn't read yet, and is published by Orbit. The Hugo voter packet includes whatever publishers provide, and Orbit has traditionally included excerpts of nominees, not full books. Strategery! Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. 


The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss. I read this one last year, and abso-fucking-lutly loved it. Great characters in an interesting concept, and there's a sequel out really soon. I was so happy to see it on an awards ballot. I won an auction for a signed copy that arrived a day before our May meeting.


I also decided, like I had when our theme was the Hugos, to bring some of my favorite losers. The awards hadn't been announced when we met, so I didn't even know my first two picks had lost. I would have brought Stone Sky, but I've rec'd to this group before. But here are some real losers:


A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar.  I adored this beautifully written fantasy novel about a book nerd's misadventures. The not-sequel is also amazing. Samatar's prose is just wonderful. My copy of this was signed here in Alabama, at a lecture she was giving MFA students in Tuscaloosa. Because if a master of the genre is going to make an appearance in my state, I can be a little late to work the next morning. Oh, since I'm late posting this, I can link to her recent AMA. This book lost to Ancillary Justice in 2014. But it did win a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, and a Crawford Award. Samatar also won the Campbell Award for best new writer. Her blog has since become private, so I can't link to her post about the WFA, but more on that in the next book.


Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor. My copy of this is technically a gift for my niece. I got it signed at Worldcon in Chicago. She's almost old enough to read  it. This is a different indictment/celebration of fantasy than Samatar's, but no less powerful or wonderfully written. It lost to Blackout/All Clear in 2011, and I can't even. It did win a Kindred, and a World Fantasy Award that year, sparking an essay that eventually resulted in a redesign of the award statue 5 years later.


China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh. I read this so long ago I don't have a review for it. It combines a vast scope with a well done character study. McHugh has done a lot of outstanding work, and this is no exception. This lost to Doomsday Book in 1993, but won a Lambda, Locus, and Tiptree.


Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny. This is one of those books that starts off firmly a fantasy, but reveals itself as science fiction, and the author is a poet. One of my favorite books. My current not for load copy is the leather bound Eaton Press edition. In addition to being a piece of goddamned art, this book was the cheesy sci-fi novel used as cover for the Canadian Caper, aka, the CIA operation in Argo. It lost to The Einstein Intersection in 1968, but won a Hugo that year.


All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak. Simak wrote at least three versions of alien invasions that followed roughly the same plot. This is the best one. A small town finds itself cut off from the outside world and some purple flowers are revealed to be extraterrestrials. Creepy and weird, it's worth a read if you're visiting that era of scifi. It lost to Dune in 1966, making it one of the first losers.


Next month's theme is Urban Fantasy.

Review: Ace of Shades

Ace of Shades - Amanda Foody

This book is like the inverse of Last Call; all the characters are compelling and the look and feel of the world is gorgeously envisioned, but the mythology is under developed and the resolution lacking.


My first Owl Crate book, a fast paced adventure in a dazzling world full of mystery. The first two thirds was great, loved the main characters and the setting. The pacing is good, and the heroine, while overwhelmed with a world beyond her experience, is smart enough to figure out how to survive.


The last third was more invested in setting up a sequel than in providing any sort of satisfactory conclusion. The game, alluded to throughout, when finally played, was underwhelming and told with far less intensity and detail than previous events in the book.


I'm on the fence about reading a sequel. I liked these characters a lot. I liked a lot of the concepts and visuals, but I can't tell if the lack of resolution is an issue of where in the story this book stops, or an issue with the author. Perhaps Moody is interested in different aspects of the narrative.