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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 Dramatic Presentation Short Form

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 category should be fairly self explanatory. For a while, it could have been called "Best Doctor Who Episode, but this year it's The Good Place that has multiple entries.


  • Black Mirror: “USS Callister,” written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, directed by Toby Haynes (House of Tomorrow) - I have been hearing about this episode for ages, but am not a Black Mirror fan. Having now watched it, I just don't get why so many people recommended it. Yes, it's Star Trek, but there are far better parodies. The Black Mirror episode on last year's ballot was a far more successful story.


  • The Deep [song], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes) - Daveed Diggs' band making another appearance on the ballot with this track. This track is an Afrofuturist tale originally created for an episode of This American Life. I like this quite a bit.


  • Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Cymru Wales) - I wandered away from Who after a couple of seasons of failing to appreciate Moffat. This episode is both the end of his reign and the first appearance of Jodi Whittaker in her new role as the Doctor. I also haven't watched it and am just going to leave it off of my ballot. Though I totally plan to pick up the doctor again in the new season.


  • The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit,” written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television) - This series was so much fun, we watching the first season in 3 days. So very watchable, and this episode I cannot even talk about.


  • The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television) - Unfortunately, this is still a Hulu exclusive and I am not a Hulu subscriber. I'm just going to leave it off my ballot.


  • Star Trek: Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander, directed by David M. Barrett (CBS Television Studios). I finally found a friend with CBS All Access, and we binged the whole season in 2 episodes. I loved the season, but felt this was one of the weaker episodes. Still, a weak episode in this gonzo series is pretty good.


So, I'm thinking "Michael's Gambit" at the top of the ballot, followed by the ST: Disco episode. The Deep in third, and nothing else on the ballot? Yeah, that feels like the best option.

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

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.


At last, a category I'm prepared for. Thanks to my movie buddy, I've actually seen half of these in the theater. And the rest I'd rented before the ballot was even out.


  • Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Alcon Entertainment / Bud Yorkin Productions / Torridon Films / Columbia Pictures) - Good, and the kind of beautiful I'm glad I saw in theater, but I swear this film has a tits timer. Like, every 17 minutes, it's time to show the audience tits. Let's have a long, lingering shot of stone nipples for this scene that doesn't have women in it because tits. 


  • Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Blumhouse Productions / Monkeypaw Productions / QC Entertainment) - An excellent and uncomfortable movie to watch. Highly recommended. Will be in my top 3.


  • The Shape of Water, written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, directed by Guillermo del Toro (TSG Entertainment / Double Dare You / Fox Searchlight Pictures) - Lovely and fun to watch, but lacks the complexity and relevance of most of these entries. A good film, but not in my top 3.


  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Lucasfilm, Ltd.) - I have still not decided what I thought of this movie. It's complicated. Probably only above Blade Runner, but man, this is a tough year.


  • Thor: Ragnarok, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost; directed by Taika Waititi (Marvel Studios) - This is the glittery retro-futuristic fun I've been waiting for. A delight to watch. Easily my favorite Marvel Studios film. Top 3.


  • Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers).  - Such a great movie, if a few minutes long. I've watched this 4 times now. I love Gadot's performance. I can almost hold back my tears during the No Man's Land scene. Top 3.


So those top 3 are going to change places an infinite number of times before voting closes. Last year was a great year for scifi movies!

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Graphic Novel

Black Bolt (2017-) #1 - Leonard Bacon;Joseph Parrish Thompson;Richard Salter Storrs;Henry Ward Beecher;Joshua Leavitt;Henry Chandler Bowen;Theodore Tilton;William Hayes Ward;Hamilton Holt;Harold de Wolf Fuller;Fabian Franklin;Christian Archibald Herter, Saladin Ahmed Bitch Planet Volume 2: President Bitch - Kelly Sue DeConnick Monstress Volume 2: The Blood - Marjorie M. Liu My Favorite Thing Is Monsters - Emil Ferris Paper Girls Volume 3 - Brian K. Vaughan Saga, Volume 7 - Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan

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'd only read 2 of these in advance of the finalist announcement. Two more are properties I'm familiar with from earlier volumes.


  • Black Bolt, Volume 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, illustrated by Christian Ward, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Marvel) - 3.5 stars, loved the art and liked the writing. Still laughing that his name is Blackagar Boltagon. 


  • Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Taki Soma, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics) 4.5 Stars, this one I adored to much to even put into words.


  • Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image Comics) -  4 Stars, a stronger book than the first one in terms of pacing, and with the same gorgeous art.


  • My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics) - Interesting concept, but very slow. I didn't actually finish this book.


  • Paper Girls, Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image Comics) - 3.5 Stars, did not love.


  • Saga, Volume 7, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics) - 3 Stars, fine, but kind of a low point for the series so far.


So Bitch Planet is definitely at the top, followed by Monstress and Black Bolt. The other three could go in any order, but maybe I'll just leave them off because I don't really feel strongly about them at all. 


Review: Black Bolt, Vol 1.

Black Bolt, Vol. 1: Hard Time - Saladin Ahmed

Great color palette and good story. I only knew this character as one of the Marvel Puzzle Quest options. One of my favorite parts of the writing in this volume is just how many times Ahmed manages to mention Black Bolt's full name, Blackagar Boltagon. Reader, I laughed every time. 


The plot is a fairly straightforward story where the protagonist learns to see the world in less black and white terms, but where evil is still easily identified. A good diversion that I might read more of, but not something I'm running to the comic shop to follow up on.

Review: Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon - Seanan McGuire

This is a fun ride with a great protagonist and a ton of fantastic characters. Religious mice, ballroom dancing, ass kicking, and nerding out in a blender on a bar in a strip club called Dave's Fish and Strips. This series has a lot of potential, and I look forward to reading more in it.

2018 Hugo Ballot: WSFS Best YA Award

Akata Warrior - Nnedi Okorafor The Art of Starving - Sam J. Miller The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) - Philip Pullman In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan A Skinful of Shadows - Frances Hardinge Summer in Orcus - T. Kingfisher

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. 


YA is a new category this year. To which I can only say: IT IS ABOUT FUCKING TIME. This year's business meeting should give it a permanent name as well. " The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Award for Best Young Adult Book" is a bit unwieldy. The proposed name is Lodestar, but of course, no bit of progress can be made without some pushback.


The category was added as a separate award from the Hugos, which is how the Campbell was already classified. Of course, the Campbell's been treated just like a Hugo forever, with only the occasional footnote to point out that it isn't one. But now that there's a YA category, blogs feel the need to lead with it not being a Hugo. It's voted on by the same people as part of the same ballot and awarded at the same ceremony. 


  • Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking) - I started Akata Witch years ago, and abandoned it a quarter of the way, and didn't make it quite as far in this sequel. I'm just not in love with the protagonist or with the habit of every person around her constantly being hypercritical and challenging her every word and action. I'm just not the right audience.


  • The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller (HarperTeen) - I didn't make it more than a few chapters into this one, but I have a very hard time reading about eating disorders. I was hoping this would be a bit more metaphoric, but there's a scene where the narrator accidentally eats some tater tots and finds himself powerless, and I just can't. Again, I am not the right audience.


  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (Knopf) - I read a sample and didn't find anything interesting enough to bother continuing. 


  • In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan (Big Mouth House) - I completely missed this title in spite of it being from one of my favorite YA imprints - the same small press that published Archivist Wasp. While the cover art is kind of lackluster, the story is dynamite. Portal fantasy with a pacifist bi protagonist in a low magic world where most humans train to be soldiers. Brennan discusses writing this as a serialized work on her blog in the afterwards. As a complete novel, it's a delight to read. Easily my favorite YA novel on the ballot.


  • A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK / Harry N. Abrams US) - This has a bit of a slow start, but turns into an interesting, somewhat dark jaunt across war torn England. The main character is a very appealing form of bold, constantly subverting the expectations of those around her. 


  • Summer in Orcus, written by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), illustrated by Lauren Henderson (Sofawolf Press) - This novel was also a portal fantasy originally published in a serialized format. It was also a fun jaunt, but it felt a bit young for a YA novel. Like it would be better classified as the high end of middle grade.


So my favorite two of these were originally serialized stories, which is not consistent with my usual view of serialized short fiction. Perhaps encountering them already collected into a continuous narrative makes them work better for me. In spite of my reservations about the categorization of Summer in Orcus, it will place second on my ballot after In Other Lands. Third will be Skinful of Shadows, and the rest I may just leave off the ballot.

Review: Monstress Vol. 2

Monstress Volume 2: The Blood - Marjorie M. Liu

I liked this one far more than the first and I am not even sure why. The art is just as gorgeous and the prose as high quality, but somehow this felt stronger than the first volume. 

2018 Hugo Ballot: Best Professional 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 heavily on the voter packet here as well to ensure I'm judging eligible works. Professional Artist tends to be dominated by cover artists, and it's nice to see someone from the graphic novel world on the list. Actually, the same someone as last year. Four of these 6 were on last year's ballot, and Galen Dara was on the top of my ballot.


  • Galen Dara - Dara's art is breathtaking, distinctive, and I'm not sure why I don't own any. Certainly deserves a place high on my ballot.


  • Kathleen Jennings - I didn't love anything in Jenning's voter packet material. Style and color choices really just not my cup of tea.


  • Bastien Lecouffe Deharme - Oh, right, this is the artist that did the Shroud of Eternity cover. His stuff is good, but the colors are a little dark for my tastes in several of them.


  • Victo Ngai - Fine, but nothing I'm in love with in the voter packet. 


  • John Picacio - I like the clean presentation of what he's included in the voter packet, and I love his Mexican Initiative for this year's Worldcon, but I'm not really in love with his art. 


  • Sana Takeda - I adore the art in Monstress. It is so rich in detail. Takeda is just knocking it out of the park with that book.


So Dara and Takeda will be fighting it out for the top slot on my ballot. Followed by Deharme, Picacio, and Ngai, probably in that order. Jennings is in last place, but everyone in this category is talented. 

Review: Saga, Vol 7

Saga, Volume 7 - Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan

Volume 6 was so amazing that I went back and purchased the two previous volumes I'd missed. 7, well, maybe not so much. It felt very thin on content. Very little happened and then lots of death, which was pretty much the only way the scenario could end. 


I'm pretty much done with The Will, but apparently the narrative wasn't. 


The art is still great. Maybe the next one will have some momentum.

Review: White Night

White Night - Jim Butcher

I think this actually benefited from sitting on the shelf for like 8 months because of a lack of road trips long enough to bother starting it. Like, having to juggle paying attention with trying to remember how the hell we ended up in this cave party in the middle of a fight was actually engaging. 

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.