The State of SFF – April 2021

I had hoped I could tell you of my vaccination experience by now but, alas, the only thing the Austrian government is really good at this year is creating scandals to distract from the other scandals they’re responsible for… We’re vaccinating much too slowly and the people being vaccinated aren’t always the ones who are supposed to come first. So I do what I’ve done for the last few months: I wait patiently while some rich dudes with connections get vaccinated before those who need it the most. Because the world is a shitty place…

Anyway, on to happier topics!

Quickie News

  • The Hugo Award nomination period has officiall ended and the finalists will be announced on April 13th. I hope you saved your ballot in time. We don’t have much longer to wait to for the finalists and I am so excited to catch up the 2020 releases I missed.
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  • Outlander, the Starz TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s books, will get a seventh season! I should read the third book sometime and/or continue season four of the show… 
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  • N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy has been optioned for series development with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s studio producing. Now we know that “optioned” doesn’t say much, but if we actually get a TV show with Yeine and Nahadoth, there will be many happy squees.
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  • There will be a new illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings featureing J.R.R. Tolkien’s own illustrations. The shiny-looking hardback (or deluxe slipcase if you’d like to splurge) are set to come out in October. Now I’m a sensible person who understands that two editions of LOTR is enough to have and I really, really don’t need another one.

The Nebula Award Finalists are here!

The Nebula Award Finalists 2021 have been announced and they look EXCELLENT! As we know, there is usually a big overlap between Nebula and Hugo finalists but 2020 was such a great year for SFF publications that I wonder if there might be more different works on the two ballots this year. We’ll see, but either way, I am excited and will do my best to catch up on the Nebula finalists I haven’t read yet. Also: Congratulations to all the finalists!

The Nebula finalists are:

  • Susanna Clarke – Piranesi
  • N. K. Jemisin – The City We Became
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Mexican Gothic
  • C. L. Polk – The Midnight Bargain
  • Rebecca Roanhorse – Black Sun
  • Martha Wells – Network Effect

I’ve read four out of six and the two remaining ones have been on my TBR since they came out. And they’re both books that I’ve been super excited about. If you’re interested in my thoughts about the books I have read, my reviews for Piranesi, The City We Became, Mexican Gothic, and Network Effect can all be found on the blog. Spoiler for my Hugo nominations: all but one of these made my ballot. 😉

I’ve heard nothing but great things about Black Sun and while there hasn’t been as much buzz around The Midnight Bargain, what I have read was also very positive. I’m looking forward to both, especially since Polk’s book has been recommended as “Bridgerton with magic” and I am very much in the mood for that.

And because I’m equally excited about them, here are the Andre Norton Finalists for Best YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. My favorite YA novel of 2020, Raybearer, is on here. Yay!

  • Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer
  • Darcie Little Badger – Elatsoe
  • Shveta Thakrar – Star Daughter
  • Jenn Reese – A Game of Fox and Squirrells
  • T. Kingfisher – A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

If Raybearer wins, I’ll be happy without having read any of the other finalists, because that book was so so good! Then again, I have adored everything T. Kingfisher has written, so Defensive Baking may be another favorite. And Elatsoe has been on my TBR for a while. It keeps looking at me and tempting me with its promise of GHOST DOGS! Star Daughter is also sitting on my shelf with gorgeous gold-sprayed edges. So, in short, I am looking forward to reading all of them.
The only book I hadn’t heard of before is A Game of Fox & Squirrels. But I believe Jenn Reese has been a Norton finalists before, so maybe I should check out her books.

Exciting April Publications

I’ve been reading very slowly so far in 2021 and that’s not good, considering the staggering amount of interesting books being published each month. April is no different, what with not one, but two sequels from well-beloved series coming up. And of course new books by well-known authors, plus some books by debut writers or at least new-to-me authors. 

HELEN OYEYEMI – PEACES (April 6th)

I adore Helen Oyeyemi, even if some of her books go right over my head and I’m not at all sure if I understand all she wants to tell me. This sounds like it’s going to make absolutely no sense at all but since it’s written by Oyeyemi, I’ll bet that it’s a beautiful kind of non-sense. Plus, there’s a pet mongoose.

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The prize-winning, bestselling author of GingerbreadBoy, Snow, Bird; and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours returns with a vivid and inventive new novel about a couple forever changed by an unusual train voyage.

When Otto and Xavier Shin declare their love, an aunt gifts them a trip on a sleeper train to mark their new commitment–and to get them out of her house. Setting off with their pet mongoose, Otto and Xavier arrive at their sleepy local train station, but quickly deduce that The Lucky Day is no ordinary locomotive. Their trip on this former tea-smuggling train has been curated beyond their wildest imaginations, complete with mysterious and welcoming touches, like ingredients for their favorite breakfast. They seem to be the only people onboard, until Otto discovers a secretive woman who issues a surprising message. As further clues and questions pile up, and the trip upends everything they thought they knew, Otto and Xavier begin to see connections to their own pasts, connections that now bind them together.


KRYSTAL SUTHERLAND – HOUSE OF HOLLOW (April 6th)

I’ll admit I discovered this book because of its stunning cover, but then I read the synopsis and had to put it on my wishlist. Dark fairytale, three sisters disappeared and came back without any memories. Now strange things happen around them? I sense fairies and underworlds and a dark, nature-y curse of sorts? I am definitely intrigued.

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A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.


CHARLIE JANE ANDERS – VICTORIES GREATER THAN DEATH (April 13th)

I love Charlie Jane Anders’ writing, so of course I want to see what her YA debut is like. Her adult books were both thought-provoking and lyrical, with complex characters and filled with big ideas. This book sounds much more lighthearted and fun but I’ll take lighthearted and fun written by Anders any day.

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A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

From internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky) comes a thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war—Anders’s long-awaited YA debut.


RENA ROSSNER – THE LIGHT OF THE MIDNIGHT STARS (April 13th)

Aaaaah, look at that pretty cover! That’s basically the evolution of me buying a book. Shiny cover – great synopsis with a few buzz words – book purchase. Jewish folklore is pretty new to me, so I’m excited to dive into that, fairy tale vibes are totally my thing, and the Hungarian woods setting speaks to me because, well, Hungary is right next to my home country and that makes me feel like whatever fairy tale will happen in this book could be happening not that far from where I am.

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An evocative combination of fantasy, history, and Jewish folklore, The Light of the Midnight Stars is fairytale-inspired novel from the author of The Sisters of the Winter Wood.

Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars.

When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village. Rabbi Isaac and his family are forced to flee, to abandon their magic and settle into a new way of life. But a dark fog is making its way across Europe and will, in the end, reach even those who thought they could run from it. Each of the sisters will have to make a choice – and change the future of their family forever.

For more from Rena Rossner, check out The Sisters of the Winter Wood.


ALEXANDRA OVERY – THESE FEATHERED FLAMES (April 20th)

Russian folktales, twins, and queer characters – count me in. This is part one in at least a duology, so if I do read this, it’s yet another commitment to at least give the series a shot. But I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to resist if the fairy tale mood strikes me.

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A queer retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.


CIANNON SMART – WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD (April 20th)

This cover has been going around since last year and I think many people are looking forward to this Jamaican-inspired witchy read. It does sound great but I want to keep my expectations rather low so the reading experience isn’t ruined by the internet’s tendency to overhype books with pretty covers.

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Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes.


ASHAYE BROWN – DREAM COUNTRY (April 27th)

Sibling rivalry between gods sounds awesome! Add to that a murder mystery and meddling humans and you can just call the book Dina bait.

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A sibling rivalry to fuel your worst nightmares.

The dysfunctional triplet gods of Sleep, Dreams and Nightmares are kept separate by the deadly Gates of Horn and Ivory. Only one fact keeps them tightly bound: each of them is a suspect in their mother’s murder. Their knife-edge feud worsens when a mortal enters the world with astounding abilities that threaten to change the game for them all.

In this thrilling young adult fantasy, Ashaye Brown brings to life a visionary world infused with Kenyan, Brazilian, Caribbean, and Grecian cultural references. A story like no other with stakes as high as they come.


MARTHA WELLS – FUGITIVE TELEMETRY (April 27th)

Everyone’s favorite Murderbot is back with a new novella and I don’t think I’ll need to say anything more than that. If you haven’t read Murderbot yet, go get yourself a copy of All Systems Red and join us fans of this lovable killing machine who doesn’t want emotions but sometimes (okay, quite often) has one. Let’s all look forward to another Murderbot story together.

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No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

Again!


NAOMI KRITZER – CHAOS ON CATNET (April 27th)

Catfishing on CatNet was a surprising delight. I didn’t expect to fall in love with that book so much but it was exactly as heartwarming as you’d expect, but also super exciting and myserious. I look forward to returning to CatNet and the adorable cast of this book, especially a certain AI character…

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In this follow-up to the award-winning near future YA thriller Catfishing on CatNet, It takes an AI to catch an AI…

When a mysterious entity starts hacking into social networks and chat rooms to instigate paranoia and violence in the real world, it’s up to Steph and her new friend, Nell, to find a way to stop it—with the help of their benevolent AI friend, CheshireCat.


NEWS FROM THE BLOG

My year didn’t start great but February was already much kinder, reading-wise. I did get sick and had to stay home from work… well, I work from home anyway, but you know, stay at home without working, for over a week. That gave me plenty of time to read and even though I often didn’t know what I was in the mood for, I ended up with some good books.

What I read:

  • Joe Abercrombie – Last Argument of Kings
    fantastic three-dimensional characters – epic battle scenes – fitting grimdark ending – twists not all that surprising
  • Terry Pratchett – Small Gods
    funny – heartwarming – religion on Discworld – made me laugh out loud and cry – book hangover
  • Octavia E. Butler – Parable of the Talents
    devestating yet hopeful – brilliant characters – epic but somehow still character-focused
  • Neil Gaiman, Dirk Maggs – Neverwhere (BBC audio)
    was a re-listen – amazing actors – great adaptation – atmospheric and exciting – a movie in your brain
  • Arkady Martine – A Memory Called Empire
    cool world-building – not as good as the first book – great characters and exploration of culture/identity
  • Vonda N. McIntyre – Dreamsnake
    strange but gripping – post-apocalyptic – LGBTQIA+ themes – kept me up late reading

Currently reading:

  • John Crowley – Little, Big
  • J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal

Yeah, yeah, so Little, Big is becoming the book that won’t disappear from the currently reading pile. In addition to that slow burn, I’ve added another one that’s taking me a while (although not as long as I had feared). I’m reading the first Harry Potter book in Spanish in the hopes of shoving a bit of vocabulary into my brain before – hopefully – going on a trip to Barcelona. I doubt that “wand” and “cauldron” will be massively helpful but hey, I’m getting a feel for the language again and having fun at the same time.

In April I’m participating in a readathon so I hope that helps me finally catch up on my reading goals a bit. I have some great books picked out but I suspect the Hugo finalists will make me change all my plans.

Until next month: Stay safe, stay kind, and keep reading. 🙂

2 thoughts on “The State of SFF – April 2021

  1. Tessa says:

    What a collection of beautiful covers! I’ll be reading These Feathered Flames soon, and I’m looking forward to it.

    In the US, vaccinations are speeding along – at least in my state. Weirdly, I haven’t heard a lot of complaints or scandals – which is really strange because this country is always crazy with those things. Or maybe, I’m just not listening 🙂 Hope you get yours soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Meredith Burton says:

    I thoroughly recommend A Game of Fox & Squirrels. It’s more magical realism than straight-up SF or fantasy, but it was one of the most beautiful children’s books I read in 2020. I am thrilled it’s receiving a bit of recognition. It’s the only Jenn Reese book I’ve read.
    I’m excited about reading Elatsoe as well, and Raybearer was one of my favorite reads last year, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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