The State of SFF – May 2021

You guys, everything is so exciting! All the Awards are happening. Well… all the finalists are happening, but that means reading the best books and stories of last year, catching up on things we missed, celebrating the great stuff we already read, and generally enjoying being in SFF fandom.

Quickie News

  • WorldCon, the annual convention that gives out the Hugo Award, has been moved to December 2021. For the first time ever, the Hugos won’t be announced in August but just a bit before Christmas. The reason is of course to make an in-person con possible (hopefully, nobody knows what will happen until then) but it also means more time to read all the finalists and that, my friends, is reason to celebrate. At least for me.
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  • The nomination period for the Dragon Awards is open. It’s a rather strange award that doesn’t go by calendar year when it comes to eligible titles. You can nominated one work per category, just make sure that the works have been published between July 1st 2020 and June 30th 2021 because that’s the rules. Anyone can join and nominate so if that’s your jam, go right ahead.
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  • The Shadow & Bone TV show has hit Neflix and I am far from the only person who binged it right on the first weekend. Although there is much to discuss, my overall feelings towards the show are positive. I adore the cast and the way they chose to bring the characters to life. And while I may disagree with some storytelling decisions and the way the Six of Crows and Shadow and Bone stories have been intertwined, I will definitely re-watch the first season and look forward to the next one.

The Hugo Award Finalists are here!

I am very invested in the Hugo Awards (if you follow this blog, you may have noticed :)) so there is a separate post about all my OPINIONS about the final ballot. But for those who aren’t interested in my thoughts, here are the finalists for Best Novel:

  • Rebecca Roanhorse – Black Sun
  • N. K. Jemisin – The City We Became
  • Martha Wells – Network Effect
  • Susanna Clarke – Piranesi
  • Tamsyn Muir – Harrow the Ninth
  • Mary Robinette Kowal – The Relentless Moon

And the finalists for the Lodestar (which makes me so very, very happy!):

  • Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer
  • Darcie Little Badger – Elatsoe
  • Tracy Deonn – Legendborn
  • T. Kingfisher – A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
  • Aiden Thomas – Cemetery Boys
  • Naomi Novik – A Deadly Education

Congratulations to all the finalists!

The Best Novel ballot is not surprising in that all the novels on it were fairly buzzy, are sequels in beloved series, or the long-awaited newest novel by a previous Hugo winner. So the only surprises are the novels that didn’t make it. There were others that could have made the cut but didn’t. I won’t be surprised if we see Mexican Gothic, The Once and Future Witches, Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter or Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds on the list of nominees just below the top 6. But we’ll have to wait for that data until December, and it’s not like we don’t have a great selection of finalists to entertain us until then.

As with the Nebulas/Andre Nortons, I’m insanely happy that Raybearer made it as a Lodestar finalist. It was my favorite YA book of last year, I nominated it myself, and I wish Jordan Ifueko all the success in the world. That said, the finalists I haven’t read are all books I’m super excited about. Elatsoe has been calling to me for months now, Cemetery Boys was my second choice for trying out Aiden Thomas (Lost in the Never Woods, a Peter Pan retelling, just interested me more) but I heard such good things about it. And T. Kingfisher needs no introduction. I’ve been a fan of hers long before WorldCon realized how great she is and I will follow her fiction for ever and ever.


And The IGNYTE Finalists too!

Even more awards excitement! I am again super happy to see some of the books that got some award recognition but with ballots this good, choosing one favorite won’t be easy. Voting is open up through May 31st, so make sure you read the wonderful finalists and then vote for your favorites.
Make sure to check out all the finalists (link in header) because there’s a lot of great stuff to discover. For space reasons, I’m listing only Best Novel and YA Novel here.

These are the finalists for Best Novel:

  • Rebecca Roanhorse – Black Sun
  • N. K. Jemisin- The City We Became
  • C. L. Polk – Midnight Bargain
  • Stephen Graham Jones – The Only Good Indians
  • Hao Jingfang – Vagabonds

The Stehen Graham Jones book was the second horror book that was very hyped last year. Although I haven’t read it yet, I’m happy that it made the ballot. Horror books often have a hard time on SFF ballots. I’m even more excited to see Hao Jingfang’s Vagabonds here, a book I’ve been meaning to read but still haven’t got to.

And the finalists for Best YA Novel:

  • Darcie Little Badger – Elatsoe
  • Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer
  • Tracy Deonn – Legendborn
  • Bethany Morro – A Song Below Water
  • Sabaa Tahir – A Sky Beyond the Storm

I’m surprised (and kind of delighted) that the final volume of Sabaa Tahir’s series is on here. I didn’t much like the second book and was debating whether to continue the series. If the final volume is good enough to be nominated for an IGNYTE award, I have high hopes. I look forward to A Song Below Water, a book I first heard a lot about and then nothing at all anymore. Legendborn was fun, and Elatsoe and Raybearer seem to be universal favorites. My absolute favorite is still Jordan Ifueko’s book. I loved it so much I’m going to ge me a special edition, so it can sit on my shelf and be pretty. 🙂

Exciting May Publications

May is going to be great, you guys. I have been rubbing my hands for that new Rivers Solomon book for months now. Maggie Stiefvater continues her Dreamer Trilogy, Joan He – she that wrote the amazing Descendant of the Crane – has a new book coming out and P. Djèlí Clark brings us his first full-length novel set in his alternate Cairo. 2021 seems to just be getting better and better.

RIVERS SOLOMON – SORROWLAND (May 4th)

There are few authors who have made me fall in love as hard with their fiction as Rivers Solomon. Their writing is just brilliant, they create multi-layered, interesting and diverse characters to tell original stories that are like nothing you’ve ever read before. So you could say I’m excited about their newest book.

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Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.


NICOLE KORNHER-STACE – FIREBRAND (May 4th)

I still haven’t read anything by Kornher-Stace, although I do have her Archivist Wasp on my TBR somwhere… Everything about this new novel sounds amazing. Virtual Reality supersoldiers, a near future (probably?) world where an evil company controls people’s lives, and humans have to work several jobs just to afford water. I have heard nothing but good things from authors who had the pleasure of reading this already, so my excitement levels are high!

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Like everyone else she knows, Mallory is an orphan of the corporate war. As a child, she lost her parents, her home, and her entire building in an airstrike. As an adult, she lives in a cramped hotel room with eight other people, all of them working multiple jobs to try to afford water and make ends meet. And the job she’s best at is streaming a popular VR war game. The best part of the game isn’t killing enemy combatants, though—it’s catching in-game glimpses of SpecOps operatives, celebrity supersoldiers grown and owned by Stellaxis, the corporation that runs the America she lives in.

Until a chance encounter with a SpecOps operative in the game leads Mal to a horrifying discovery: the real-life operatives weren’t created by Stellaxis. They were kids, just like her, who lost everything in the war, and were stolen and augmented and tortured into becoming supersoldiers. The world worships them, but the world believes a lie.

The company controls every part of their lives, and defying them puts everything at risk—her water ration, her livelihood, her connectivity, her friends, her life—but she can’t just sit on the knowledge. She has to do something—even if doing something will bring the wrath of the most powerful company in the world down upon her.


JOAN HE – THE ONES WE’RE MEANT TO FIND (May 4th)

Look, I don’t even need to read the synopsis to look forward to this, okay? Descendant of the Crane was such a surprising, twisty, well-crafted book that I will read anything by Joan He. The fact that this is called Black Mirror meets Studio Ghibli is just an added bonus that makes me squee with joy.

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One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.


ZEN CHO – BLACK WATER SISTER (May 11th)

Zen Cho’s writing is always charming. The Malaysian setting and this gorgeous cover decided it for me. I have to have this book. Hearing your dead grandmother’s voice in your head and having her spirit accompany you is also a thing I would like to happen to me, so there’s that.

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A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.

Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.


P. DJÈLÍ CLARK – A MASTER OF DJINN (May 11th)

Clark is a treasure and one of the most interesting current writers in the SFF field. This book is the first full-length novel in his alternate Cairo setting with Fatma el-Sha’arawi as protagonist.

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Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…


SUYI DAVIES OKUNGBOWA – SON OF THE STORM (May 11th)

Young scholar, forbidden magic, skin-changing warrior. Just shut up and take my money.

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A young scholar’s ambition threatens to reshape an empire determined to retain its might in this epic tale of violent conquest, buried histories, and forbidden magic.

In the thriving city of Bassa, Danso is a clever but disillusioned scholar who longs for a life beyond the rigid family and political obligations expected of the city’s elite. A way out presents itself when Lilong, a skin-changing warrior, shows up wounded in his barn. She comes from the Nameless Islands–which, according to Bassa lore, don’t exist–and neither should the mythical magic of ibor she wields. Now swept into a conspiracy far beyond his understanding, Danso will have to set out on a journey that reveals histories violently suppressed and magic only found in lore.


LAURE EVE – BLACKHEART KNIGHTS (May 13th)

This could go either way but it sounds too bonkers and fun to miss. Camelot but with bikers? Ok, count me in. I have another Laure Eve book (The Graces) which sounds much more fairy tale-esque, so the author definitely likes to change things up a bit.

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Power always wins.

Imagine Camelot but in Gotham: a city where knights are the celebrities of the day, riding on motorbikes instead of horses and competing in televised fights for fame and money.

Imagine a city where a young, magic-touched bastard astonishes everyone by becoming king – albeit with extreme reluctance – and a girl with a secret past trains to become a knight for the sole purpose of vengeance.

Imagine a city where magic is illegal but everywhere, in its underground bars, its back-alley soothsayers – and in the people who have to hide what they are for fear of being tattooed and persecuted.

Imagine a city where electricity is money, power the only game worth playing, and violence the most fervently worshipped religion.

Welcome to a dark, chaotic, alluring place with a tumultuous history, where dreams come true if you want them hard enough – and are prepared to do some very, very bad things to get them . . .


DARYL GREGORY – THE ALBUM OF DR. MOREAU (May 18th)

I didn’t want to want this book. That whole Dr. Moreau story is just not my thing but then I read the synopsis and, well, murder mystery, genetically engineered human-animal hybrid boy band sounded too good. I think this novella might be funny as well as creepy.

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Daryl Gregory’s The Album of Dr. Moreau combines the science fiction premise of the famous novel by H. G. Wells with the panache of a classic murder mystery and the spectacle of a beloved boy band.

It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?

Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began—a place they used to call home.


MAGGIE STIEFVATER – MISTER IMPOSSIBLE (April 18th)

It’s a new Maggie Stiefvater book!!! If you’ve read the Raven Cycle, you probably also have a soft spot for Ronan Lynch – I certainly do. The first book in this new Dreamer Trilogy didn’t sweep me off my feet as much as I had hoped but I do keep thinking about it and definitely want to find out what happens next and how my Ronan and his brothers are doing.

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Raven Boys, a mesmerizing story of dreams and desires, death and destiny.

The stakes have never been higher as it seems like either the end of the world or the end of dreamers approaches.

Do the dreamers need the ley lines to save the world . . . or will their actions end up dooming the world? As Ronan, Hennessy, and Bryde try to make dreamers more powerful, the Moderators are closing in, sure that this power will bring about disaster. In the remarkable second book of The Dreamer Trilogy, Maggie Stiefvater pushes her characters to their limits – and shows what happens to them and others when they start to break.


A. M. STRICKLAND – IN THE RAVENOUS DARK (May 18th)

I always like to include a few books I’m on the fence about and here’s one of them. I don’t know Strickland, but this book sounds pretty good. Being bound to a sexy spirit, but one that can control your body? Creepy and intriguing. A Greek-inspired world? Yes! And a pansexual protagonist – definitely not someone I’ve read about, so give it to me.

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A pansexual bloodmage reluctantly teams up with an undead spirit to start a rebellion among the living and the dead.

In Thanopolis, those gifted with magic are assigned undead spirits to guard them—and control them. Ever since Rovan’s father died trying to keep her from this fate, she’s hidden her magic. But when she accidentally reveals her powers, she’s bound to a spirit and thrust into a world of palace intrigue and deception.

Desperate to escape, Rovan finds herself falling for two people she can’t fully trust: Lydea, a beguiling, rebellious princess; and Ivrilos, the handsome spirit with the ability to control Rovan, body and soul.

Together, they uncover a secret that will destroy Thanopolis. To save them all, Rovan will have to start a rebellion in both the mortal world and the underworld, and find a way to trust the princess and spirit battling for her heart—if she doesn’t betray them first.


E. K. JOHNSTON – AETHERBOUND (May 25th)

Johnston is another author I’ve never read, but I own some of her books, both fairy tale retellings. This book just sounds like a lot of fun, a space adventure with some social commentary.

A thought-provoking new YA space adventure from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Ahsoka.

Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston’s latest is story of survival and self-determination.

Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.


NEWS FROM THE BLOG

Haha! Finally I have some good news in regards to my reading. I’ve done pretty well in the Mythothon readathon and, as all the best readathons do, it made me pick up some books I definitely wouldn’t have gone for otherwise. The experience isn’t always pleasant but I like to consider reading a bad book as a useful experience rather than a waste of time.

What I read:

  • Tamora Pierce – Alanna: The First Adventure
    a gread middle grade adventure – very fast paced – lovable heroine pretending to be a boy – mentions menstruation (yay!)
  • Tamora Pierce – In the Hand of the Goddess
    still super fast paced (a bit too much!) – fun and quick read – not a lot of depth
  • P. Djèlí Clark – “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”
    fun murder mystery short story – great world building – makes you want more (good thing there’s a novel coming out set in this world)
  • A. G. Slatter – All the Murmuring Bones
    gothic atmosphere – Irish mythology – takes a while to get going – brilliant protagonist – dark secrets – great ending
  • Maria V. Snyder – Poison Study
    very thin world building – plot-focused – fast paced, easy read – shallow but perfect for fighting reading slumps
  • S. A. Chakraborty – The Kingdom of Copper
    middle book syndrome – great characters – political intrigue – twisty ending – little plot for the most part
  • Aiden Thomas – Cemetery Boys
    brujos and brujas – trans protagonist – amazing characters (I love them so much!) – obvious twist – recommended
  • Catherynne M. Valente – Under in the Mere
    King Arthur Valente-style – experimental, purple prose – imagery-heavy

Currently reading:

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

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

2 thoughts on “The State of SFF – May 2021

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Whew, this is a great round-up, and there are SO many good books out now and coming out shortly. I can’t keep up! My plan is to go to Barnes and Noble after my birthday (I am just about to be fully vaccinated) and just go fucking crazy. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

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