The State of SFF – June 2022

Welcome to June and a catch-up State of SFF!

Due to pregancy stuff (buying things for the baby, doctor’s appointments, and so on), I was too preoccupied to keep up with reading or revieweing or even posting anything at all. The good news is that everything is perfectly fine, we’re all healthy and happy, and we now know that our little baby is a boy. 🙂

As you can imagine, reading and blogging have simply not been my highest priority, but I hope to catch up on all those unwritten reviews and new TBR additions soon. “News” this months may be a little older as I’ve collected things that interested me from both April and May.

Quickie News

  • The Locus Award Finalists are out! The list isn’t surprising but it has all the most talked about and well liked books from 2021. I find it notable that Naomi Novik’s novel The Last Graduate is not listed as YA but as Fantasy Novel (as well it should be). You can find all the finalists here.

  • And so is the shortlist for the Nommo Awards. Here we see familiar names such as Tade Thompson, Nnedi Okorafor, and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, but also newer ones with books still on my TBR (looking especially hard at you, T.L. Huchu’s Library of the Dead!). The list is well worth checking out if you’re looking for interesting books to read.

  • In sadder news, Award-winning author Patricia McKillip died in early May. I have only read one of her books so far (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld), but it was a deeply touching one that made me look forward to exploring the rest of her work all the more.


The Nebula Award Winners Have Been Announced

Congratulations to all the finalists and of course the winners!

Best Novel went to P. Djèlí Clark for his novel A Master of Djinn and although it’s not my favorite work of his, I am thrilled that Clark won the Nebula. I hope he writes many more novels and novellas, whether they are set in his alternate version of Cairo or elsewhere. Congratulations!

Best Novella was a happy surprise in that a Neon Hemlock book won rather than a Tordotcom or Uncanny finalists (I love both of them dearly but variety is important!). Premee Mohamed’s And What Can We Offer You Tonight took home the award.

The Andre Norton Award for YA/Middle Grade Fiction went to Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth which is also nominated for a Hugo (and I have yet to read it).

Best Novelette went to Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki for O2 Arena, and Best Short Story was taken by Sarah Pinsker for “Where Oaken Hearts do Gather”, another Hugo finalists that I haven’t read yet but am incredibly excited for. Ekpeki’s acceptance speech came last during the ceremony, due to connection issues (live from Nigeria), but otherwise, the ceremony went smoothly without any real technical mishaps.
And for another completely virtual event, it was quite lovely. Connie Willis is a treasure, with or without a live audience, and Neil Gaiman’s appearances were stellar as well.

You can find the list of all finalists and winners here.


Nimona is coming to Netflix

I picked up the Graphic Novel by ND Stevenson years ago but didn’t expect to fall in love with it as hard as I did. The story of a teenage shapeshifter who desperately wants to become a villain’s sidekick offers some twists and turns that make it not just funny, but heartwarming and even romantic. After some delays and ultimately a cancellation by Disney, Netflix is now taking on the job and bringing us the animated movie version of the beloved comic.

The movie is set to release in 2023, so we have some time to wait yet. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all be collectively excited, right?


The Mythopoeic Award Finalists 2022 Are Out (link opens PDF)

Of particular interest to me, because I just like this award, are the finalists for the 2022 Mythopoeic Award. Among them, you will recognize Hugo/Nebula/Locus finalists (or winners) but there’s also always some titles that other awards have overlooked or that simply do something particularly interesting with fairy tales, mythology, magical realism, and that kind of subgenre.

  • Katherine Addison – The Witness for the Dead (Tor, 2021)
  • Ryka Aoki – Light from Uncommon Stars (Tor Books, 2021)
  • P. Djèlí Clark – A Master of Djinn (Tordotcom, 2021)
  • Susanna Clarke – Piranesi (Bloomsbury, 2020)
  • Garth Nix – Terciel and Elinor (Katherine Tegen Books, 2021)
  • Jo Walton – Or What You Will (Tor 2020)

Congratulations to the finalists. I’m particularly happy to see Piranesi on here and I am now highyl interested in Jo Walton’s Or What You Will.


Books From the Future (or: Feed Your Wishlist)

It’s great to know what books we can buy very soon (like the ones in the section below) but I also find it really nice to have something to look forward to that’s still far in the future. Such as these three books I’ve chosen for this month’s section of “I’ll be giddily awaiting you for about a year and staring at your covers longingly until then”:

  • T. J. Klune is bringing us In the Lives of Puppets, a Pinocchio inspired and probably heartwarming tale that I cannot miss. Set to come out at in March 2023. Sidenote: I love the covers for his books so much!
  • Margaret Owen revealed the cover for Painted Devils, the May 2023 sequel to her amazing Little Thieves. I cannot get over how good that book was and how perfectly the cover for the new one fits the series (the author does them herself, as well as the inside illustrations so I shouldn’t be surprised).
  • Lastly, Kelly Barnhill’s The Crane Husband was announced and it not only sounds up my alley but also has a lovely cover to offer. A gender-flipped fairy tale with a recommendation from Cat Valente is an auto-buy if I’ve ever seen one. We’ll have to wait for February 2023, though.

Exciting June Publications

I’m a little said I missed the May edition fo this blog feature, so I’ll just casually drop some titles you may have missed last month: Maggie Stiefvater’s Bravely, Holly Black’s adult debut Book of Night, Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen, Guy Gavriel Kay’s All the Seas of the World,

J. M. MIRO – ORDINARY MONSTERS (June 7th)

“Labyrinthine” is a buzzword I just can’t resist. Add to that orphans, gaslit streets of London, crime, and superpowers, and I’m all yours.

A STUNNING NEW WORK OF HISTORICAL FANTASY, J. M. MIRO’S ORDINARY MONSTERS INTRODUCES READERS TO THE DARK, LABYRINTHINE WORLD OF THE TALENTS

England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness—a man made of smoke.

Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a brutal childhood in Mississippi, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When a jaded female detective is recruited to escort them to safety, all three begin a journey into the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a story of wonder and betrayal, from the gaslit streets of London, and the wooden theatres of Meiji-era Tokyo, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh where other children with gifts – the Talents – have been gathered. There, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of what is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.

Riveting in its scope, exquisitely written, Ordinary Monsters presents a catastrophic vision of the Victorian world—and of the gifted, broken children who must save it.


ROSE SZABO – WE ALL FALL DOWN (June 7th)

I’m approachign this one with caution as early reviews had a lot to say about the representation of the Black character in this story. But I’m also still interested enough to want ot make up my own mind.

The first book in a dark fantasy YA duology by Rose Szabo, the author of What Big Teeth, about the power and danger of stories and the untold costs of keeping magic alive, perfect for fans of Aiden Thomas and Marie Rutkoski.

In River City, where magic used to thrive and is now fading, the witches who once ruled the city along with their powerful King have become all but obsolete. The city’s crumbling government is now controlled primarily by the new university and teaching hospital, which has grown to take over half of the city.

Moving between the decaying Old City and the ruthless New, four young queer people struggle with the daily hazards of life—work, school, dodging ruthless cops and unscrupulous scientists—not realizing that they have been selected to play in an age-old drama that revives the flow of magic through their world. When a mysterious death rocks their fragile peace, the four are brought into each other’s orbits as they uncover a deeper magical conspiracy.

Devastating, gorgeous, and utterly unique, We All Fall Down examines the complex network of pain created by power differentials, even between people who love each other—and how it is possible to be queer and turn out just fine.


KATHERINE ADDISON – THE GRIEF OF STONES (June 14th)

More Goblin Emperor world is always a win. In this case, we get a direct sequel to Witness for the Dead which follows Celehar. I love this world and its characters, so this is a must-buy.

In The Grief of Stones, Katherine Addison returns to the world of The Goblin Emperor with a direct sequel to The Witness For The Dead

Celehar’s life as the Witness for the Dead of Amalo grows less isolated as his circle of friends grows larger. He has been given an apprentice to teach, and he has stumbled over a scandal of the city—the foundling girls. Orphans with no family to claim them and no funds to buy an apprenticeship. Foundling boys go to the Prelacies; foundling girls are sold into service, or worse.

At once touching and shattering, Celehar’s witnessing for one of these girls will lead him into the depths of his own losses. The love of his friends will lead him out again.


ALIX E. HARROW – A MIRROR MENDED (June 14th)

Look, until Harrow somehow writes a truly terrible book, I’ll be reading all her stuff. Her fractured fairy tales are especially nice. Bite-sized twists on the stories I’ve loved since childhood with social commentary and lots of references. I guess you have to like that sort of thing but if you do you’ll be very happy with this series. ETA: Aaaand I just got an ARC of this which I will be devouring during my holiday in Southern Italy. 🙂

A Mirror Mended is the next installment in USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow’s Fractured Fables series.

Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty, is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends, and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone. Will Zinnia accept the Queen’s poisonous request and save them both from the hot-iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path?


A. G. SLATTER – THE PATH OF THORNS (June 14th)

Angela Slatter’s spiritual successor to All the Murmuring Bones (which, btw, you should all check out and here’s why) is another tale with gothic vibes. It sounds like part Jane Eyre, part Jekyll and Hyde, part fairy tale and if that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what to say.

Alone in the world, Asher Todd travels to the remote estate of Morwood Grange to become governess to three small children. Her sole possessions comprise a sea chest and a large carpet bag she hangs onto for dear life. She finds a fine old home, its inhabitants proud of their lineage and impeccable reputation, and a small village nearby. It seems an untroubled existence, yet there are portraits missing from the walls, locked rooms, and names excised from the family tree inscribed in the bible. In short order, the children adore her, she becomes indispensible to their father Luther in his laboratory, and her potions are able to restore the sight of granddame Leonora. Soon Asher fits in as if she’s always been there, but there are creatures that stalk the woods at night, spectres haunt the halls, and Asher is not as much a stranger to the Morwoods as it might at first appear.


AVA REID – JUNIPER & THORN (June 21st)

I enjoyed Reid’s debut novel, even though it had its flaws, but it also offered enough really good stuff for me to look forward to her newest book. Fairy tales, pitched as “for fans of Cat Valente” (we’ll see… we’ll see), and gothic horror all sounds excellent.

From highly acclaimed bestselling author Ava Reid comes a gothic horror retelling of The Juniper Tree, set in another time and place within the world of The Wolf and the Woodsman, where a young witch seeks to discover her identity and escape the domination of her wizard father, perfect for fans of Shirley Jackson and Catherynne M. Valente.

A gruesome curse. A city in upheaval. A monster with unquenchable appetites.

Marlinchen and her two sisters live with their wizard father in a city shifting from magic to industry. As Oblya’s last true witches, she and her sisters are little more than a tourist trap as they treat their clients with archaic remedies and beguile them with nostalgic charm. Marlinchen spends her days divining secrets in exchange for rubles and trying to placate her tyrannical, xenophobic father, who keeps his daughters sequestered from the outside world. But at night, Marlinchen and her sisters sneak out to enjoy the city’s amenities and revel in its thrills, particularly the recently established ballet theater, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who quickly captures her heart.

As Marlinchen’s late-night trysts grow more fervent and frequent, so does the threat of her father’s rage and magic. And while Oblya flourishes with culture and bustles with enterprise, a monster lurks in its midst, borne of intolerance and resentment and suffused with old-world power. Caught between history and progress and blood and desire, Marlinchen must draw upon her own magic to keep her city safe and find her place within it.


SAARA EL-ARIFI – THE FINAL STRIFE (June 23rd)

This was on my wishlist before that cover was revealed, but I’ll be honest, this cover would have been enough for me to want that book. The story doesn’t sound all that original but it has a trial of combat and skill and I always enjoy reading about competitions of some kind, especially when in a fantasy seetting.

In the first book of a visionary African and Arabian-inspired fantasy trilogy, three women band together against a cruel Empire that divides people by blood.

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.

Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.

Clear is the blood of the servants, of the crushed, of the invisible.

Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the Empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the Empire. But dust always rises in a storm.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution.

As the Empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.


SAM J. MILLER – BOYS, BEASTS & MEN (June 14th)

I have an ARC of this, teehee. Sam J. Miller always comes up with the most interesting characters and ideas that are somehow unlike anything I’ve read before. So I can’t wait to dive into a whole collection of his short stories.

In Nebula Award-winning author Sam J. Miller’s devastating debut short-fiction collection, featuring an introduction by Amal El-Mohtar, queer infatuation, inevitable heartbreak, and brutal revenge seamlessly intertwine. Whether innocent, guilty, or not even human, the boys, beasts, and men roaming through Miller’s gorgeously crafted worlds can destroy readers, yet leave them wanting more.

“Miller’s sheer talent shines through in abundance . . . Boys, Beasts & Men is an outrageous journey which skillfully blends genres and will haunt you with its original, poetic voices as much as its victims, villains, and treasure trove of leading actors.”

Grimdark Magazine

Despite his ability to control the ambient digital cloud, a foster teen falls for a clever con-man. Luring bullies to a quarry, a boy takes clearly enumerated revenge through unnatural powers of suggestion. In the aftermath of a shapeshifting alien invasion, a survivor fears that he brought something out of the Arctic to infect the rest of the world. A rebellious group of queer artists create a new identity that transcends even the anonymity of death.

Sam J. Miller (Blackfish City, The Art of Starving) shows his savage wit, unrelenting candor, and lush imagery in this essential career retrospective collection, taking his place alongside legends of the short-fiction form such as Carmen Maria Machado, Carson McCullers, and Jeff VanderMeer.


News from the blog

April was all about the Orilium Spring Equinox which means I readathon-ed myself successfully through the month and even managed to post a few reviews on time. More are to come soon!
May was less productive, blog-wise, and I mostly read non-fiction about breastfeeding and raising a child and such. Excellent books, but not exactly fitting for this blog. Thus the hiatus.

What I read last month(s):

I also read some novelettes and short stories but I won’t review them in detail so they don’t get their own seperate posts. I do talk about them briefly in my Orilium Readathon Wrap-Up.

Currently reading:

  • C.S.C. Cooney – Saint Death’s Daughter (ARC)
  • Sarah Gailey – Just Like Home (ARC)
  • C. L. Polk – Stormsong

I basically dropped everything in favor of my readathon book picks so now it’s time to catch up on those half-read books I’ve been dragging along. And I have a new Cat Valente middle grade adventure waiting here for me, so that will probably make an appearance soon as well.

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

Orilium Magical Readathon: Spring Equinox 2022 – Wrap-Up

I’m a bit late to the wrap-up party (okay, very late!) but better now then never, right? Here’s how the Orilium Magical Readathon in April went for me and my character.

Like every one of G’s readathons, this was a brilliant, fun event that had so much more to offer than just a list of reading prompts. The entire community is lovely, there were side quests and Twitter adventures, Instagram challenges, and the feeling of building a character and giving them a story to live – all by doing what we love to do anyway: reading books.


The Spring Equinox Syllabus + Guild Points

Our first semester at Orilium Academy felt both familiar and fresh at the same time. I really enjoyed following the syllabus for my chosen calling of Scribe, but when I saw I was doing quite well and could fit in a couple more books, I got swept up by the side quests. I wasn’t a fan of the ones you had to claim quickly because, inevitably, other people are always faster on Twitter than I am, and time zone differences can make it hard to even be online when quests are published, but G offered up a few quests that were open to everyone throughout the month and that is where I pounced. Gotta get me some Guild points, after all.

Classes for my Calling

The first five are classes were the ones I needed to take for my chosen calling of Scribe, the rest is extra credit work. It’s just so have I have some options should I change my mind next semester about what my calling should be. I’m mostly set on becoming a Scribe but that Rogue Illusionist does tickle my fancy…

BOOK TITLECLASSREADING PROMPT
V.E. Schwab – GallantInscriptionan intimidating read
Theodora Goss – Snow White Learns WitchcraftSpells & Incantationsa collection
Roshani Chokshi – The Star-Touched Queen Loremythology-based
Jessica Townsend – Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan CrowRestorationincludes healers
Fran Wilde – Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.Elemental Studiesunder 100 pages
Charlie Jane Anders – Victories Greater Than DeathPsionics & Divinationset in the future
Oghenehevwe Donald Ekpeki – O2 ArenaArt of Illusiona trope you like
Tamsyn Muir – Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Towerclaws on cover
Suzanne Palmer – Bots of the Lost ArkAnimal Studiesa quick read

Side Quests for Guild Points

QUEST TITLEREADING PROMPTBOOK TITLE
Scroll of Standstillread a 5 star predictionXiran Jay Zhao – Iron Widow
Fire Weasel in Dangerread a book by a new-to-you authorAdrian Tchaikovsky – Elder Race
Rare Ingredientread a book with the letter D in the titleSeanan McGuire – Across the Green Grass Fields
Ammelorite Samplepurple coverAmie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Memento

The side quests were fun and I only read one truly short work for these prompts. The rest were a novel and two novellas (and for novellas, they were on the bigger side).

I did quite well when it comes to the amount of books (I was generous and counted novelettes as books) but most of them were rather short because I’m still a little preoccupied with, you know, carrying a baby inside of me, and reading time isn’t as easy to come by as it used to. But I am proud of what I did achieve.

Books read: 13

Pages read: 2990

Tallying those Guild Points:

  • Finishing the Novice Path: 50 pts
  • Finishing the Spring Equinox: 50 pts
  • Fire Weasel Quest: 10 pts
  • Rare Ingredient Quest: 10 pts
  • Scroll of Standstill Quest: 10 pts
  • Ammelorite Sample Quest: 10 pts
  • TOTAL: 140 pts

My Character

Sistani has passed all obstacles so far and is well on her way to pursue her calling of Scribe. She finished all the necessary classes and, in true Archivist Guild fashion, added some more coursework because studying is fun. But she also likes to spend time with friends, meet new people, and explore places, so she didn’t manage to do the entire syllabus (secretly, she really wanted to, though).

  • Name: Sistani
  • Background: Urban
  • Heritage: Half-Iltirian, Half-Elf
  • Province: Kerador
  • Guild: The Archivists
    • Guild Legacy: Ausra, Goddess of Dawn and New Beginnings
    • Conduit: Staff
    • Tier: Assistant
  • Calling: Scribe

Within her Guild – The Archivists – she has become a little better known, although she is by no means a household name. She did a fair job going questing, mostly because the quests were fun little adventures that could be taken on with other students. For the next semester, she has gained some small perks that will make life at Orilium Academy just a little bit easier.

Sistani also participated in the Twitter quiz and she even got many questions right, but – alas – was usually too slow for them to count. Our Guild tied in third place during that Twitter battle and while that’s a bit sad, it was also super fun and exciting! Better train those typing fingers until next semester.


The Books (the long part)

For Elemental Studies, I technically read several stories. The prompt was to read a book under 100 pages and since I was unsure of what counted as a book in this case, I read some short stories before I officially picked a novelette. Unseelie Brothers, Ltd. by Fran Wilde is a “book” on Goodreads so it should have me covered for this prompt. I enjoyed this novelette about a young fashion designer getting the chance to make dresses for the magically appearing designers Unseelie Brothers, Ltd. She uncovers some secrets from the past and forges her own future. It wasn’t wildly original but fun to read, nonetheless. (40 pages)

For my Inscription course, I picked up Gallant by V.E.Schwab and was disappointed pretty much all the way. This book had no substance and would have been served better as a short story. It was blown out of proportion by the (beautiful!) artwork, endless repetitions of the same few lines – journal entries that sometimes took up entire pages – and didn’t take any time setting up a proper premise, conflict, its characters and their relationships to each other, or indeed a satisfying ending. Everything about this was botched (except the art) and it felt like Schwab just desperately wanted to publish something, no matter what, and threw this together without love or care.
(310 pages)

Jessica Townsend’s third Nevermoor adventure Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow was my read for the class of Restoration for which the book needed to include healers. A story about a mysterious disease turned out to be the right choice. I also listened to the audiobook version of a Nevermoor book for the first time and was quite taken with the voices and accents narrator Gemma Whelan does. I still love this series even if I felt this volume took a while to get going and was a bit unfocused at times. It’s great fun and I will continue reading this middle grade series. (I had a typo here, calling it “middle great” and that actually sums the book up pretty well.)
(560 pages)

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi was a huge disappointment. Very much a beginner’s effort with almost no plot, terribly shallow characters, little to no world-building, but all the more cheesy purple prose. The insta-lovers tell each other so many sappy things and declare their undying love in such roundabout, wannabe-poetic ways, I mostly just found it ridiculous. The story makes no sense, female characters shame and hurt each other, and it’s all about the hot magical guy wanting the girl for no discernible reason. I did like the horse character, though.
(352 pages)

Next up was Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss. I had read collections from this author before (In the Forest of Forgetting is a big recommendation!) and since she won the Mythopoeic Award for this one, I was very excited to fill my Spells & Incantations prompt with this book. An author I like doing twisted fairy tales?I mean, this basically screamed 5-star-prediction at me! It turned out pretty damn great as well. I didn’t like all the poetry (poetry is so hard to get right) but I loved the stories all the more. Feminist, thoughtful, and modern in ways you don’t see coming.
(276 pages)

For some extra credit work, I combined my Hugo/Lodestar reading with the Spring Equinox. Psionics and Divination was fulfilled by reading Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders. This fast-paced YA debut was definitely worth the audiobook because the narration is great. The story itself felt surprisingly black and white for someone of Anders’ skill and I got the feeling she didn’t quite feel at home writing for this new audience. It was exciting and had some neat ideas, but overall I’d call it only good but not great.
(300 pages)

I hadn’t intended to take the Animal Studies class but Hugo Award reading made it so easy. Bots of the Lost Ark by Suzanne Palmer is another novelette and this one was about the AI and robots currently steering a space ship whose human crew is in cryo sleep after an attack. I loved the portrayal of the bots as well as the central conflict, but the writing was a bit hard to get into. This was a lot of fun and currently resides near the top of my Hugo ballot. It also makes me want to read Palmer’s longer work!
(35 pages)

I threw in another last minute novelette, O2 Arena by Oghenechevwe Donald Ekpeki in order to take my Art of Illusion class. I liked the writing in this climate fiction novelette but I honestly didn’t find any of the ideas or the plot to be original or fresh. Oxygen is a commodity and people have to sacrifice all else just for the right to keep breathing, and there are arenas where you can actually fight someone to the death for a chance to win a lifetime supply of O2 – which is also used as a currency for everyday transactions. I did like the world building and writing style but otherwise, this was only an okay read.
(18 pages)

For the Shapeshifting class, I picked another fairy tale with a twist, Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir. This was very different from Gideon and Harrow the Ninth but I loved the way our princess protagonist is forced to change from wilting flower waiting for a prince to save her into a woman who takes matters into her own hands. Her hate/love relationship with the fairy Cobweb was also delightful. As fairy tale twists go, it wasn’t my top favorite but I had a lot of fun exploring forty flights of monsters alongside Floralinada and I’d definitely recommend it.
(209 pages)


QUESTS

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky was my first foray into this author’s fiction and my book pick for the Guild Quest Fire Weasel in Danger. It had a few really cool ideas but, given the hype surrounding this author, I had expected a lot more when it comes to the characters. They mostly remained flat and one-dimensional, except for the male protagonist, who I felt for deeply. But storywise, this wasn’t super impressive and will end up on the lower half of my Hugo Awards ballot.
(204 pages)

For my second Guild Quest Rare Ingredient, I went with another Hugo finalists, Seanan McGuire’s Across the Green Grass Fields. And this one surprised me in all the best ways. It’s probably my favorite novella in this series so far! Protagonist Regan was easy to love, the way McGuire describes the cruelty of young girls was utterly heartbreaking, and the home Regan finds in her portal world, the Hooflands, was warm and lovely. If only it weren’t for those treacherous doors…
(208 pages)

For the Scroll of Standstill Quest, I had to pick a five star prediction and I couldn’t have gone more wrong than choosing Iron Widow by YouTuber Xiran Jay Zhao. I honestly thought this Pacific Rim story about a girl smashing the patriarchy would be great but it had no plot to speak of, very little character development, the twists were obvious, and the polyamorous romance wasn’t really one. Plus, the feminist message is loud but only in the telling. We are shown women who tear each other down, insult and hate each other, and only one of them gets to shine – our special snowflake protagonist who is better than everyone else (literally). Fun to read because of cool battles and romantic kisses and such but ultimately not a good book.
(394 pages)

The Ammelorite Sample Quest was a pure gift. I had to read a book with a purple cover, so I finally went with Memento by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, a prequel to the Illuminae Files Trilogy. It was short, it was snappy, it was great! AIDAN is always a win, there were even a few shocking moments here, and I just loved the way this story was told through scripts and chat protocols just like the big novels in the series. It made me want to re-read the entire triogy all over again.
(84 pages)


So this was it, my Spring Equinox 2022. Would I have liked to read more and/or bigger books? Sure. Am I proud that I accomplished as much as I did? Hell, yeah!

I can’t wait for August 2022 at the Orilium Academy! Ambitions are high, the TBR is gigantic, let’s see if I can get my grades to soar equally. I will also be fully at home by them (in Austria, you are not allowed to work starting two months prior to the expected date of your child’s birth) so time shouldn’t be a problem and I also won’t have a newborn to take care of just yet. The question is how I’ll be feeling physically and if I’ll be up for a big readathon. For now, I’m excited and optimistic that I’ll smash all my goals.

I look forward to seeing you all at Orilium Academy during the Fall Equinox. 🙂

The State of SFF – April 2022

Welcome back, everyone. 🙂
I was too scared to make any promises last time, but it seems like I’m back in a somewhat regular blogging schedule. My reading is more or less normal again, I have a much easier time concentrating, and my pregnancy is going well. Also, I’m starting to feel more and more like a unicorn for not having had Covid yet. Even many of my friends who have been vaccinated three times are catching it (which may have to do with our government being absolute idiots and opening everything up and dropping all sorts of measures during a time with the highest, record-breaking incident numbers since the pandemic started… oh well).

I hope you are all doing well, that all your loved ones are safe and healthy, and that your reading is giving you nothing but joy.

Quickie News

  • The Hugo Award Finalists will be announced on April 7th which is very soon and thus all the more exciting. Get your TBRs ready, make sure to get plenty of rest and fluids, and then we can start reading our way through those finalists like the crazy book people we are.
  • Tor.com have graciously collected the information Brandon Sanderson has shared about his four secret novels that managed to break all Kickstarter records. Soif you want a quick overview about what these are all about, go check out the article.
  • Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronciles are being adapted as an animated film. I’ve been hoping for a movie or TV version of this guilty pleasure of mine, fairy tale retellings set in the future, with a sci-fi twist and lots of adorable romance. But I think I’m even more excited to find out it’s going to be animated. This opens up a whole new world for visuals.

Orilium Readathon

Last month, we got a week-long Orilium Gear-Up Readathon, this month, it’s the big one! G from the YouTube channel Book Roast has outdone herself. If you’re in the mood for a month-long readathon that feels like the character creation part of a video game at the same time as going to magic school, then this is for you. Naturally, I already signed up and have my TBR sort of planned out.

The rules may be many and intricate but G is known for keeping it all super low pressure. You can adapt and change the prompts and rules however you see fit. This is meant to be fun for everyone and the community is one of the most welcoming, kind ones I’ve met on the interwebs. Seriously, come play with us! We’d love to have you.


A Word about Subscription Box Special Editions and Entitled Customers

You may or may not know about book subscription boxes, a service you may subscribe to and which sends you a box with a mystery new publication plus some mechandise or useful items every month. There are plenty of them, for different genres, age gropus, and tastes and usually with different options such as “book only” or “full box” etc.

In recent years, these boxes have tried to set each other apart buy customizing their editions of a given book to be extra special. That menas sprayed edges, embossing on the hardcover, exclusive art for the endpapers or the reverse of the jacket, you get the idea. Sometimes, that also means a book will be signed by the author. Sometimes it won’t.

Now the box I subscribe to – Illumicrate – has sent out a book in March without an author signature and they’ve just announced their May book (Holly Black’s Book of Night) also won’t be signed. I know, what’s the big deal, right? Well, if you ask me, no deal at all. If you go to the comment section of their announcment however, you’ll see a whole bunch of people actually complaining and demanding to know if this is “a new trend” and how dare Illumicrate not have a signed copy for every single customer when Waterstones and other chain bookstores have them on offer?

This is just one example (and a more reasonable one) of those complaints. The comments are filled with way harsher words and that simply baffles me.

Those people, should they stumble across my blog, I would remind of the following things:

  • You didn’t sign up for a subscription box that offers signed copies guaranteed.
  • Authors are humans! Maybe if Holly Black has already signed thousands of books, she didn’t want to sign another thousand? Maybe she physically can’t? Maybe she has a deal with her publishers that grants certain stores exclusive rights to signed editions? Maybe she has better things to do, such as, I don’t know, write her next book?
  • Think about the supply chain. There may not have been time for signed editions. Books have to be printed and shipped and, in case you forgot, we’re still in a pandemic with an added war in Europe and the world is not exactly running smoothly.
  • If you’re so desperate for a signed edition, skip this month’s subscription and order a sigend edition!
    It’s not like it’s signed to you personally so what’s the big deal if you have to get it from somewhere other than your subscription box?
  • The Illumicrate team are humans as well. It’s their decision what extras to feature on any given book, it’s their work that makes all this possible. If you don’t like their work, unsubscribe. there is literally a waitlist full of people who’d be more than happy about those unsigned editions.
  • You can give feedback without sounding like an entitled brat.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk. That needed to be said or I would have exploded.


Exciting April Publications

A new Cat Valente, hooray, and a new C.S.E. Cooney (which I’m already reading), yay, and one of my most highly anticipated debuts, and it’s all happening in April!

EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL – SEA OF TRANQUILITY (April 5th)

It’s a new book from Emily St. John Mandel, the author who ripped our hearts out and filled us up with hope with her wonderful Station Eleven. I have yet to read her last novel, The Glass Hotel, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look forward to this one.

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal–an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.


GRACE D. LI – PORTRAIT OF A THIEF (April 5th)

One of my most highly anticipated debuts of the year and not just because it’s about thieves and has a gorgeous cover. Okay, maybe mostly because it’s about thieves and has a gorgeous cover. But also Harvard seniors (I’m a sucker for reading about academia), a diverse cast, and themes of colonialism. Gimme!

Ocean’s Eleven meets The Farewell in Portrait of a Thief, a lush, lyrical heist novel inspired by the true story of Chinese art vanishing from Western museums; about diaspora, the colonization of art, and the complexity of the Chinese American identity.

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, and thrilling, Portrait of a Thief is a cultural heist and an examination of Chinese American identity, as well as a necessary cri­tique of the lingering effects of colonialism.


EMILY J. TAYLOR – HOTEL MAGNIFIQUE (April 5th)

This book’s synopsis has a few anti-buzz words for me, as I thought both Caraval and The Night Circus were books with pretty settings and little substance. I will definitely wait for reviews before I get this book but I’ll remain cautiously interested.

For fans of Caraval and The Night Circus, this decadent and darkly enchanting YA fantasy, set against the backdrop of a Belle Époque-inspired hotel, follows seventeen-year-old Jani as she uncovers the deeply disturbing secrets of the legendary Hotel Magnifique.

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.

The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.

With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.


RORY POWERS – IN A GARDEN BURNING GOLD (April 5th)

Rory Powers must be a favorite of the cover gods because, damn! Also magical twins defending themselves and their siblings against their crazy father, mythology, and lots of backstabbing. Teehee.

Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family safe—even if it tears the siblings apart—in the first book of a mythic epic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield.


CHRIS PANATIER – STRINGERS (April 12th)

Comparisons to Hitchhiker’s Guide are always a daring choice, but they also always work on me. So here I am, wanting desperately to get my hands on this very green book.

“Where Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy recommended towels, this slapstick and semisweet space opera sends its Earthlings out among the aliens armed only with a jar of pickles…Readers are in for a treat.” — Publishers Weekly in a starred review

“Panatier combines humor, action, and a memorable cast of characters to deliver a read perfect for fans of Becky Chambers who appreciate a good fart joke and fans of Douglas Adams interested in considering serious moral quandaries in between chuckles.” — ALA Booklist

Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.

Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it.

He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.

After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.


C.S.E. COONEY – SAINT DEATH’S DAUGHTER (April 12th)

I am reading this already because lukcy me got an e-ARC. Cooney stole my heart with her collection Bone Swans (seriously, go read it if you want a treat) so her first big novel was something I wouldn’t miss for the world. It’s as if Gideon the Ninth got hit across the head with a cheerfulness hammer, blasted with a highly creative mythology gun, and then soaked a few hours in poetic language stew. I’m loving it so far!

Fun, froofy and glorious: a coming-of-age story in a new trilogy from World Fantasy Award-winning author C.S.E. Cooney.

Nothing complicates life like Death.

Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves.

When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat’s ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation’s future into doubt.

Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months—but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible.


EMILY X.R. PAN – AN ARROW TO TH EMOON (April 12th)

Keeping with the Asian mythology trend of 2022, we get this Romeo and Juliet version but with interesting-sounding twists. The supernatural wind definitely caught my eye as did the contemporary setting. (The pretty cover doesn’t hurt either.)

Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology in this magical novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Astonishing Color of After.

In Fairbridge, a series of bizarre phenomena brings together a pair of star-crossed lovers from rival families.

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. It’s the last year of high school, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love…but time is running out, and fate will have its way.


REBECCA ROANHORSE – FEVERED STAR (April 19th)

Finally we get the continuation of the series that started with the well-written but very non-standalone Black Sun to see where the tales of Serapio, Xiala, and Naranpa will take us.

Return to The Meridian with New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Roanhorse’s sequel to the most critically hailed epic fantasy of 2020 Black Sun—finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Lambda, and Locus awards.

There are no tides more treacherous than those of the heart. —Teek saying

The great city of Tova is shattered. The sun is held within the smothering grip of the Crow God’s eclipse, but a comet that marks the death of a ruler and heralds the rise of a new order is imminent.

The Meridian: a land where magic has been codified and the worship of gods suppressed. How do you live when legends come to life, and the faith you had is rewarded?

As sea captain Xiala is swept up in the chaos and currents of change, she finds an unexpected ally in the former Priest of Knives. For the Clan Matriarchs of Tova, tense alliances form as far-flung enemies gather and the war in the heavens is reflected upon the earth.

And for Serapio and Naranpa, both now living avatars, the struggle for free will and personhood in the face of destiny rages. How will Serapio stay human when he is steeped in prophecy and surrounded by those who desire only his power? Is there a future for Naranpa in a transformed Tova without her total destruction?

Welcome back to the fantasy series of the decade in Fevered Star—book two of Between Earth and Sky.


NICOLA GRIFFITH – SPEAR (April 19th)

I swear, Hild has been on my TBR for way too long yet I keep not picking it up. Maybe with this novella, I’ll finally get the push to dive into Nicola Griffith’s work.

The girl knows she has a destiny before she even knows her name. She grows up in the wild, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake come to her on the spring breeze, and when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she knows that her future lies at his court.

And so, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and, with a broken hunting spear and mended armour, rides on a bony gelding to Caer Leon. On her adventures she will meet great knights and steal the hearts of beautiful women. She will fight warriors and sorcerers. And she will find her love, and the lake, and her fate.


ADRIENNE TOOLEY – SOFI AND THE BONE SONG (April 19th)

I love when fantasy involves music as a central element and the idea of the super diligent student up against what appears to be a natural (no lessons, just pure talent) appeals to me.

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In this gorgeous, queer standalone fantasy, a young musician sets out to expose her rival for illegal use of magic only to discover the deception goes deeper than she could have imagined—perfect for fans of An Enchantment of Ravens!

Music runs in Sofi’s blood.

Her father is a Musik, one of only five musicians in the country licensed to compose and perform original songs. In the kingdom of Aell, where winter is endless and magic is accessible to all, there are strict anti-magic laws ensuring music remains the last untouched art.

Sofi has spent her entire life training to inherit her father’s title. But on the day of the auditions, she is presented with unexpected competition in the form of Lara, a girl who has never before played the lute. Yet somehow, to Sofi’s horror, Lara puts on a performance that thoroughly enchants the judges.

Almost like magic.

The same day Lara wins the title of Musik, Sofi’s father dies, and a grieving Sofi sets out to prove Lara is using illegal magic in her performances. But the more time she spends with Lara, the more Sofi begins to doubt everything she knows about her family, her music, and the girl she thought was her enemy.

As Sofi works to reclaim her rightful place as a Musik, she is forced to face the dark secrets of her past and the magic she was trained to avoid—all while trying not to fall for the girl who stole her future.


CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE – OSMO UNKNOWN AND THE EIGHTPENNY WOODS (April 26th)

AAAAAAAAAAH a new middle grade adventure by my favoritest of authors and it has a PANGIRLIN in it. That’s right, pan-girl-in. My heart! Plus, this is Valente’s underworld novel for kids so I just know there’s going to be lots of nods to mythology and folklore in it as well as adorable characters.

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A fantasy following a boy journeying away from the only home he’s ever known and into the magical realm of the dead in order to fulfill a bargain for his people.

Osmo Unknown hungers for the world beyond his small town. With the life that Littlebridge society has planned for him, the only taste Osmo will ever get are his visits to the edge of the Fourpenny Woods where his mother hunts. Until the unthinkable happens: his mother accidentally kills a Quidnunk, a fearsome and intelligent creature that lives deep in the forest.

None of this should have anything to do with poor Osmo, except that a strange treaty was once formed between the Quidnunx and the people of Littlebridge to ensure that neither group would harm the other. Now that a Quidnunk is dead, as the firstborn child of the hunter who killed her, Osmo must embark on a quest to find the Eightpenny Woods—the mysterious kingdom where all wild forest creatures go when they die—and make amends.

Accompanied by a very rude half-badger, half-wombat named Bonk and an antisocial pangolin girl called Never, it will take all of Osmo’s bravery and cleverness to survive the magic of the Eightpenny Woods to save his town…and make it out alive.


VAISHNAVI PATEL – KAIKEYI (April 26th)

To be honest, most of the description for this sounds like rather generic women’s uprising fare. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just like my fantasy to offer more layers. So it’s the “evil from childhood stories” that drew me in after all and makes me want to give this Ramayana retelling a go.

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“Patel’s mesmerizing debut shines a brilliant light on the vilified queen from the Ramayana….This easily earns its place on shelves alongside Madeline Miller’s Circe.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.


T. KINGFISHER – NETTLE AND BONE (April 26th)

Not only are we getting a new Cat Valente adventure in April, we’ll also get a T. Kingfisher fairy tale-esque novel about sisters and witches and impossible tasks. The fact that they want to kill the prince makes this 100% cooler, and I just know I will fall in love with the demon-possessed chicken.

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A dark and compelling fantasy about sisterhood, impossible tasks and the price of power, from award-winning author T. Kingfisher

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra―the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter―has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince―if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.


FONDA LEE – THE JADE SETTER OF JANLOON (April 30th)

The crowning finale of April is a new (if shorter) work in the mind-blowing Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee. If you want the limited hardback edition, go to Subterranean Press now. These usually sell out quickly! I’ll stick with the e-book but I cannot wait to see what this prequel novella has in store for us.

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THE JADE SETTER OF JANLOON is a standalone novella in The Green Bone Saga. It takes place two years before the events of Jade City, and it will be coming out from Subterranean Press in early 2022, in beautiful limited edition hardback and ebook.


News from the blog

I am back in the game. It wasn’t a record-breaking month, especially considering that I picked a few shorter books to read, but I am okay with it.

What I read last month:

I am so glad I finally started the Divine Cities trilogy because now I know why everyone says it’s so good. Because it is! I’m afraid my brain wasn’t all that fair to Tasha Suri’s book but then I had fun with two shorter instalments by authors I like, and I tried a new book (first adult after only YA) by a new-to-me author that left me underwhelmed.

Currently reading:

  • C.S.C. Cooney – Saint Death’s Daughter (ARC)
  • Robert Jordan – The Dragon Reborn
  • Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
  • V.E. Schwab – Gallant
  • Jessica Townsend – Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow

Yeah, yeah, so my Wheel of Time read-through isn’t exactly going smoothly. I do read a chapter every once in a while but then I’m reminded that the book is treating me like I’m a little stupid, with its many repetitions (what is up with the braid tugging?!), its rather one-minded female characters (who gets to marry Rand, my ass, don’t you have bigger problems?), and its long-winded explanations of things that have been made perfectly clear already. But I still kind of want to know where it’s all going, so I will read on. Just very, very slowly.

My e-ARC of C.S.E. Cooney’s first full-length novel is brilliant and wonderfully weird and very intriguing. I have no idea what direction the story will take me in and that is just how I like it. The Raadchai mood has left me a little but I am still on the Ancillary books. And the Orilium readathon gave me the push to pick up two middle grade books. Both the Schwab and the Townsend are quite fun so far.

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

Reading Goals and Challenges: 2021 Wrap-Up

Hello, dear reader friends. Happy New Year! What a year this has been… Despite everything that’s going on (and if you’re reading this in early 2022, you know what I mean), silly things like reading challenges still exist and those among us crazy enough to participate actually care about their stats and “winning” a challenge. So let’s look at how I did in 2021:


Goodreads Reading Goal

I have once again surpassed my Goodreads reading goal and unlike last year, it wasn’t due to a whole lot of graphic novels.

When it comes to page count, which makes things a little more accurate and easier to compare years, I ended up quite behind 2020 but I still read almost 35,000 pages. It’s not a new best, but it’s a second-best and that’s enough to make me feel proud.


Beat the Backlist Challenge

This was the only official year-long challenge I took part in this year but I wasn’t all that eager to fill the entire Bingo card. It mostly helped me choose backlist books when I wasn’t sure what to read next.

  • Prompts fulfilled: 34/52
  • Bingo: Yes, twice

Reading the Hugo Awards

This two-part challenge was very one-sided in 2021 but that’s okay because technically, I did some groundwork for an older Hugo winner (meaning I read the first three Foundation books so I can read the Hugo-winning one soon-ish). As for current finalists, I did much better. The fact that WorldCon happened in December as opposed to AUgust definiteley helped me to catch up on the Best Series finalists. Here’s where we ended up:

  • Best Novel: 6/6
  • Best Novella: 6/6
  • Best Novelette: 6/6
  • Best Short Story: 6/6
  • Best Graphic Novel: 6/6
  • Lodestar: 6/6
  • Astounding: 2/6
  • Best Series:
    • Daevabad: 3/3
    • Murderbot: 5/6
    • Interdependency: 3/3
    • Lady Astronaut: 3/3
    • Poppy War: 3/3
    • October Daye: 3/14

That’s not too bad! Sure, I would have really liked to read the Astounding finalists as well but by that point, I was close to a Hugo burnout and I want to keep reading fun, after all.

The second part of this challenge is to read a few past Hugo winners or finalists. I had a handful picked out at the beginning of the year but I haven’t done too well so far. I hope I can do two more this year.

Past Hugo winners/finalists read: 1

Well… we can’t win all the time, I suppose.


Magical Readathon: Orilium – The Novice Path

G’s Magical Readathon is back and it is cooler than ever! Naturally, I participated in the very first introductory chapter which took place during September.

The prompts (as always) helped me pick up a variety of books, some of which I wouldn’t have read this soon otherwise. Most of my reads were fantastic and I got to go on a magical journey and create my very own character for future readathons by reading them.

NOVICE PATH STATION/
CHARACTER TRAIT
BOOK TITLE
Novice Path EntranceRobert Jordan – The Great Hunt
Ashthorn TreeJohn Scalzi – The Consuming Fire
Mists of SolitudeNicole Kornher-Stace – Firebreak
Ruin of the SkyeKatherine Arden – Small Spaces
Obsidian FallsSarah Gailey – The Echo Wife
Tower of RuminationJordan Ifueko – Redemptor
Orilion AcademyTori Bovalino – The Devil Makes Three
IltirianColson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad
ElfMary Robinette Kowal – The Relentless Moon
KeradorLinden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel
UrbanAlaya Dawn Johnson – Trouble the Saints

Since we only had to fulfill two journey prompts and still have time until April 2022 to get all our character reading done, my readathon was very successful. And even better, I’m all set to start the next Magical Readathon with my character Sistani.

Sistani belongs to the Archivists, which is your sort of guild at the fictional Academy, and I cannot wait to see what that means for the 2022 readathons. I’m sure I’ll have to read a 500+ page book or something.


Read More Black Authors

Well, I suck. Or at the very least, I sucked this year whan it came to reading books by Black authors. I kind of knew it was going to end up this way what with my Stormlight Archive re-read and me starting the Wheel of Time and reading a bunch of white authors for the Hugo Awards…

Books by Black authors read: 15/20

Technically,I read an additional three short stories by Black authors, but I only counted novels for this challenge.

And to put this all into perspective, I did read 32 books by Authors of Color, but many of them are Latinx, Asian, or Indigenous so I didn’t count them toward this challenge. Which is why I’m adapting it next year to include all sorts of authors and not focus on merely one group


New Releases

I did okay with this one. There are still a lot of books from 2021 that I want to read before nominating for the 2022 Hugos, but I have already discovered some favorites as well as some others I can safely ignore for my ballot.

2021 releases read: 28

Favorites: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente, The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, Noor by Nnedi Okorafor.

My biggest wish was to find a new favorite book by an author I hadn’t read before and – hooray – it was fulfilled. First came Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace. And very late in the year (November and December) two more books came up that I absolutely loved: Little Thieves by Margaret Owen and This Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. Three new author crushes in one year is pretty damn nice!


Five Star Predictions ★★★★★

This year’s predictions just go to show how misleading blurbs and markting campaigns can be. Especially newer books that have super hyped early reviews and little else can end up far from what I had hoped.

Alechia Dow – The Sound of StarsRead1.5 stars
Everina Maxwell – Winter’s OrbitRead3.5 stars
Vonda N. McIntyre – DreamsnakeRead4.5 stars
Catherynne M. Valente – The Past is RedRead5 stars
Hannah Whitten – For the WolfRead1 star
Fonda Lee – Jade LegacyNot Read

In this case, Cat Valente and Fonda Lee were my sure thing and Valente did not disappoint. Sadly, I haven’t managed to read Jade Legacy yet. Dreamsnake is old enough to have garnered all sorts of reviews, many of which I found helpful, even ones that didn’t like the book (because they disliked it for aspects that I tend to enjoy in books). Winter’s Orbit was buzzed about a lot but not in a crazy way, if you know what I mean. And I ended up quite liking it.

Now the one book that received what I would call hype, and way before it even came out, was For the Wolf. The author posted aesthetics and playlists and quotes out of context that sounded super dramatic and impactful. And then it turns out this book is about nothing. Even the one thing it seemed to want to tell – the sappy romance – wasn’t well developed. Ironically, it may have the the worst book I read all year! Followed closely by another 5-star-prediction, but at least The Sound of Stars had some nice ideas and very basic world building.

What I have learned through this experiment is not to trust early reviews (if I don’t know the people who post them) or the sort of hype that is based mostly on pretty pictures or Pinterest mood boards. If all you have to say about your book is that the characters are really pretty then it’s probably not for me. So. Overhyped books will not be read too soon after publication. I’ll give them a year or so to stew. Critical reviews, both positive and negative, can be trusted more than over-excited, gif-filled, cover-focused, character-appearance-adoring ones.
Lesson two: Favorite authors are favorites for a reason.


And this wraps up my2021 reading challenges and goals. I did pretty well on most of them but there is room for improvement next year. How did you do on your challenges? Do you participate in 20 of them each year as well or are you normal? 🙂

Best of 2021: My Favorite Books of the Year

I’m not going to lie, this has been a pretty shitty year. Dealing with this pandemic is starting to take its toll and I think you can tell from my reading choices when things got better and when they got worse. But reading was, in fact, one of the small comforts that accompanied me throughout 2021, so let’s focus on the positives and celebrate all the cool shit I read this year. 🙂

To keep it organized (and to cram in more favorites, hehe) I’ve split this list into categories just like I did last year.


Favorite Books Published in 2021

Novels

Last year was absolutely insane when it came to SFF novels. This year felt like it’s keeping up rather well, with the only difference being that I’m way behind. There are quite a few books I think might end up being new favorites still on my TBR but here are the ones that I’ve already had the pleasure of reading and that all got 5 stars from me on Goodreads. Now that I look at them all in one place, I realize they couldn’t be more different!

All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter (Angela Slatter) was the first book that made me squee with joy in 2021. It’s part Gothic fairy tale, part family mystery, part coming-of-age female empowerment story and I loved it to pieces! Slatter has been a favorite of mine for a while now but this book, while keeping the fairy tale vibe her short stories tend to have, was a step in a new direction. It took me a while to find my way into the story but once I was there, I found it absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait for next year’s The Path of Thorns.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey came next and I knew pretty early on it would be one of my top books of the year. The funny thing is that as I read it, every twist and surprise and every bit of character development cemented the book’s spot on this list. A not very likable protagonist, clones, questions of morality, how far science can and should go, questions of womanhood, a bit of light murder, and great twists until the very end make this one of the most exciting books of the year. It reads like a thriller but offers a lot of food for thought. And I just love Gailey’s writing and their complicated characters.

Nnedi Okorafor published a novella and a novel this year, the first of which (Remote Control) I liked but didn’t love. The novel, however, stole my heart. In Noor, we follow a young woman who has a lot of artificial/robotic body parts. This makes her something of an outsider and eventually she has to flee from the society she wants to be a part of. She meets with a different sort of outsider and together, they not only fight for their basic right to live (!) but also unravel a mystery of epic proportions. This book is short but it really has everything. Great characters, cool science and technology, a kick-ass plot, and deep emotional impact.

A Marvellous Light by debut author Freya Marske is something completely different. It’s a fantasy romance set in Edwardian England with one bookish protagonist and one sporty, impulsive one. But despite the romance being stunning (and quite, quite sexy!), Marske put a lot of effort into her world building and magic system as well. I loved the idea of cradling – magic spells require specific hand movements – and the way the magical society works in this story, and I especially love how women, who are considered too weak for difficult magic, use their powers quietly and show how powerful they really are. But, yeah, mostly I loved this for the romance, the sexual tension, and Edwin and Robin’s budding relationship. Can’t wait for the sequels.


Young Adult/Middle Grade

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He was my first YA crush this year. I was already taken with the author because of the amazing Descendant of the Crane but here she shows that she didn’t just get lucky with her debut but rather that she is someone to watch. This climate-fiction tale of two sisters who have been separated and are trying to find their way back to each other has layers upon layers and is hard to talk about it without spoiling. But believe me when I say that you’ll get great science fictional ideas, intricate characters with difficult emotions, many gasp-worthy twists, and a truly touching story about sisterly love. Plus a little bit of romance. Basically, it’s as amazing as the cover is pretty.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko didn’t get to me as quickly as the first book in this duology, but after reading for a while, I noticed how this tale of found/chosen family and heavy responsibility had sneaked into my heart again. I was struck by how well everything falls into place, how Ifueko managed to introduce a lot of new characters and made me love them as much as the old ones. There are still more surprises to discover. If you liked Raybearer, you will also like this book. The ending was just beautiful and I will forever be a Tarisai fangirl.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen stole my heart and ran away with it like the thief that narrates this novel. This was one of my late-in-the-year five star reads that I totally didn’t see coming. It’s a loose retelling/sequel of the fairy tale The Goose Girl but it very much brings its own ideas to the table. First person narrator Vanja is the best kind of cocky, there are a lot of cool ideas to discover during this tale, and there’s an effortless diversity of sexuality to be found, all with an understated lovely romance, a kick-ass heist-filled plot that piles on the trouble but somehow resolves everything by the end. I am glad that we will get a sequel in (probably) 2023. I wish I could read it right now!


Novellas

My favorite novella of the year comes from none other than Catherynne M. Valente and it was The Past Is RedThis post-apocalyptic story set on the Pacific Garbage Patch – known as Garbagetown – is devastating and hopeful, expertly crafted, with characters that break your heart, prose that sings and dances, and even a great twist. It gave me all the feels and I’ll cherish and re-read it forever. Tetley Abednego is a protagonist who sees beauty in dirt and reminds us that oftentimes the world could be so lovely if only we learned to appreciate it.

Secondly, we have the very different but just as stunning Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente. Hey, it’s not my fault she wrote two brilliant novellas in one year, okay? This one is eerie and atmospheric and best enjoyed without knowing anything about it beforehand. Although the twist at the end is its climax, it has great re-read value because once you know what’s going on you can go hunting for all the clues that you missed the first time. And there are so many of them! Valente shows that she can jump between genres as if it was nothing, all while staying true to her beautiful prose.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow was another top novella, although it is much lighter than my other favorites. It’s Harrow spiderversing a fairy tale, in this case Sleeping Beauty, and it just worked although I think it will not be for everyone. The writing is easy and filled with references to pop culture and literature, the characters aren’t super deep, but the themes hit home nonetheless. Protagonist Zinnia suffers from a rare disease that will most likely kill her before she turns 21. When she accidentally lands in a parallel world where she meets an actual Sleeping Beauty type princess, things don’t go quite as expected. This was a fun romp, it had things to say about feminism and gender and choosing your own path and I unabashedly loved it even though I would have preferred it to be longer.

And let’s not forget Becky Chambers‘ latest novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built. This was both what I expected and also totally different, if that makes sense. The nonbinary tea monk protagonist felt so utterly relatable it hurt, and while their journey wasn’t filled with shocking moments or daring adventures, it was exactly the quiet, philosophical kind of book we’ve come to expect from Chambers. Then again, it also felt somehow new and fresh. The hopepunk setting, the slowly building friendship between human and robot, it all worked together beautifully and I need the sequel now.

Sadly, these are (yet again) all Tor.com titles and I was determined to have at least one novella from a different publisher among my favorites this year. If you have recommendations, please leave me one in the comments.


Favorite Books Published pre-2021

Once again, I have to thank all the people who nominate books and series for the Hugo Award. The Best Series category, which is still pretty new, has been a treasure trove when it comes to backlist titles that aren’t old enough yet to be classics but not new enough to be the newest hot shit that everyone is talking about. Many of those in-between titles ended up on my list and that makes me super happy.

The Poppy War Trilogy by R. F. Kuang absolutely wrecked me and even though The Poppy War was a re-read, I’m counting it in this category, alongside The Dragon Republic and The Burning God. Because, damn! That’s right, that is the summary of my feelings.
But seriously, I don’t know what impresses me most. The fact that Kuang entered the scene with an unbelievably great debut, that she tackled a very dark period of history, that her characters are multi-faceted and flawed and believable, that her world building is impeccable, her writing engaging… I mean, at this point I’m just describing all the elements of a perfect novel. But you get the idea and I am forever destroyed by what these books have done to my poor heart.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune needs no explanation. Anyone who has read it will know why this heartwarming tale of found family ended up on my list, and people who haven’t read it have probably been told how this is a warm hug in book form a million times. It really is, though, and if you ever feel down and want a story you know is going to lift you up, make it this one. I can’t wait to pick up the book’s spiritual successor that came out this year, Under the Whispering Door.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler has convinced me that Butler will probably always end up on my Best of the Year lists, at least until I’ve read all her books. This is all the more impressive as the book in question is pretty much the opposite of the Klune in terms of atmosphere and vibe. Sure, Butler always conveys that shining bit of hope but the world and setting she uses in this duology is anything but nice. Still, one  of the most impressive and impactful books I read this year.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett was not surprising in any way. It’s fairly early Discworld but it does exactly what Pratchett always does so well. It holds a mirror up to humanity, with humor and heart and respect. This book made me laugh and cry, ponder and wonder, and most of all it made me miss Terry Pratchett all over again. As it tackles religion, which can be a… let’s say difficult subject, we should be all the more impressed how Pratchett managed to make fun of certain aspects of it without ever, EVER, disrespecting people or their faith!

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal is a bit of a departure from the first two books in her Lady Astronaut series. The plot happens parallel to the story of The Fated Sky, only this time we focus on Earth and the Moon colony as well as on a new protagonist, Nicole Wargin, pilot and politician’s wife and also super capable Moon survival person. This took a while to get going but once the story had taken off, I was reeling from all the amazing ideas. Whether it’s basic survival moves on the Moon or dealing with an eating disorder, or handling politics, it’s all there, it’s all done well and I ended up loving this book much more than I had anticipated.

The Interdependency Trilogy by John Scalzi was one of my biggest surprise hits this year. And my favorite volume of the three was probably the middle book, The Consuming Fire. I usually put a lot of Serious SFF (TM) on here but that’s not the only type of story I love. So this year, I’m adding this hilarious space opera romp by Scalzi because, while maybe not dealing with the deepest philosophical questions of humanity, it was just pure and utter fun! I adore Kiva Lagos and her filthy mouth, I loved the idea of the Flow and I simply enjoyed following all these characters as they are trying to save the world.

The biggest surprise, without a doubt, was how much I enjoyed Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. You may recall how much I disliked Gideon the Ninth, how I found it messily plotted, with flat characters (one exception being Gideon herself) and told in unnessecarily convoluted prose. The prose is still overly verbose and showy, but everything else about Harrow has taken me by storm. Damn, I want to know what happens next, how all these crazy revelations impact the world, and where this story will lead us eventually. And so I find myself actually happy that the trilogy has grown into a 4-book-series and that we’ll get Nona the Ninth in 2022. Yay!

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers was just lovely! I had really liked Small, Angry Planet but I bounced off Spaceborn Few for a long while (the ending turned it around but overall, my opinion was rather meh), so I didn’t have the highest expectations. And then Chambers just goes and tells not one, but two hearbreaking stories in one novel. My eyes were perpetually wet as I listened to this on audiobook and it is now by far my favorite book in the series.


I am not feeling too great about the pandemic at the moment (not that I ever felt great about it, but you know what I mean) but at least I am happy with what I read in 2021.

Top of my TBR: Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen, Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune, Summer Suns by Lee Mandelo, The Chosen and the Beautfiul by Nghi Vo, The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

If you’ve posted a best of the year list, let me know in the comments. I love looking through other people’s favorite reads of the year. I’m especially interested in 2021 publications that I might have missed and should prioritize. 🙂

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Series

I love this category and I hate this category. This year, I was quite lucky in having read at least the first book each in five out of the six series but as we know, the first book isn’t enough to properly judge whether a series/trilogy as a whole should get a Hugo. But with WorldCon being moved to December, this was also the first year where I had enough time to properly catch up and even finish most of the finalists!

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

I am so glad this category exists even though it makes me gasp at the amount of pages it wants me to read every year. This year was also the first one where I thought a bit more about why this category exists and whether it’s fulfilling its original purpose. Cora Buhlert has some excellent thoughts on this (that’s why she is a finalist for Best Fan Writer) and I absolutely see where she’s coming from.

Best Series is meant for those books/series that usually wouldn’t have a shot at a Best Novel Hugo even though they might be deserving. If you loved the 10th Dresden Files book or the 14th in the October Daye series, it’s unlikely it will become a Best Novel finalist and, even if it did, how many voters unfamiliar with the series would read through the previous 9 (or 13 or however many) instalments to get to this particular one?
But in the Best Series category, you can nominate that series precisely because book 14 was so great. And other people might nominate it based on the instalment they’ve just read – whether that’s book 3 or book 8 – if they think that the series overall is worthy of a Hugo.

But what we’ve seen in the few years since the category has been around is, yes, some long-running series like the ones I described above, but also lots and lots of trilogies, many of which had volumes nominated for Best Novel as well. And look, I myself am guilty of this. I nominated The Winternight Trilogy and I nominated The Murderbot Diaries as series as well as some of their individual instalments for Best Novel. And on the one hand, that’s because I don’t have any super long-running series that I follow (unless you count The Stormlight Archive, which I suspect will unfold its true brilliance once the final book is out and that’s when I plan to nominate it (unless it starts sucking along the way, of course)). On the other hand, I nominated those trilogies because they didn’t manage to get their single volumes onto the Best Novel ballot, so I feel vindicated.

But however you look at this category, it’s an important one that makes the Hugos just a little bit better and more modern and more interesting than they used to be.


The Finalists for Best Series

This category grows on me more each year. Last year, it led me to discover two series (one trilogy, one quartet) that I have since continued because they are really damn good. This year, it forced me to continue lots of series I had already started AND introduced me to a trilogy I would’t have picked up at all if it weren’t for the Hugos but ended up loving.

I think my biggest difficulty in this category is the question whether I should be voting for the series I had most fun reading or the one I think is most accomplished or some mix of both. Maybe I should go for the one where I think it being a series makes it bettern than each of its instalment on its own? Because, let’s face it, the most accomplished is easily The Poppy War Trilogy. It’s ambitious, incredibly well written, and all the more impressive because Kuang is such a young writer. But it’s also super dark and not as easy to digest as, say, a John Scalzi trilogy or a Murderbot book.

I wasn’t that happy about Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon being nominated for both Best Novel and the series for Best Series at first, mostly because the first book already won a Hugo. But the Lady Astronaut series actually did what I wish every series would do. It got bigger and better and more fun along the way. The Calculating Stars deserved its Hugo win and I loved the book by itself, but it was also super uncomfortable to read because it shows just how unfair the world can be. The Fated Sky continues to show what it’s like belonging to a minority (or, you know, being a woman) and all the unpleasantness and injustice that comes with that, but it was also more fun to read. Not everything was always terrible and it focused on space travel and real-world science a bit more. It ended up being my favorite of the series so far. Then I picked up The Relentless Moon, and even though it took me a while to let go of Elma and Mars and instead follow Nicole Wargin on the Moon, I ended up falling completely in love with that book! So yeah, this is a series that gets better and bigger along the way and is thus a perfect finalist in this category.

Murderbot is a similar case but not quite, because this year is the first time that the series has an entry that is a full-length novel. I’d like to think that even if that novel hadn’t come out and Martha Wells had continued writing only novellas, Murderbot would have made the final ballot for Best Series anyway. Here my feelings are almost reversed to The Lady Astronaut series. I feel just slightly less inclined to vote for the Murderbot book in Best Novel because I think the series as a whole is better than the novel on its own. I wouldn’t have loved Network Effect as much if I hadn’t already known Murderbot and its backstory. So if I had my way, Martha Wells would not win the Best Novel category (which is incredibly strong this year) but would win Best Series. Except maybe not this year (I’ll explain why later) but definitely in a few years. We know that Murderbot is here to stay – at least for a few more years – and if the quality of Wells’ writing stays at this level, the series will definitely be nominated again. And I absolutely want it to win a Best Series Hugo because it is deserving and also a perfect example of what I think this Hugo category should be for.

It feels a little unfair for me to even rank the October Daye series at this point because, although I read another instalment this year, I am so far behind that I can’t possibly judge the current state of the series. I have read three out of fourteen (!) volumes and if the other voters nominated it based on the strength of its most current book and not just because they like the author, then I have no way of knowing whether I agree with them. I still enjoy the series – although the first book was the best and they got slightly weaker from there – and I want to continue reading it. I guess it will show up on the ballot again in two years and maybe by then I’ll have caught up a bit more. At the point I am right now, it’s a fun Urban Fantasy series that I enjoy but nowhere close to the other entries on the ballot in terms of originality, quality, or impact on the genre. Maybe that will change as I continue reading and that’s why I feel my ranking may not be very fair but I’m judging as honestly as I can given the books that I have read.

Thanks to this ballot, I finally finished The Daevabad Trilogy and mostly agree with other readers that it’s a great trilogy with a satisfying ending. S. A. Chakraborty is an author I will watch because not only did she write a story about djinn, bringing a refreshing perspective into the fantasy genre, but she also does politics and court intrigue really well. Her writing style is engaging and I enjoyed all three of these books, even if the middle one felt like a filler and the last one was too long and a bit slow for my taste. So here comes the hard part again. My esteem for this trilogy is pretty high and I will pounce on Chakraborty’s next book, whatever it is. But in comparison to some of the other finalists, it didn’t feel as innovative and doesn’t get me equally as excited, and so ends up in the lower area of my ballot.

Damn you, Scalzi, I thought it was a safe bet that I could put The Interdependence Trilogy safely in the lower half of my ballot. And then you go out and write three books that are fun, exciting, finished way too quickly, and make me want to read more of the same. This trilogy was the only one I hadn’t even tried prior to the finalists being announced and I didn’t have high expectations. And look, this may deal with a galaxy-spanning empire but it’s not exactly deep. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, this may have been my favorite of the ballot when it comes to pure enjoyment. I can totally see myself re-reading it when I need something exciting that makes me laugh out loud, cheer on the good guys and cackle when the bad guys get what they have coming. Granted, it can’t keep up with some of the other finalists in terms of scope or ambition, but it has great ideas, highly engaging writing, and it gave me several hours of pure fun! Plus, Kiva Lagos and her filthy mouth are everything!

The last series I tackled for this year’s ballot was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. I had read the first book when it came out, was deeply impressed but not very hyped to read the next book – not because I didn’t like it but because it gets so very dark! So I did a re-read to refresh my memory this year and then went on to read the whole story in one swoop. It was both rewarding and terrible because my already very insecure ballot got mixed up even more. I mean, how could I not put this in my number one spot? The first book was even better on a re-read and that doesn’t happen often! The second book upped the stakes, didn’t feel like a middle book at all, and ripped out my heart several times over.
How can an author so young write a debut that is this brilliant? And as if it’s not enough that the writing is amazing, the characters multi-layered and difficult, but it’s also got rich world building, is inspired by real historical events, explores dark and important themes, and pushes the boundaries of the genre. I didn’t finish the third book before the voting period ended (I read it very slowly because (1) I was scared of the ending and (2) I didn’t want it to end), but I was certain that Kuang would deliver a bombastic end to her trilogy and deserves my top spot.

My ballot:

  1. The Poppy War
  2. The Lady Astronaut
  3. The Murderbot Diaries
  4. The Interdependency
  5. The Daevabad Trilogy
  6. The October Daye Series

Voting is now over but here are my thoughts from just before I finished up my ballot:

Okay, so a lot of this ballot is a mess and I have no idea how to rank these and not feel shitty about it. The Poppy War will stay on top, that much is certain. No matter how I twist and turn it, there is simply no way I can justify putting it any lower.
My bottom two series will stay where they are as well even though I might still swap them. Spots 2 through 4 are giving me a headache of epic proportions, however. I think I like Murderbot more than the Lady Astronaut, but here’s where my brain goes into strategic mode. I really, really, really want The Poppy War to win and I think Murderbot is its strongest contender, so by raking Murderbot one lower than I normally would, can I give The Poppy War a slight edge? I also want Murderbot to win but that series is still ongoing, unlike The Poppy War which has its last chance of winning this year. And since none of the individual novels won (which is a shame), I want it to win Best Series even more.

I realize that this approach may not be how other people vote (and that’s fine) but this ballot is so hard to rank that this is the only way I feel halfway comfortable with. All of that said, I will be more than happy if Murderbot or The Lady Astronaut series win this year. R. F. Kuang will likely write another masterpiece and let us shower her with Hugos sooner or later.

That’s it folks!
I didn’t get to the Astounding Award this year. I probably could have managed it but I honestly felt a little burned out on reading so many books because I “had to” (you know what I mean). I’m currently reading by mood and enjoying the hell out of it. But I’m not going to lie, I already look forward to doing this craziness all over again next year. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this series of posts. Now let’s all be excited for the awards ceremony and cheer on those finalists!

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Novel

Once again, we have reached the Big One. The Hugo Award for Best Novel.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

This year, I had only read three out of the six finalists, although two of the unread ones were already on my TBR. The sixth was a book I wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been nominated. And that just goes to show how valuable the Hugo Awards are because I ended up ranking that book pretty damn high for something I wasn’t even interested in…

2020 was an insanely good year for SFF publishing. The finalists could have included 15 additional novels and it would still have been a fantastic ballot. Seriously, this was the first time I felt bad because I had to leave several worthy books off my nominations ballot as only five works can be nominated. Now as for ranking the ones that made it… oh boy.


The Finalists for Best Novel

When the finalists came out, I thought I had them all figured out. I expected to hate Harrow the Ninth, I may have loved Piranesi but it doesn’t feel like a Hugo book to me, and Network Effect has now won both a Nebula and a Locus, so I could rank it a bit lower without feeling bad. Roanhorse and Kowal were the big unknowns for me. But then Harrow turned out to really get its hooks into me, Black Sun – although it can’t stand on its own and reads more like half a novel – impressed me enough to keep floating around in my mind and all of that just leaves me stumped. I can’t possible compare these books, much less rank them!

Nobody is more surprised than I am at Harrow the Ninth turning me into a fan. A reluctant one, sure, but a fan, nonetheless. I still don’t like Muir’s writing style, I don’t see its merit for the story and/or characters, and I simply don’t enjoy reading it. BUT. Pretty much everything else about Harrow the Ninth was super fun. The crazy magic system, the puzzling nature of everything in this book, how nothing makes sense until it suddenly does… I even got quite emotional at times and that’s something that was completely missing in Gideon for me. Reading this book felt like work a lot of the time and it made me shout “What the hell is going on?” many, many times, but I keep thinking about it, I keep making up theories, I keep wishing for the next book to come out soon because I have to know how it all ends. And that’s just amazing to me and pushed this book up on my ballot.

With Network Effect, I’m taking an approach that not everyone may agree on. I adore Murderbot as much as the next person and I was very fond of this full-length novel in a series otherwise comprised of novellas. I nominated it myself and it would originally have ended up as number 2 on my ballot. But – and here’s my controversial voting strategy – I would much rather see Murderbot win Best Series because I think the series as a whole is better than its individual instalments and also more than just the novel on its own. I mean, the novel won a Nebula and a Locus Award, both absolutely deserved, but it makes me kind of want the Hugo to go to another book. 2020 was such a great year for SFF and the awards scene shouldn’t make it look like Network Effect was the one and only great book we got. So yeah, these are the reasons why I’m ranking this brilliant, heartwarming, action-packed book that I loved, quite low on my ballot.

N. K. Jemisin may feel like a similar case. After doing what nobody has done before and taking home three consecutive Hugos for her Broken Earth Trilogy, it would feel a bit… repetitive to give her another Hugo. But then The City We Became is going in a completely different direction, showing her amazing genre-busting skill. It was the first 2020 publication I knew I would nominate and it feels like it should be number 1 on my ballot. My opinion of it is colored by the amazing audiobook version which turned the book into a proper event. Out of all the books on the ballot, I read this one the longest time ago, and yet I still remember certain scenes vividly, I still have the character voices in my head, and I still loved the story arc. So it has to go in my top three at least, but maybe not in the number one spot anymore?

Rebecca Roanhorse’s new series starter, Black Sun, didn’t impress me all that much while I read it. Most people unabashedly love this book and I found it fun to read as well. I liked the characters, I loved the world building and the set up, but I found the story quite predictable and derivative. You could tell where each story line would go from the very beginning, so, much like her Urban Fantasy, the only thing that set this apart from other stereotypical books of that sub-genre, was the setting and the character diversity. As these are two things I value greatly, I believe we can commend Roanhorse, but does that make her novel worthy of an award? Add to that the fact that Black Sun isn’t even the kind of trilogy opener that tells a full story and only leaves a handful of questions open, no no, it actually just stops mid-tale. If I didn’t know there were more books coming, I would be majorly pissed that this is how the book ends. Because it doesn’t, it just pauses. To me, this makes it a much more fitting contender for the Best Series category (depending on how good the sequels are, of course). I will be reading the next book and I look forward to it. But I don’t believe that Black Sun has enough to offer to merit a Hugo Award.

My last read was The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal because I first had to catch up on the second book in the Lady Astronaut series. In hindsight, I regret not reading it sooner because I would have nominated that for a Hugo last year! Now this third book took me a while to get into, mostly because of the change in protagonist, but then Kowal worked her magic again and I was caught in the world of scientists and astronauts, of a sabotage plot with a hint of spy mystery, of deeply human characters with believable relationship. And I ended up loving it so much! This book is making voting harder not just in this category but also in Best Series. Because the series is getting better and even though you can read the books as standalones, it’s so much more than the sum of its parts when you follow the series as a whole.

My ballot (probably)

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

Maaaaaan, this is a difficult year! I don’t think I’ve ever had such trouble ranking the Best Novel finalists. The only book I’m sure about is Black Sun in my last spot (again, not because it was bad, but the other stuff is just better). I’ll probably also keep Network Effect at number five because it’s already won so much and I’m ranking Murderbot higher up on my Best Series ballot.

But 1-4 are a complete mess that I have changed about fifty times by now and I’m never quite happy with my ranking. I’ve been debating putting Harrow first but then Jemisin’s newest book was so much nicer to read and Kowal’s Relentless Moon hit me really hard emotionally… And Piranesi was brilliant even if I think it’s not a typical Hugo book. So you see, the ballot I’m posting here could stay the same or it could change a hundred more times before the voting period ends. Your guess is a good as mine.

The great thing about this is: I would be happy for any of my top 5 books to receive the Hugo Award. As much as I complain about difficult choices and rankings and blah blah blah, it’s a truly wonderful year when we can’t decide what should win because everything is so damn good.

Up next week: Best Series

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Novella

The Best Novella category this year is dominated by Tordotcom more than ever. Since the publisher started their novella initiative, the popularity of novellas has risen dramatically, not just in SFF fandom in general but also when it comes to my own reading. I used to think of novellas as “not quite novels” for some reason, like they were somehow lesser because they needed fewer pages to tell a story. I have since learned the error of my ways and come to appreciate the novella for the amazing form it is.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

This year, I had already read four out of the six finalists, although one of the unread ones was already on my TBR. The sixth was a book I wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been nominated. As I quite liked the latter and didn’t much like the one I had had on my TBR, that just goes to show you that awards ballots are great and can push you to read better books. 🙂


The Finalists for Best Novella

As much as I love Tordotcom and their novellas, they have become so numerous that the quality isn’t as top notch as it was in their first year of the novella initiative. They are still publishing amazing stuff, don’t get me wrong, but there is one book among this list whose appearance on the ballot I just can’t understand. But let’s talk about the individual titles a bit.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark is my clear and absolute favorite. I nominated it myself and I’ve been wanting it to win a Hugo since the moment I finished it. Of course, I first had to read some other finalists but I honestly didn’t expect anything to get much better than this. It’s about a group of women who hunt Ku Kluxes – the very real monsters you turn into when you’ve been part of the Klan too long. What I enjoyed so much about this was the mix of exciting adventure, crazy cool world building, deep characters, and a clear message. And when I say message, please don’t think you’re going to get a “don’t be a racist” lecture in this book (although, obviously, don’t be a racist) but rather that Clark manages to give us sympathetic characters we care about and then shows how unfairly the world treats them. Plus, the monsters are extra cool, there is a magical sword, and I actually cried during one chapter… Yeah, this is an easy number one for me.

It’s been a bit longer since I read The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo and unfortunately, I didn’t review it here so my memories aren’t as clear as I would like. But I do remember the gist of the story – a young historian finding out the story of the former Empress through stories evoked by common everyday objects. And that story turns out to be how women, even when they are seen and used as pawns on a political chess board, have power if they stick together. A quiet power, sure, but power nontheless. It’s also about finding happiness in the most dire of situations. I remember loving the language of this novella and how slowly, over the course of its pages, an image evolves of the Empress that is quite different from the first idea we have of her. I’d be totally fine if this book won because although I liked the Clark more, Nghi Vo is an author I (and many other SFF readers, I suspect) will follow closely.

The middle of my ballot gets a little tricky. You may know of my strange relationship with Seanan McGuire, especially with the fact that all her work gets Hugo nominations simply because, but on this not-super-strong ballot, her fifth Wayward Children novella Come Tumbling Down is going to end up on my number three spot. At least for now. It is by no means a perfect novella, not even a great one, but it does many things right. Presenting intriguing protagonists, setting up a cool problem for them to solve, and sending them off to a creepy world togehter – what’s not to like?
The story does fall flat in the second half when it turns out McGuire bit off too much to chew when it comes to world building and juggling too many characters who all want to be protagonists when really, there should be a maximum of two per novella. But the story does reach a rounded ending. While I didn’t find it emotionally impactful, it was satisfying from a storytelling point of view.

To my own surprise Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby is not at the top of my ballot. I expected to completely love this book but, well, I just didn’t. I had different expectations from the blurb and while there are many lines that feel like they perfectly encompass certain truths about our world, what I was missing the most was story. It’s about a brother and sister, the sister has superpowers but somehow they barely make an appearance or rather they don’t become important for the plot until very late. As for plot, there really isn’t any. The brother goes to prison, which goes about as well as you can expect for a young Black man, and Onyebuchi shows us harrowing scenes of that life, but that’s not a story, is it? So for that reason, while I liked the writing and I have adored Onyebuchi’s book War Girls, this one just didn’t work for me. It’s got a lot of things to say that are important but it didn’t manage to wrap them in an engaging story.

Another novella by an author I normally love but which didn’t work for me was Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted. This book has a story, although not a particularly original one. It’s set in such a cool world that could be a parallel universe or a post-apocalyptic Earth where the Wild West has made a return of sorts but LGBT+ people aren’t accepted at all. Our young protagonist is a lesbian and has run away from home to join the Librarians – which is a group of people travelling the land. With horse-drawn wagons. And guns.
This book was more about coming of age and coming to terms with your own sexuality and how to stay true to yourself in a world that doesn’t want you to be yourself. It’s about finding family in unexpected places, and maybe even finding love. So I’m all for the message but I just didn’t connect with the characters and I didn’t feel the world building came across as that well thought-out.

The last novella I read and the one I think shouldn’t be on this ballot is Finna by Nino Cipri. The idea is sooooo great! A wormhole suddenly pops up in an IKEA-like store and an elderly shopper wanders into it. In order to save her from whatever parallel world the multiverse has opened up, Ava and her very recent Ex Jules go on a mission into the wormhole. I mean, this could have been so much fun, but sadly nobody told Cipri that rushing through seven worlds in less than 100 pages is a bit too much.
The characters just made me sad because they didn’t get to be proper people. Jules’ only concern and the thing that apparently defines them in this story is that they’re nonbinary (serioulsy, real people’s personality consists of more than they gender identity or sexuality… like give them a hobby or something) and Ava is just annoying until we find out she suffers from depression. Neither of them have hopes, dreams, goals in life, or any human connection beyond their failed relationship.
The world-hopping itself could have been fun and the worlds we get to see aren’t bad. It’s just that arriving, staring in wonder, getting into danger, fleeing , and getting to safety in the matter of 3 pages doesn’t make for good reading. It’s too fast, none of the worlds felt real or got to shine, and so this read more like something you’d write in school for an assignment than a professionally published novella. This needed a lot of work and maybe full-novel length. The way it stands, I am not impressed.


My ballot (probably)

  1. P. Djèlí Clark – Ring Shout
  2. Nghi Vo – The Empress of Salt and Fortune
  3. Seanan McGuire – Come Tumbling Down
  4. Sarah Gailey – Upright Women Wanted
  5. Tochi Onyebuchi – Riot Baby
  6. No Award
  7. Nino Cipri – Finna

So my top three spots are pretty firmly set. I don’t know if I’ll switch Sarah Gailey and Tochi Onyebuchi around but as I don’t plan on re-reading either book, I don’t see why I would do that. I am still debating on whether to leave Finna off my ballot completely or simply rank it last. The thing is, I really don’t think it should win an award. It does nothing award-worthy whatsoever. All the other books, even the ones I didn’t enjoy, either do something new and original and/or they tell a great story. Finna is just a nice idea badly executed.

All things considered, I am not too impressed with this ballot. Sure, I liked most of the books in some way, but there has to be more out there than what Tordotcom publishes. Which would also mean a greater diversity of ideas. Let’s all try to read at least one novella not published by Tordotcome this year, okay? Maybe this way, we’ll discover a hidden gem and get other publishers on the ballot for next year.

Up next week: Best Graphic Story

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Novelette

I always look forward to the Best Novelette category because unless one of my favorite authors has published one, I don’t read novelettes. I just don’t come across them and even if I did, I wouldn’t necessarily know how to tell it apart from a short story.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

Prior to the finalists being announced, I had only heard about one of the stories – the one that now goes by the title “Helicopter Story”. I went into all of these blindly with only the title and, in the cases where I knew them, the author to give me some idea of what I’d get. It’s pretty rewarding, not knowing anything about a story and being surprised by twisty turns into horror territory or character depth where it wasn’t expected.
It can also be to a story’s detriment when you read it without context and it has to stand on its own. Stories don’t exist in a vacuum, of course, but a story should work whether the reader knows its origin or the author’s background info or not.


The Finalists for Best Novelette

  • A. T. Greenblatt – Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super
  • Isabel Fall – Helicopter Story
  • Aliette de Bodard – The Inaccessibility of Heaven
  • Naomi Kritzer – Monster
  • Meg Elison – The Pill
  • Sarah Pinsker – Two Truths and a Lie

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker was a cool surprise. I hadn’t looked up any of the plots for these novelettes beforehand and the Pinsker story welcomed me with wonderful creepiness and a bit of a shock. It’s about a woman helping an old friend clean out his dead brother’s hoarder house. The protagonist, fitting with the title, has made a habit out of… embellishing the truth, making up facts about herself and her life that aren’t true, of lying so cleverly that people usually don’t catch her. When she makes something up and her friend says he remembers that as well, the story starts going in a new direction and follows an eerie spiral down into the past. I don’t want to give away any more than that but I loved how Pinsker managed to give me goosebumps and made me go WTF several times. This was truly delightful to read, although I was a tad disappointed by the abrupt ending.

Naomi Kritzer’s Monster is making the ranking decision hard for me. Because as a story, it’s nice enough, with a bit of a mystery, a nice science fictional idea, and a good ending, but what makes it more than just good is the characters. I admit I found it rather easy to identify with the outsider nerd protagonist as she struggles to find friends as a kid and only really feels at home when she discovers other SFF readers. But that’s just the beginning of this novelette and once it gets going, it goes pretty dark. I can’t tell you why exactly but I liked the revelations and their implications. Paired with the title, it offers a lot of food for thought and makes you look at things from a different perspective. I really liked it, even though I felt Pinsker’s story was better written and Greenblatt’s story had much better pacing.

I vaguely remember some ruckus about Helicopter Story by Isabel Fall when it came out under a different title, was taken off the internet, then put back online. Something about it being transphobic which made Twitter explode? Then the author came out as a trans woman to put her story into perspective and make her intentions with it clear. To be honest, as much as I love fandom, sometimes the Twitter mob can be a vile piece of shit and I don’t have the will or strength to look up exactly how things went down when this first came out. But none of that has anything to do with the story as such – at least not for me. So the author is a trans woman. I don’t think her gender identity would change my opinion about her story and as sorry as I am to say this, I really, really didn’t like it.
To start with, there’s very little “story” at all. A fighter pilot named Barb is bombing a school building, gets hunted by an enemy pilot and tries to get away. That’s it, that’s the plot. Interspersed are Barb’s memories and thoughts about gender, particularly about being a woman. While I agree with many of the things Barb feels and thinks, this is supposed to be a fiction novelette, not random musings about how shit it can be to be a woman. I believe these bits would have better fit in an essay. The one sfnal idea of this tale just wasn’t enought to carry a story – namely that gender identity can, in this particular future, be manipulated directly, and so the protagonist does actually sexually identify as an attack helicopter because the government made her. I like this idea for an SF story and I believe I see where the author was going with it. But I’m sorry, when I pick up fiction I want a story of some kind and this just wasn’t one. At the very least, not a good one. Based on the story’s merits, it sadly goes below No Award on my ballot.

Which leads me to the next novelette which was well written but so predictable and preachy. Meg Elison’s The Pill didn’t really need a synopsis to create certain expectations. It’s a story by a fat author in a collection called Big Girl, so I was fairly certain I would get a science fictional fat loss pill story. I was excited to see where the author would take this idea because there are sooooo many possibilities. Unfortunately, the author took it exactly down the one road that was the most predictable and the least interesting. A fat loss pill is invented and it actually works. Except 10% of people who use it die. Really cool idea, a well written story, but a sadly boring plot.
The way good and evil characters are represented here, this reads almost like a fairy tale, everything is sooooo black and white. Either you take the magical pill that gives you the “perfect body” and that makes you evil for the purpose of this story, or you refuse, like our brave heroine, and you’re good. There is literally nothing in between.
There are many things the author brings up that I get and that are important to be woven into stories. Being stared at or even mocked because of the way you look is terrible and in a perfect world, we’d accept people of varying body shapes and sizes, heights, skin colors, etc. just the way they are, without judgement. But. Is the way to point out these societal problems really to just flip things around? Fat good, skinny bad? That’s not a very nuanced approach, especially when only these two extremes exist in your story. If you preach body acceptance and diversity, shouldn’t you show it as well? Where are the non-obese characters who refuse the pill? Where are the skinny ones who didn’t need the pill and find their own body better than the “perfect” one? What about disabled people? Pregnant people? There were so many things to explore here, yet all we get is “fat good, skinny bad”.
The way I read it, the story is mostly a vehicle for the author’s message. It’s one I completely agree with – there’s no one perfect body but rather beauty in the range the world has to offer. Tall, short, super skinny, medium sized, flabby, muscular, chubby, curvy, fat, round, pear shaped, it’s all good and the world is much more interesting and beautiful because of this variety. But getting hit across the head with a message hammer has never been fun for me. The extreme good/evil characters, the predictability of the plot, the preachiness and the lack of further exploration lead me to a rather low ranking of this on my ballot. I do, however, want to read more by this author as I enjoyed her prose a lot!

A. T. Greenblatt’s Burn: Or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super was a lot of fun! As the title suggests, we get episodic glimpses into Sam Wells’ life and, thorugh his story, into a world where some people develop superpowers. Except these people aren’t celebrated as heroes as you might expect but they are are unwanted in society. They form Super Teams, to build a community of their own, to fight for acceptance in the wider world, and to save lives when possible. Sam’s talent isn’t all that useful (what do you do with a burning head?) but the story is much more about finding a place to belong, especially when you’re an outsider. You can read this as a metaphor for marginalization or you can read it as a straight up story about a young man learning to deal with his super powers. I thoroughly enjoyed this. The only minor gripe I have is that the ending is a bit anticlimactic.

I thought for some reason that Aliette de Bodard’s sory The Inaccessibility of Heaven was set in her Fallen Angels universe but that’s wrong. Now that I know it’s not part of a larger series, that changes my feelings about the novelette quite a bit. Because there were certain things about it that I felt were lacking. There seems to be this deep backstory between the witch protagonist and her Fallen friend, and I just assumed it was something I’d get if I had read the novels set in that universe. But this is it, the novelette is supposed to stand on its own, so those missing pieces of backstory, those emotional beats that didn’t reach me, they weren’t my fault. The plot as such is exciting and fun, there are glimpses of great world building here and I’d love to read a whole novel set in this world, but in this shorter form, it wasn’t enough. Every aspect needed just a bit more. So I liked it and it made me want to pick up those Angel novels (even if they are set in a differen time, different place, and have nothing to do with this novelette) but I wasn’t super impressed with this story on its own.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Two Truths and a Lie
  2. Monster
  3. Burn
  4. The Inaccessibility of Heaven
  5. The Pill
  6. No Award
  7. Helicopter Story

Up next week: Best Novella

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Short Story

The only time I read short stories is when I pick up a collection or anthology (which is rare enough). Occasionally, I’ll read one that I stumble across online, but there’s just too much out there for me to know what to nominate. So I leave that to other people and then simply bask in their choices when the finalists are announced.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

As expected, I had read zero of the finalist stories before they were announced but I have read stories and/or novels from four of the nominated authors. As I have liked previous work from the known-to-me authors, I was super excited to dive in but I’m also glad that there were new writers to discover. After all, I want the Hugo Awards to show me what else the genre has to offer, not just the authors I would read anyway. And this year’s crop of short stories did not disapoint.


The Finalists for Best Short Story

  • Rae Carson – Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse
  • Vina Jie-Min Prasad – A Guide for Working Breeds
  • Naomi Kritzer – Little Free Library
  • T. Kingfisher – Metal Like Blood in the Dark
  • John Wiswell – Open House on Haunted Hill
  • Yoon Ha Lee – The Mermaid Astronaut

This was a great choice of short stories and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they were published in a variety of places (as opposed to all in the same magazine, say). I read all of them in a day, one right after the other with breaks in between to digest each story but to keep them all fresh in my memory. I thought this would help me rank them. It didn’t particularly.

I started out with “Badass Moms of the Zombie Apocalypse” which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Two women living during zombie times are preparing for one of them to have their baby and they both know it’s going to be brutal. These zombies are attracted to the smell of blood and while women have managed to deal with menstruation pretty well, giving birth and all that that entails is a whole different story. But these badass moms come prepared and we follow them on their trip to a (probably… mostly) safe birthing place where the chances of survival are at least measurable, although by no means high.
It’s an exciting story that combines the stress of an impending birth with the stress of the zombie apocalypse. Because one of those by itself wouldn’t have been scary enough, I guess. I enjoyed this a lot although the SF content is secondary to the birthing story.

“Little Free Library” might have been the shortest of the stories but no less impactful for that. A girl sets up the eponymous library and accidentally gains a pen pal through it. Because books are taken out but none are returned and she leaves a note saying that’s not in the spirit of the library. Instead of books, the mysterious reader then leaves other gifts behind and those become stranger and stranger.
I adored the tone of this as well as the way the friendship between book taker and librarian grows over the course of the story. The speculative aspect only comes up right at the end which is sadly a bit abrupt and cuts off at the most interesting part. If Kritzer decides to turn this into a novel some day, I’ll be the first to pick it up though.

I knew I liked Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s writing from reading some of her stories when she was an Astounding finalist, and “A Guide For Working Breeds” was especially cute. It’s told through chat/instant messages between a new working robot and their unwilling mentor. It’s also about the fact that dogs are the cutest and how knowing your rights is important! I adored both style an idea from the start and I would have ranked this as my number one story if it hadn’t been for the too cutesy and adorable ending. It didn’t feel right for one of the characters to suddenly change that much. I still loved it but that was a bit too sugary sweet an ending.

T. Kingfisher’s “Metal Like Blood in the Dark” is the story that has stuck with me the most. It’s about two robot “siblings” who live off sunlight and “eat” metal which lets them change or enhance their bodies. They live through a Hansel and Gretel like story, except in space and way cooler! For Kingfisher, this was a pretty dark tale without her trademark humor but instead with cool ideas and surprising character depth for a short story. Especially for characters who are not human. I liked it while I read it but out of all the finalists, it’s the one I keep thinking about the most months after reading them.

Yoon Ha Lee didn’t surprise much with “The Mermaid Astronaut” which is a pretty straight forward retelling of The Little Mermaid. In Space. The eponymous mermaid wishes to explore the stars more than anything. Her sister takes her to the sea witch who grants her legs so she can join the humans when they travel among the stars. I loved that the mermaid’s reason for wanting to become human isn’t a dude but rather her life’s passion, I loved that it’s her sister who wants to help, and I loved the little twist at the end. But the story as such wasn’t all that gripping and the plot beats stuck predictably close to the fairy tale.

Lastly “Open House on Haunted Hill”, which has won the Nebula for Best Short Story, had the tough job of meeting my high expectations. And unfortunately, it was my least favorite story. It was by no means bad, just very, very underwhelming. It is told from the point of view of the house on Haunted Hill, or from the point of view of the entity that haunts it. Turns out that entity is actually pretty damn nice and just wants people to live in the house so it can make life easier for them (by opening and closing doors for example). Sadly, that’s it. People come to visit the house, some spooky (but not really) stuff happens, story over. I guess it’s cute but apart from a sweet idea there’s nothing about it that makes it stand out. Again, a novel based on this premise is definitely something I’d check out.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Metal Like Blood in the Dark
  2. A Guide For Working Breeds
  3. Little Free Library
  4. Badass Moms of the Zombie Apocalypse
  5. The Mermaid Astronaut
  6. Open House on Haunted Hill

My ballot is unlikely to change and that’s honestly such a relief. I am still very unsure about some of the other categories, I’m dreaming about how I could shift things around to best represent my feelings and it’s stressing me out. But this category, I feel pretty good about. I’d honestly be okay with any of these stories winning, although I do think my top picks are more deserving of a Hugo than my bottom ones (thus the ranking, after all).

Up next week: Best Novelette