Thoughts on the 2017 World Fantasy Awards


I’ve pretty much finished all the reviews of the World Fantasy Awards fiction nominees. I’m not going to look at the collections, so it’s time for a wrap up of what I thought.

What really jumps out is the considerable overlap this list has with other major SFF awards, especially the Hugos. In order to complete reviews of the whole World Fantasy list, I had to read 2 novels out of 5 nominees, 1 long fiction out of 5 and 3 short stories out of 5. All the others I had already reviewed as part of either the Nebula or the Hugo Awards. This makes my reviewing job easier, but again, it points out the inbred nature of the SFF awards and the lack of diversity in sources the works are drawn from.

Speaking of diversity, this list is notable for leaning heavily to black and white nominees and totally shutting out both Asian and Hispanic/LatinX/Native American authors. Counting up the ethnicity, it looks like there were three black authors out of fifteen or 20% of the nominees, which well beats the approximately 12% African American population demographic in the US. The list gets extra diversity points for having one nominee of Arab descent, but Arabs are currently designated white in the US.

There are a couple of folks who are LGBTQ and advertize disability diagnoses. Again, the absence of Asian and Hispanic/LatinX/Native Americans could have to do with the lack of diversity in sources the fantasy audience draws from. Gender breakdown was 4 women to one man in the novel category, 2 women to 3 men in the long fiction category and 5 women to 0 men in the short fiction category. This adds up to 10 women to 5 men, following the current trend to strongly favor women writers in the awards nominations. There was also fair diversity of publishers except in the long-fiction category, where published 4 out of 5 of the nominees.

I’ve already reviewed each of the works for quality, content and logical coherence. All of these were well written, with a few real standouts. I don’t have any complaints about the winners. They were first class in all categories. I did note some strong political messages in some of the works. This is a troubling issue. Doesn’t it affect readability when the author’s political views are so obviously promoted that they take over the story?

Again, many congratulations to the World Fantasy Winners!


Review of “Bloodybones” by Paul F. Olson

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This novella was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. It was published for the first time in the author’s collection Whispered Echoes.

David’s friend Amy disappears from her property at Vassey Point during a violent storm. David helps her father close up her home in the old lighthouse, but six months later, he’s drawn to return. He meets Amy’s sister Karen wandering on the property, and the two of them strike up an acquaintance. They begin reading through Amy’s journals, finding creepy things. Can they solve the mystery of what happened to her?

Good points: This is a psychological horror, a ghost story that takes shape as the supernatural closes down slowly but surely on the two protagonists. It’s very smooth and offhand, so I gather Olson is very practiced at this. It includes a lot of information from David (as the narrator) that gives us local color and background on Amy, Karen and the history of the point that’s led to its haunting. Also, I can see the film in my head. This is very cinematic.

Not so good points: The narrator’s casual, matter-of-fact tone keeps the events here from becoming really scary. It’s very white bread and traditional. The techniques for generating horror are fairly standard—enclosed spaces, violent storms, ghostly presences, etc. I appreciate Olson’s technique and subtlety, but this just shivered my nerves a little. It didn’t really scare me.

Four stars.

Review of The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

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This novella is volume 6 of the Penric and Desdemona tales, following Mira’s Last Dance. It was published by Spectrum Literary Agency in October 2017 and runs about 139 pages.

Temple sorcerer and demon host Penric and his friend the widowed Nikys have successfully escaped to the duchy of Orbas, but Penric has put off returning to his work as a temple scholar, hoping Nikys will accept a proposal of marriage. She stalls, concerned about the chaos demon that Penric always carries around with him. However, she accidentally intercepts a letter to her brother saying her mother has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in Cedonia. She comes to Penric for help. Can the two of them rescue mom? Will Nikys ever accept Penric’s proposal of marriage?

Like all the other novellas in this continuing story, this is a quick, entertaining read. The novella is nothing really profound, but Bujold is an accomplished writer and her characters are well-developed, absorbing and entertaining. The world is pretty well built by now, and I don’t have any problems visualizing the houses, towns or shrines. I thought Mira’s Last Dance was a little weird, but maybe it was all to put Nikys off. She’s having to make up her mind here if she can buy the package deal.

Recommended. Three and a half stars.

Review of Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold


This isn’t part of my project to review under-represented minorities—it’s one just for fun. This novella is another in the continuing series of Penric and his resident demon Desdemona. It was released in 2017, which makes it eligible for next year’s awards. It runs about 90 pages and looks to be released independently. It picks up where Penric’s Mission leaves off.

Penric, Arisaydia and Nikys are limping across Cedonia toward the border and safety in the Duchy of Orbas. Penric was injured in his recent battle with the sorcerer Kyrato; General Arisaydia is recuperating from blindness and his widowed sister Nikys is just plain tired. When they get to the town of Sosie, the temple is occupied by a funeral, so Penric can’t get money by robbing the collection boxes as he normally does. They find refuge in a brothel instead, as Penric contracts to rid the premises of pests. He heals the madam, as well, and borrows her expertise to disguise himself as a woman for the rest of the trip to the border. Unfortunately he catches the eye of one of the house’s clientele. Will they make it to the safety of Orbas? Will Penric and Nikys hook up?

Bujold is an accomplished writer, so her characterization, imagery, plot, etc. are all neatly in place. These novellas have been on the awards ballots fairly regularly, and I suspect the reason is that Penric is a boy and his demon is a girl. This leaves the option to investigate questions of gender identity and how this is received by others. I hadn’t noticed it so much in the other novellas, but here Penric assumes the identity of the courtesan Mira, navigating the minefields of cross-dressing and indeterminate sexuality while attempting to pursue the elusive Nikys. It’s a light, quick read, just the thing to brighten up a rainy night.

On the negative side, I wish these novellas were a little touch darker. They’re light on conflict, as there’s never much in the way of a real threat. Penric seems light-minded, as well, and never dark—just confusing to the people he meets. I hope there’s some supporting reason for this escapade in the upcoming tales.

Three and a half stars.

Review of Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

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One good thing about the cross-over between Nebula and Hugo finalists is that it cuts down on the amount of reading I have to do to review all the candidates. I’ve already finished all the other Hugo contenders in the novella category, so this will close it out. The listed publisher for Bujold’s novel is Spectrum Literary Agency. (Penric’s Demon says this same thing. I gather she self-published.)

Four years after the events of Penric’s Demon, Penric has been hastily educated and is living in the palace of the Princess-Archdivine. He has come to terms with his demon Desdemona and is respectably installed as a divine of the Bastard’s Order. However, his scholarly work is interrupted by the arrival of a Locator of the Father’s Order who is trying to capture a shaman charged with murder. Because magic is involved, the Archdivine assigns Penric to accompany the Locator. Once they get close to their quarry in the mountains, they find all is not as it seemed, and Penric needs all of his skills and talent to deal with the situation.

This novella has many of the same good points that Penric’s prior adventure had. It’s apparently young adult and is a smooth, easy read, well-plotted, with good characterization, good imagery, etc. etc. etc. Bujold is a professional, after all. The story is an entertaining tale, but this one didn’t grip me quite the way Penric’s Demon did. It reads more like a straightforward supernatural mystery, and lacks the depth that Penric’s symbolic marriage to Desdemona gave the first installment. It doesn’t develop quite the same drama, either.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” by Kij Johnson

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This fantasy story is a Nebula finalist in the novella category. It was published by, and ended up with 10 recommendations on the Nebula Reading List.

Vellitt Boe is a professor at Ulthar Women’s College. She is awakened in the middle of the night by a student who reports that Claire Jurat, a third year mathematics student, has run away with a dreamer. In her youth, Boe was a far-traveler, and she volunteers to go after Jurat to save them all from the gods’ wrath. She makes up a pack, receives funds from the college bursar and sets out. She just misses catching up with the couple, as they have already passed through the gate into the real world. Boe then sets off on a quest for a way to pass through. Assisted by a gug, finds a passage through the land of the ghouls that opens into a real world cemetery. The gug transforms to a Buick, and Boe finds she has knowledge of the world. An artifact she picked up on her travels turns out to be a cell phone. Can she find Jurat and convince her to save the dreamworld?

This is another novella that could have been a really short short story. It’s also an book full of well-written prose for people who just like reading. Not much happens—we travel along with Boe, and for a while, a little cat, meet people and see layered realities. It’s a very creative concept and we get a really good feel for what the dream world is like as it is revealed through the narrative. It has an emotionally satisfying ending, but I’m not sure it holds water. How can you change a world that’s generated by dreams in the real world? Minor social commentary.

Four stars for the quality of the prose.

Review of “A Taste of Honey” by Kai Ashante Wilson


This Nebula finalist is a novella published by It ended up with 11 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Aqib is a royal cousin in the kingdom of Olorum who is talented with animals and works in the city menagerie. His family has recently lost status, and his father expects Aqib to marry well to increase the family fortunes. The boy is young and starting to attract the attention of marriage brokers, but he also attracts Lucrio, a Dalucan soldier stationed in the city for a peacekeeping mission. The two become lovers. Aqib later charms the highborn Femysade and the two wed. The marriage is harmonious and the couple produces a daughter, but Aqib keeps a long term relationship going with Lucrio, even though his brother tries to interfere. Femysade is talented in women’s work, a savant in math and science. She is tapped by the gods to go to their distant city and work, which leaves Aqib to raise their daughter alone. When his tour of duty ends, Lucrio has to go back to Daluz. He begs Aqib to go with him. Should he go or stay?

Well, this is different. I read somewhere that it’s supposed to be epic fantasy, but it’s actually science fiction and a love story. It’s described as a follow up to Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which presumably explains more about the universe where Aqib lives. It does have characteristics of fantasy, but it’s written in a science fictional framework–it’s just that to the non-technical people of the city, science is the work of the gods and therefore something distant, arcane and magical.

Pros: You have to hand it to Wilson for writing a straight-out love story, which is sort of out of fashion in SFF. Also, you have to give him credit for turning a few social conventions on their heads, making science and math women’s work, for example; for putting the beautiful Aqib on the marriage market, and also for avoiding the subject of race. The figures on the cover are black, presumably because Wilson is an African American writer, but actually he doesn’t give many clues to the racial identity of his characters. The writing also has a good flow which makes it easy, comfortable reading. Cons: The characters aren’t well developed and I didn’t engage with them very deeply. The narrative skips around in time and into alternate realities, so the story has very little in the way of plot or structure.

Three and a half stars.

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