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 End of the Day by Claire North

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I really liked Claire North’s WFA winner, so am looking at more of her books. This novel is fantasy. It was published in 2017 by Redhook/Orbit and runs 403 pages.

Charlie is humble and unassuming. He’s just taken a job as the Harbinger of Death, who mysteriously goes before, as a warning, a courtesy—we don’t know which. He often takes small gifts to particular people, chosen to have special meaning just for them. A few assignments are heartwarming. He meets an old woman, the last speaker of her language, helps a father and daughter who have lost their housing. Sometimes his experiences are more jolting and dangerous. He visits Lagos and finds that not only is Death rampaging through the world, but also the other figures of the Apocalypse—Famine, War and Pestilence. Meanwhile profit reigns and the Doomsday Clock ticks toward midnight. Can Charlie keep his sanity and his relationship with Emmi intact?

I really liked North’s last couple of novels. The thriller plot line kept things moving through a lot of bad stuff, and an upbeat ending made it all worthwhile. I can’t say that about this book. It moves slowly, has no structure and gets bogged down in depressing scenes of torture and death.

This is well-written; the characters and settings are well-developed. The book had something important to say—humanity is self-destructive, we’re all just a step away from oblivion, we need to be more thoughtful. However, I can’t say I enjoyed it. It presented warnings but no solutions, and not much in the way of hope.

Three and a half stars.

Congrats to the 2017 Nebula Finalists

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Interestingly, more than one of the names repeat this year. Vina Jie-Min Prasad and Sarah Pinsker both appear in more than one category. This year, the Nebula Recommended Reading List did pretty much accurately predict that the top recommended stories would end up as finalists.

As is usual recently, the list leans heavily female. Here’s a quick diversity count, as well as I can figure it:
Best novel – 6 women, 1 man, 1 African American, 1 Asian, 1 LGBT
Best novella – 4 women, 1 man, 1 non-binary, 1 Asian, 1 Jewish
Best novelette – 2 women, 2 men, 1 trans, 2 LGBT, 1 Asian
Best short story – 4 women, 2 men, 2 Asian, 1 Native American/African American, 2 Jewish

Four of 7 of the Best novel finalists come from Orbit, and 4 of 6 of the Best novella category come from Tor.com, plus one of the novelettes and one of the short stories.

For those who have been keeping up with my blog, you’ll know I’m happy to see a Native American writer represented this year. Many congrats to all! Reviews to follow soon.

Best Novel

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly (Tor)
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss (Saga)
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (Knopf; riverrun)
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (Orbit US)
Jade City by Fonda Lee (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (Tor; Orbit UK 2018)

Best Novella

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages (Tor.com Publishing)
And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3-4/17)
Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen (NobleFusion Press)
All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

“Dirty Old Town” by Richard Bowes (F&SF 5-6/17)
“Weaponized Math” by Jonathan P. Brazee (The Expanding Universe, Vol. 3)
“Wind Will Rove” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 9-10/17)
“A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld 1/17)
“A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson (Tor.com 1/4/17)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny 5-6/17)

Best Short Story

“Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny 9-10/17)
“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex 8/17)
“Utopia, LOL?” by Jamie Wahls (Strange Horizons 6/5/17)
“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny 9-10/17)
“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)” by Matthew Kressel (Tor.com 3/15/17)
“Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/11/17)

Review of The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

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I’m done with a couple of the novels before the short story, after all. Went on a brief tour with a singing group over the week end and read on the bus. Jemisin’s novel was published by Orbit. It ended up with 11 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

After Nassun’s father Jija kills her brother Uche, he takes her south ahead of the smoke and ash of the Rift, eventually ending up at the Antarctic comm where the Guardian Schaffa welcomes them. Essun, meanwhile, is still at the Castrima comm, where she and the stone eater Hoa have found a group of people accepting of orogenes. The dying Alabaster, who tore the Rift in the continent, is also at Castrima, and he tells Essun she needs to learn to connect the obelisks in order to correct the moon’s orbit and stop the Seasons that have nearly caused human extinction. Paradoxically, Schaffa tells Nassun the same thing. While Essun is still struggling with controlling her powers, Castrima is threatened by another comm. Can she defeat the invaders and save the world?

I wasn’t looking forward to reading this one, as I actively disliked last year’s The Fifth Season. Maybe I was just ready for the scenario this year, but this one suited me a lot better. Pros: The story is complex but narrated fairly consistently this time (second person for Essun and third for Nassun), which makes it quite a bit more readable. It still moves at a glacial pace, but the action rises continually to a nice climax at the end. With the plan to rescue the moon, we have some hope of making things better, but the risks here are such that I’m not expecting any of these people will survive. Maybe Nassun.

Cons: Introducing magic into the mix sort of muddies the waters. I thought orogeny was a natural, inborn talent to manipulate the earth and that this was science fiction, but now these people look like witches instead and I’m uncertain about the rules of their magic. Also, I’ve lost that little pique of wonder about the obelisks, but it’s balanced a bit by some scary things going on related to free will. I still don’t much like the characters, but this novel looks quite a bit more award worthy than Jemisin’s entry last year.

Four and a half stars.

Review of The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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This is a Hugo finalist in the Best Novel category, published by Orbit.

The story is about a land called the Stillness which is seismically active. The stills are ordinary people; orogenes are talents able to control the seismic activity; guardians can shut down the orogenes power, and stone eaters have the power to move through earth and stone like it’s air. The land is governed by an ineffectual leadership and consists of cities and communities that are struggling for survival. The Fifth Season is death, caused by cataclysmic seismic events. Orogenes are hated and feared, and the guardians try to capture the children and enslave them to work for an institution called the Fulcrum. Besides this, there are mysterious obelisks that float above the Earth’s surface, either alien artifacts or the product of ancient civilizations. There are four different time streams in the plot that converge. A woman sits by a dead child; a man breaks the land; an orogene child is taken and tortured by a guardian; two orogenes are commissioned to clear a harbor of coral, and as the effort dramatically fails, they escape and take refuge with pirates. As the broken land begins to die, a stream of refugees heads south, away from the epicenter of the event.

This is the first work I’ve read from Jemisin, and I was impressed with her imagination. The setup is brilliant, the imagery, the setting, the talents and the air of mystery about the forgotten artifacts are first rate. I’m not surprised that she’s nominated for a lot of awards. However, she doesn’t win that much. There are issues here, so I’ll pick at this a little more than I normally do.

The first issue is readability. There’s not much that really happens in the story, but it moves at a glacial pace, ending up at about 450 pages. I was 25 pages in before I had an idea of what might be going on, and 100 pages in before I connected in any way with the characters. It’s written in a sort of folksy, storytelling style. This softens the horrors going on, but that, the shift between time streams and a shift between second and third person for the narration tends to make it over-complex and inserts too much of the author. Second issue: this is described as The Broken Earth, Book 1, so I expect it will continue. That’s good, because it doesn’t really wrap anything up. It just stops. The last (and worst) issue is that I don’t really like any of these characters. They hate each other and live miserable lives. Nobody gets to be a hero—they just struggle and die, or else they survive.

Three and a half stars.

Congrats to the Nebula nominees!

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Nebula_Award_logoNovel

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Novella

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
‘‘The Bone Swans of Amandale’’, C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
‘‘The New Mother’’, Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
‘‘The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn’’, Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles’’, Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Novelette

‘‘Rattlesnakes and Men’’, Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
‘‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’’, Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
‘‘Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds’’, Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
‘‘The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society’’, Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
‘‘The Deepwater Bride’’, Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story

‘‘Madeleine’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
‘‘Cat Pictures Please’’, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
‘‘Damage’’, David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
‘‘Today I Am Paul’’, Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J. J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Review of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

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Ancillary Mercy (2015) is the third installment of this space opera trilogy, preceded by Ancillary Justice (2013) and Ancillary Sword (2014). All books are published by Orbit.

This novel picks up where the last one left off. Breq and members of her crew are on Athoek Station where a recent attempt on Breq’s life has resulted in massive damage to the dome above the gardens that help supply air for the station. The floor of the gardens has failed, allowing lake water to flood the Undergarden where a large number of homeless people have been living. Cleanup and reconstruction would seem to be simple, but Ifian, priest of Aamat, has refused to sanction the repairs to the Undergarden. The priests have gone on strike, and the homeless have staged a peaceful protest, forming a long line for services. The governor and administrator of the station are at an impasse.

In the midst of this, administration has located someone who turns out to be an ancillary of a ship lost for 3000 years. Breq has been publicly identified as an ancillary fragment of the Justice of Toren, and the AIs from the ships and station are pushing for recognition as independent intelligences. An emissary arrives from the Presger, a powerful, non-human race, apparently to investigate the death of the previous emissary who was killed by Station Security. Then one of the clones of Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, arrives with four warships to take over the station, and Breq deploys a desperate plan to stop her.

This trilogy is an adventure tale, meant to be entertaining. The conclusion was a fairly smooth read. There was minimal background, but this time I had done my homework, so didn’t have to wonder who was who and what they were up to. What made the previous two books stand out was the sharp edge and the social/political commentary woven in. The series is well known for the Radchaai’s exclusive use of female pronouns, which has lost its novelty here. There are still moments of genius. Although the Presger are terrifying, Translator Zeiat is an ingénue. Still, I was disappointed to find the text has lost its edge. This installment slid into the warm, fuzzy over-protection mode that I’ve identified as a current trend.

Breq as a character has radically changed over the course of the trilogy. In Ancillary Justice, she’s cold and hard-edged enough to just shoot humans that stand in her way. In Ancillary Sword, given the responsibility to protect Athoek System, she develops a social conscience. She makes decisions on what she means to support with her new-found resources and works to provide social justice for the exploited. In this book, she is humanized, less an action figure and more a symbol that has won everyone over with her virtue and social conscience. She is warmly supported by everyone and only has to set her plan in motion to have others work it successfully to a close. There is no recognition that she is any kind of aberration. Also, I’m put off by what looks like bullying of one of the officers by others on the ship because of perceived privilege. The buildup is good, but tension falters at what should be the climax. It’s a good story, but this one has a sexist feel. Three stars.

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