The State of SFF – September 2021

August is over and the colder season is fast approaching. At least here in Vienna, it feels like autumn is already here. Whether you’re sad that summer is leaving or looking forward to sweater weather, Halloween, and fall book publishing, there’s plenty of news and new books to be excited for.

Quickie News

  • NPR’s poll about our favorite 50 SFF novels of the past decade is over and the results are in. The list looks absolutely fantastic with a great mix of authors and works, series and standalones, and all sorts of subgenres. I love this book list and have already decided I’ll try to read them all
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  • The Shirley Jackson Award for outstanding horror has gone to Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians, which reminds me that spooky season is coming up and this book looks juuuust perfect for an October, Halloween-ish read.
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  • The third book in Nnedi Okorafor’s YA series has a title – Akata Woman – and a cover and it looks gorgeous!!! Also, the series name has apparently been changed to the Nsibidi Scripts. The book is set to come out on January 18th 2022. Now I only have to wait for it to come out in paperback as well, so it goes with the other two PBs on my shelf…

Owlcrate breaks their promise (for money) and then changes their mind again (for money)…

If you don’t know how book subscription services work, here’s the nutshell version: Once a month, you get a box in the mail based on a theme. In this box will be a mystery book as well as a handful of items (art, socks, enamel pins, mugs, tote bags, scarves, etc.) based on popular fandoms that fit the theme. Last year, Owlcrate, one of the best known book subscription services decided not to feature any Harry Potter merchandise in their monthly boxes anymore after J.K. Rowling made her views on trans people known on Twitter.
If you somehow missed that JKR TERF outburst, google at your own risk. Let’s just say that when it comes to trans rights, it’s probably smart to listen to, you know, actual trans people, and many of them were shocked and hurt and deeply saddened by Rowling’s behaviour. Most subscription boxes I know came to the same conclusions and stopped featuring or promoting Harry Potter in their boxes.

Now, about a year later, Owlcrate have decided to go back on their decision and sell the rest of their Harry Potter mug collection. To make matters worse, they posted a lengthy (!) explanation which mostly boils down to “but my nostalgia” except once you look at it more closely, it really says “my money is more important than trans people”.
Some commenters were asking questions like “will these mugs really hurt trans people?” but as is so often the case, it’s not quite as simple as that. Licenced products put actual money into JKR’s actual pockets. Money she can then use to support the kind of organization that makes it harder for trans people to live their lives. Even unlicenced products still help to promote Harry Potter. And yeah, sure, you could say that one subscription services not featuring any HP merch won’t change the world. But many or even all subscription services doing that is a different story. At the very least, it’s a start. There is power in numbers and if humans stick together we can truly change things.

The cherry on top of it all is that Owlcrate wanted to “donate” 20% of the profits to one of three charities (buyer’s choice), only one of which is an LGBTQIA+ charity and none of which are trans specific charities. And in order to fund that oh so generous donation the mugs were just a bit more expensive than they used to be. Funnily about 20% more. Because obvioulsy Owlcrate doesn’t want to lose money simply because a “donation” makes them look slightly better in the eyes of their customers.

As expected, there was a lot of backlash to this decision in the comments, a lot of people stopped following Owlcrate on social media and many cancelled their subscription. So a few days later, they posted yet another update on social media, stating that the mug sale is OFF, all mugs that have already been ordered would still be shipped but 100% of the profits would be donated. 80% to The Transgender Law Center, no less. So people’s voices were heard and lessons seem to have been learned. They also promised to never feature HP merchandise again in either of their boxes (Owlcrate and Owlcrate jr.).

I’m not currently nor have I ever been an Owlcrate subscriber but even if the issue at hand didn’t bother me (and it does!) I wouldn’t want to purchase anything from a company that doesn’t keep its promises, goes back on their word whenever it’s convenient and openly admits that their reasons for it are pure selfishness and greed! Let’s face it, it wasn’t the many, many comments by hurt and disappointed people that swayed Owlcrate. They don’t publish subscriber numbers but I think it’s fair to assume that they lost a lot of subscribers – meaning MONEY – and that was the reason they decided to stop the mug sale after all. None of us can look into another person’s head of course so maybe it really was remorse, but to me, this leaves a decidedly bad aftertaste.

There are many book subscription services out there who care about their subscribers – of all genders – and who actively work to promote diverse authors and books. I’m just saying…


The Mythopoeic Award Finalists Have Been Announced

The Mythopoeic Awards aren’t as well known as some other SFF book awards but when I discovered them, I found out that so many of my favorite books had won or been nominated for one. Although “typical” Mythopoeic books cover a range of styles and themes, there is often a fairy tale feel to it, a sense of mythology to the world building, and I find most of the winners to be super immersive. I’ve read three out of the five finalists this year, all books that I adored, so I have high hopes for the remaining two.

  • Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer
  • Alice Hoffman – Magic Lessons
  • TJ Klune – The House in the Cerulean Sea
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Mexican Gothic
  • Garth Nix – The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Congratulations to the ALL THE finalists!!!


The Magical Readathon Is Back!

I am so stoked for this readathon hosted by G from the YouTube channel Book Roast. She used to do the Magical Readathon based on Hogwarts classes but discontinued it after JKR made her views on trans people public. But with G’s creativity and what must have been enormous effort and time, we can now look forward to a new and improved Magical Readathon, set in a world of her own devising, peopled with fantasy creatures, and filled with excellent reading prompts.

I have already vaguely planned my TBR and I can’t wait to get started. If you like pretending to be a character in a fantasy world, walking a dangerous path by reading books, building your character, and exploring the world, then check this out. The Magical Readathon community is also one of the most welcoming, kindest, open-minded group of people I have ever encountered on the interwebs. So whether you’re an old readathon pro or just trying it out for the first time, whether you’re into fantasy or not, you can be sure you will find people here that will cheer you on, push you to reach your reading goals, and maybe even buddy read a book with you.


Exciting September Publications

Okay, so September and October are always crazy months for publishing, and this year promises to be no different. There’s exciting sequels, a new feelgood book, the starts of several series, and particularly pretty covers. Also, so many books coming out on September 28th. What is with that?

ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA – THE INHERITANCE OF ORQUÍDEA DIVINA (September 7th)

I admit, I found this book because of its stunning cover but once I saw it was written by Cordova, author of the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy, I was sold. Also, this book will let us travel to Ecuador. Only through fiction, but I’ll take it.

The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptism. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to come and collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers. Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked backed.

Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.


JAY KRISTOFF – EMPIRE OF THE VAMPIRE (September 7th)

Look, I’ve only read one book by Kristoff and wasn’t impressed. His co-writing with Amie Kaufmann on the Illuminae files was fun, though, so I’m willing to give this newest book of his a try. The cover is stunning at the very least. I’m sure I will either end up loving or completely hating this.

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From holy cup comes holy light;

The faithful hands sets world aright.

And in the Seven Martyrs’ sight,

Mere man shall end this endless night.

It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order couldn’t stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains.

Imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope:

The Holy Grail.


CADWELL TURNBULL – NO GODS, NO MONSTERS (September 7th)

This book sounds so good. The synopsis promises current topics such as police brutality and hate crimes but also monsters? Also, I knew I needed this as soon as I read “trail of bread crumbs”… are there fairy tales in this? I simply must know!

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One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.


BRIGID KEMMERER – DEFY THE NIGHT (September 14th)

I have yet to finish Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers trilogy but I found the first book very refreshing and incredibly readable. Like stay up until three in the morning readable. So I don’t expect Literary Genius from this but it sounds like a lot of fun that I don’t want to miss out on.

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From New York Times bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer comes a blockbuster fantasy series about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

Set in a richly imaginative world with striking similarities to our own, Brigid Kemmerer’s captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future.


XIRAN JAY ZHAO – IRON WIDOW (September 21st)

This is probably one of the most hyped YA boks of the season and it’s largely due to the cover. However, once you get past those sunset colors and the aweome pose of the cover character, the story also sounds pretty damn cool. There’s a definite Pacific Rim vibe to it what with girls piloting giant robots and all. Also “concubine-pilot” is a thing, apparently and I want to learn everything about that.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.


TJ KLUNE – UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR (September 21st)

I’m already crying from reading the synopsis. Just shut up and take my money!

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy with TJ Klune’s signature “quirk and charm” (PW) about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.


RYKA AOKI – LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS (September 28th)

This sounds absolutely bonkers and I cannot wait to read it. Also TJ Klune loved it, so brownie points.

Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.


LEE MANDELO – SUMMER SONS (September 28th)

Just in tie for October and creepy season comes this debut novel that sounds intriguing and scary and like it has a lot of atmopshere.

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.


SOMAN CHAINANI, JULIA IREDALE – BEASTS AND BEAUTY (September 28th)

You knew I couldn’t resist an illustrated (!) book of twisty fairy tales! I’ve read two of Chainani’s School for Good and Evil books whichwere sweet, and I’ve read a short story by him which was amazing, so I have very high hopes for this book. Also, another pretty cover.

You think you know these stories, don’t you?

You are wrong.

You don’t know them at all.

Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that capture hearts long kept tame and set them free, truths that explore life . . . and death.

A prince has a surprising awakening . . .                           

A beauty fights like a beast . . .

A boy refuses to become prey . . .

A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again.

New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare.


NAOMI NOVIK – THE LAST GRADUATE (September 28th)

I look forward to this book with mixed feelings. I had many issues with A Deadly Education but I also just really liked it. We’ll see if the second Scholomance book can turn me into a proper fan yet.

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .


AYANA GRAY – BEST OF PREY (September 28th)

Another book I found because the cover is gorgeous, but then I read “Night Zoo” and broken city and lost magic and okay, fine, I’m in.

In this much-anticipated series opener, fate binds two Black teenagers together as they strike a dangerous alliance to hunt down the ancient creature menacing their home—and discover much more than they bargained for.

Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome and magical creatures to pay off her family’s debts and secure their eventual freedom. But the night her loved ones’ own safety is threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand—and the consequences are dire.

As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six—an elite warrior—and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, a fire upends his plans. In its midst, Ekon not only encounters the Shetani—a vicious monster that has plagued the city and his nightmares for nearly a century—but a curious girl who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani down and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani and selling it for a profit could be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon—each keeping their true motives secret from the other—form a tentative alliance and enter into the unknowns of the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.


News from the blog

Whew, August

What I read:

  • Mary Robinette Kowal – The Fated Sky (8.5/10)
    Elma goes to Mars – sexism/racism/anxiety – villains are humans too – characters and action well-balanced
  • P. Djèlí Clark – A Master of Djinn (6.75/10)
    delightful writing – pacing uneven – plot tries too much at once – lovely LGBT couple
  • Marjorie Liue, Sana Takeda – Monstres Vol. 5: Warchild (7.5/10)
    my favorite issue volume so far – besieged city – sacrifice the few for the many? – dealing with the past
  • Robert Jordan – The Eye of the World (6.25/10)
    WOW this is like Lord of the Rings – female characters all the same – pacing issues galore – world building has great potential – fun to read despite its flaws
  • S. A. Chakraborty – Empire of Gold (7.25/10)
    takes a while to get going – then gets going properly! – epic ending – very good trilogy finale
  • Isaac Asimov – Foundation (5.5/10)
    there are no women in this galaxy!!! – mostly this is men talking in rooms – almost no story, just ideas – writing decidedly sub-par
  • Isaac Asimov – Foundation and Empire (5/10)
    One woman in this galaxy!!! – writing style improved – still dialogue-heavy – mostly ideas, not real story-telling – plot predictable, quite boring, and nothing new compared to the first book
  • Becky Chambers – A Psalm for the Wild-Built (8/10)
    exactly what we’ve come to expect from Chambers – feel-good, quiet, thoughtful – hopepunk with a nonbinary protagonist and a life-affirming robot 🙂
  • Catherynne M. Valente – L’Esprit de L’Escalier (8/10)
    free to read novelette – Orpheus gets Eurydice back – she’s different, though (mostly dead)- Greek myth references galore – pretty dark
  • Isaac Asimov – Second Foundation (3.5/10) (review coming on Friday)
    pulls the same thrick as previous two books – not a single new thought – characters still bad – mediocre writing – mostly repetition and dialogue – why was anyone impressed by this in the 1950s???

Currently reading:

  • Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer (re-read)
    just as good as the first time, if not better – man I love Sanjeet – I also love Dayo – and Kirah – just let me hug all of them, okay

I’m re-reading Raybearer so I can jump straight into Redemptor. My Illumicrate special editions of these books have arrived, by the way, and they are stunning! They came with a couple of extras that are sitting on my shelf now and I can’t get over how gorgeous they are.
I finished the Foundation trilogy and I am… not impressed, to say it nicely. The next instalment, Foundation’s Edge, was written 30 years after this “trilogy” and won a Hugo Award, so maaaaybe I’ll give it a try sometime. But honestly, I don’t understand why this series is such a beloved classic. It’s really not good!

In happier news, it’s readathon time this month so I hope to get a lot of books read in September. I have some big ones to tackle but I also spontaneously got a week and a half off work, which I’ll be spending in Tuscany with nothing but time for reading (and swimming in the pool, sunbathing, and eating delicious food, of course). According to current weather reports, this means I can escape the cooler Austrian weather for 32 degrees (Celsius) of pure sunshine! Wish me luck.

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

One thought on “The State of SFF – September 2021

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