Congrats to the 2018 Nebula Award Winners!

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Novel: The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal

Novella: The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard

Novelette: “The Only Harmless Great Thing,” Brooke Bolander

Short Story: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, Phenderson Djèlí Clark

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Screenplay by: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Review of The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

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This novella is a finalist for the 2018 Nebula Awards. It is sort of unclassifiable and was published by Subterranean. For anyone who follows de Bodard, this is set in her Xuya universe and follows two other unconnected novellas, The Citadel of Weeping Pearls and On A Red Station, Drifting. This review contains spoilers.

The ex-military mindship The Shadow’s Child has been traumatized by an incident in the Deep Spaces that killed her crew, and she is eking out a living as a tea master at a habitat, brewing potions to customer order. This doesn’t pay very well, so she’s worried about making the rent on her office space. She is approached by a client called Long Chau who wants a tea blend that will allow her to function at her best in the Deep Spaces. Because of the rent problem, The Shadow’s Child takes on the commission. Long Chau wants to locate and conduct research on a corpse, but accidently finds one that was murdered, then sets out to investigate. The Shadow’s Child gets involved and realizes Long Chau is hiding secrets of her own. As the plot continues, a girl called Tuyet is attacked by the Sisterhood and is at risk in the Deep Spaces. Can The Shadow’s Child overcome her trauma and rescue the girl and Long Chau before it’s too late?

So, this seems to be a mashup of Arthur C. Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang, with maybe a few debts to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. The story takes place in a universe where human habitats are separated by a sea of unreality called the Deep Spaces. Mindships are operated by a person embedded in the heartroom of the ship and can navigate the sea, either cruising in the shallows or jumping from point to point at greater depth. The culture is Asian. On the positive side, this is very creative. The setting, characters and description are all adequate. The detail about personal robots that live in people’s sleeves and crawl around on them is 1) creepy, 2) decadent and 3) sort of delightful.

On the not so positive side, the unreality of the whole thing sort of got to me. I don’t understand why Long Chau thinks she’s Sherlock Holmes, and she does some really stupid things here in trying to carry out her own investigation of the murder, then expects The Shadow’s Child to pull her out of the fire. This was actually a little too predictable. I was also confused by how The Shadow’s Child manages to occupy her office. She apparently projects an avatar to do it, but it’s not just a hologram—she’s also present in it somehow, sees and hears through its sensors. She walks around through the habitat in this condition, drinks make-believe tea, and then her essence retreats to the heartroom when she wants to leave. Wouldn’t a nice robot work better? And how do you serve make-believe tea? Nobody seems concerned about this—does that mean a lot of people in the habitat wander around as projected avatars? Hm. Other than that, there’s not much in the way of depth, and I don’t think there’s enough plot, action and interest to support this length.

Three stars.

Congratulations to the 2018 Nebula Finalists!

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It’s that time again, and the SFWA has come through with a really varied list. I’ll start some reviews with the next blog.

Novel
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK)
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Witchmark by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

Novella
Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi)
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean)
Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)

Novelette
“The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com 7/11/18)
“An Agent of Utopia” by Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia)
“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” by José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed 1/18)
“The Rule of Three” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Future Science Fiction Digest 12/18)
“Messenger” by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi (Expanding Universe, Volume 4)

Short Story
“Interview for the End of the World” by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside 2/18)
“Going Dark” by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
“And Yet” by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3-4/18)
“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18)
“The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18)

Review of “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” by Aliette de Bodard

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This novelette is a finalist for the 2018 Hugo Award. It’s fantasy, based on the author’s Dominion of the Fallen series and apparently falls between the novels The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns. The novelette was published in 2017 in Uncanny Magazine.
This review contains spoilers.

The House of Hawthorne is running its annual test for the Houseless where successful candidates will be taken in and escape the dangers of the streets. Thuan and Kim Cuc are dragons from the underwater Seine kingdom and charged with infiltrating the House. They join the candidates and are placed on a team with a Maghrebi girl named Leila. The test supervisor Sere gives them a hodgepodge of materials and instructions to produce something, so they decide to cook pastry. Part way through the recipe, the house’s wards fail and it’s invaded by the Children of Thorns. The candidates are evacuated, but Kim Cuc goes missing. Can Thuan rescue her, save himself and Leila and cement a position with the house?

This read like the tip of a really big iceberg, which would be the series where these characters live. I was impressed with the creativity and apparent structure of the universe, where the kingdoms of dragons and fallen angels juxtapose in the ruined city of Paris. The imagery and otherworldly feel of the house are very well done.

On the not so good side, this doesn’t really provide enough information for me to understand the world and how these characters fit into it. Despite the rich promise of the universe, this turned out to be more action than character driven. There was little background on the angels or the master of the house. Also, the characters didn’t quite seem to match what they’re supposed to be. Sere acts more like a company employee than a magical being, and Thuan and Kim Cuc didn’t come off very dragonish, either. Instead, they seem comfortable as humans, joking around in a competitive way without much depth. If Thuan is 300 years old, then he must be developmentally delayed—he comes off as very young and inexperienced. The description of the test said the team performance would be weighed as a whole, so I thought everyone on the team would be accepted; then I was surprised when Kim Cuc wasn’t.

This is a good introduction to the book series, where readers get a taste of what the novels are like. I expect some will be go on to try out the books.

Three and a half stars.

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Congrats to the 2018 Hugo Finalists!

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Here’s what I got for the diversity count: Short stories – 6 women, 0 men, 3 Asian, 1 mixed race African/Native American. Novelettes – 5 women, 1 trans, 3 Asian. Novellas – 5 women, 1 trans, 1 Asian, 1 African American, 1 bipolar. Novels – 4 women, 2 men, 1 Asian, 1 African American.

Three short stories, 2 novelettes and 1 novella (6 of 24) are from Uncanny; 1 short story, 1 novelette, 5 novellas and 1 novel (8 of 24) are from Tor and Orbit published 4 of the 6 novels. The pro print magazines scored poorly, as Asimov’s squeaked in with one entry, but F&SF and Analog were totally shut out this year.

As usual, there’s quite a bit of overlap between these finalists and those of the Nebula Award, including 4 of 6 short stories, 3 of 6 novelettes, 4 of 6 novellas and 2 of 6 novels. Like the Nebulas, there is also repetition of names, as Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker and Yoon Ha Lee appear in more than one category. There’s also overlap with last years’ Hugo finalist list: N.K. Jemisin, Yoon Ha Lee, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and Ursula Vernon were all finalists in 2017. Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorifor were finalists in 2016.

Best Novel

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Novella

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
And Then There Were (N-One), by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, Mar-Apr 2017)
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

“Children of Thorns, Children of Water“, by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, Jul-Aug 2017)
“Extracurricular Activities“, by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)
“The Secret Life of Bots“, by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, Sep 2017)
“A Series of Steaks“, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, Jan 2017)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time“, by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May-Jun 2017)
“Wind Will Rove“, by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, Sep-Oct 2017)

Best Short Story

“Carnival Nine“, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)
“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand“, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, Sep-Oct 2017)
“Fandom for Robots“, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, Sep-Oct 2017)
“The Martian Obelisk“, by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017)
“Sun, Moon, Dust“, by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny, May-Jun 2017)
“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™“, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, Aug 2017)

Review of “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente

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This story won the first Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction at DragonCon. Other finalists in the category included: “The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir (F&SF, July/Aug 2015), “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong (Nightmare, Oct 2015), “Pocosin” by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, Jan 2015) and “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette De Bodard (Clarkesworld, Jan 2015). According to the website, the Eugie Foster Award “celebrates the best in innovative fiction.”

Violet Wild lives in Purple Country. She falls in love with Orchid Harm, but he’s eaten by time squirrels. Wearing the Sparrowbone Mask of the Incarnadine Fisherwomen, riding her mammoth Sorrow and carrying her watercolor unicorn, Violet leaves her home and sets off on a journey across several colors of countries in search of the Red Country of Death. Eventually she finds it, where she is reunited with Orchid.

I see this described elsewhere as “absurdist.” I also suspect it might be surrealist. I dunno. It’s a little too innovative for me. It reads like a bad LSD trip, with confusing images and metaphors and varying nonsensical descriptions for each color of country. I do have to say it’s an accomplishment to put together something like this, and I admire the work and the technique that went into it. I gather from the award there is an audience that very much appreciates it; however, I also suspect it’s a niche work. There was nothing about it that attracted me. It’s also quite long. I was skimming by the time I got done.

Two stars.

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