The State of SFF – January 2022

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all celebrated safely and responsibly with people you love and are ready for a new year, full of fresh new SFF books, reading challenges, book awards, and readathons.

Quickie News

  • Anne Rice, the author of Interview With a Vampire, among many others, has died at the age of 80.
  • I think a collective cheer went through all sorts of readers when we found out that Madeline Miller, writer of the amazing Song of Achilles and Circe is writing a Persephone story Bring it on! I cannot wait to see this tale unfold in Miller’s capable hands.

The Hugo Award Winners Have Been Announced

Congratulations to the amazing winners (and the other finalists). There were a few surprises and a few, let’s say, rather obvious wins, but I for one am happy about each and every one of them even if my beloved Poppy War and Raybearer didn’t take home a Hugo. Here are some of the e winners. For all the categories as well as detailed voting and nominating statistics, go here.

  • Best Novel: Martha Wells – Network Effect
  • Best Novella: Nghi Vo – The Empress of Salt and Fortune
  • Best Novelette: Sarah Pinsker – Two Truths and a Lie
  • Best Short Story: T. Kingfisher – “Metal Like Blood in the Dark”
  • Best Professional Artist: Rovina Cai
  • Best Series: The Murderbot Diaries
  • Best Graphic Story: Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy – Parable of the Sower
  • Best Related Work: Maria Dahvana Headley – Beowulf: A New Translation
  • Lodestar for Best YA Fiction: T. Kingfisher – A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

I am also super happy that nerds of a feather and The Coode Street Podcast finally won a Hugo. I’ve been nominating and voting for them for years and they were clearly very happy and gracious winners.

This also marked the first year with a Video Game category and, to my boyfriend’s delight, Hades won the inaugural Hugo award.


Reading Challenges for 2022

If, like me, you just can’t start a new year without at least one year-long reading challenge, here are a few that sound interesting to me and that might tickle you as well:

2022 Adult SFF Backlist Books Challenge

The title tells you what this is all about, but there are also 12 handy prompts – one for each month – plus some recommendations for books that fit each prompt. The prompts are pretty vague (like “Winter” or “Fire”) so you can make most books fit somehow.

Beat the Backlist 2022

It’s back! I did this challenge last year and had fun with it, but it was both a little overwheliming (52 prompts!) and didn’t have enough pressure for me. I know that sounds weird but I never claimed to be normal, so…

Worlds Without End Roll Your Own Reading Challenge

For everyone who wants to create their own challenge or join a bunch of mini-challenges (such as myself), there’s always Worlds Without End. AS I’m writin ghis, it’s still 2021 but you can create your own challenges with your own set of rules, track your books easily and join challenges other users have created. I usually do the LGBTQIA+ challenge, the Authors of Color challenge, the Read the Sequel cahllenge, and the Women of Genre Fiction challenge. You can set the amount of books you want to read for each of these yourself, so it’s not as much reading as it may sound. 🙂


Exciting January Publications

I’m really glad publishing slows down in December and we have a bit of time to catch up on all those books we bought throughout the year.

AKSHAYA RAMAN – THE IVORY KEY (January 4th)

I am cautiously excited about this debut, part one of a duology based on Indian myths. The cover is certainly stunning.

Magic, a prized resource, is the only thing between peace and war. When magic runs out, four estranged royal siblings must find a new source before their country is swallowed by invading forces. The first in an Indian-inspired duology.

Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power.

They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good. 


YOON HA LEE – TIGER HONOR (January 4th)

So, Dragon Pearl is no longer quite a standalone Middle Grade space adventure as it will get a companion novel/sequel in 2022. I liked but didn’t love the first book and, honestly, the plot of this new one sounds almost exactly the same, so I may just skip it. Or at least wait to see what other people say about it.

Sebin, a young tiger spirit from the Juhwang Clan, wants nothing more than to join the Thousand World Space Forces and, like their Uncle Hwan, captain a battle cruiser someday. But when Sebin’s acceptance letter finally arrives, it’s accompanied by the shocking news that Hwan has been declared a traitor. Apparently, the captain abandoned his duty to steal a magical artifact, the Dragon Pearl, and his whereabouts are still unknown. Sebin hopes to help clear their hero’s name and restore honour to the clan.

Nothing goes according to plan, however. As soon as Sebin arrives for orientation, they are met by a special investigator named Yi and his assistant, a girl named Min. Yi informs Sebin that they must immediately report to the ship Haetae and await further instructions. Sebin finds this highly unusual, but soon all protocol is forgotten when there’s an explosion on the ship, the crew is knocked out, and the communication system goes down. It’s up to Sebin, three other cadets, and Yi and Min to determine who is sabotaging the battlecruiser. When Sebin is suddenly accused of collaborating with the enemy, the cadet realizes that Min is the most dangerous foe of all…


SEANAN MCGUIRE – WHERE THE DROWNED GIRLS GO (January 4th)

It’s the 7th Wayward Children novella and this time, we’re going to focus on Cora, the character I like the very least out of everyone who has appeared in this series. I hope her story gets resolved in this one and we won’t have to read about her anymore after this. If it were for me, I wouldn’t read this book at all, but I’m sure it will be nominated for a Hugo next year because it’s by Seanan McGuire…

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.
It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming…


SUE LYNN TAN – DAUGHTER OF THE MOON GODDESS (January 11th)

There are several books inspired by the story of the moon goddess coming out next year. This one happens to have two gorgeous covers, both the US and UK version, and I want to read it very much.

A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm.

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.


SCOTTO MOORE – BATTLE OF THE LINGUIST MAGES (January 11th)

This sounds like something I should absolutely love but for some reason, I worry that I might just as likely end up hating this book. It’s just a feeling but I very much hope that this will end up being my jam. Linguistics and magic and a VR game named “Sparkle Dungeon” – how can I resist?

In modern day Los Angeles, a shadowy faction led by the Governor of California develops the arcane art of combat linguistics, planting the seeds of a future totalitarian empire in Scotto Moore’s Battle of the Linguist Mages.

Isobel is the Queen of the medieval rave-themed VR game Sparkle Dungeon. Her prowess in the game makes her an ideal candidate to learn the secrets of “power morphemes”—unnaturally dense units of meaning that warp perception when skilfully pronounced.

But Isobel’s reputation makes her the target of a strange resistance movement led by spellcasting anarchists, who may be the only thing stopping the cabal from toppling California over the edge of a terrible transformation, with forty million lives at stake.

Time is short for Isobel to level up and choose a side—because the cabal has attracted much bigger and weirder enemies than the anarchist resistance, emerging from dark and vicious dimensions of reality and heading straight for planet Earth!


KATE ELLIOT – SERVANT MAGE (January 18th)

I’ve only read one Kate Elliot book a long time ago and somehow, I feel like I should remedy that. Maybe with this slim novella from Tor.com?

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

In Kate Elliott’s Servant Mage, a lowly fire mage finds herself entangled in an empire-spanning conspiracy on her way to discovering her true power.


NNEDI OKORAFOR – AKATA WOMAN (January 18th)

This is my most anticipated release of January! I have read one Akata book, listened to the other and I’m very much thinking about re-listening to both books before diving in to this third volume in the Nsibidi Scripts series. I have adored almost everything Okorafor has written and I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for this series.

From the moment Sunny Nwazue discovered she had magic flowing in her blood, she sought to understand and control her powers. Throughout her adventures in Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, she had to navigate the balance between nearly everything in her life–America and Nigeria, the “normal” world and the one infused with juju, human and spirit, good daughter and powerful Leopard Person.

Now, those hard lessons and abilities are put to the test in a quest so dangerous and fantastical, it would be madness to go…but deadly not to. With the help of her friends, Sunny embarks on a mission to find a precious object hidden deep in a magical realm. Defeating the guardians of the prize will take more from Sunny than she has to give, and triumph will mean she will be forever changed.


TOCHI ONYEBUCHI – GOLIATH (January 25th)

Tochi Onyebuchi is an author to watch so I am watching and by watching I mean buying all his books as they come out. This one sounds like the depressing-but-with-a-sliver-of-hope kind of story that I like.

In the 2050s, Earth has begun to empty. Those with the means and the privilege have departed the great cities of the United States for the more comfortable confines of space colonies. Those left behind salvage what they can from the collapsing infrastructure. As they eke out an existence, their neighborhoods are being cannibalized. Brick by brick, their houses are sent to the colonies, what was once a home now a quaint reminder for the colonists of the world that they wrecked.

A primal biblical epic flung into the future, Goliath weaves together disparate narratives—a space-dweller looking at New Haven, Connecticut as a chance to reconnect with his spiraling lover; a group of laborers attempting to renew the promises of Earth’s crumbling cities; a journalist attempting to capture the violence of the streets; a marshal trying to solve a kidnapping—into a richly urgent mosaic about race, class, gentrification, and who is allowed to be the hero of any history.


News from the blog

My December was filled with comfort reads, catching up on new releases and finishing some big books that had accompanied me for a while. Until, at the end, Christmas celebrations, seeing family and friends and all that took over and I didn’t read much at all. And that’s okay.

My last Reading the Hugos post went live in December and that concludes this year’s Hugo reading project. I may be crazy but I’m already looking forward to doing it all over again this year. And if you’re still building your TBR for 2022, my very long list of expected publications is there to inspire you and make your wallet weep.
Also, check out my favorites of the year. Hugo nominating season is coming up again (wink wink, nudge nudge).

What I read last month:

This isn’t much but it was a pretty good month overall. I’m still not quite finished with The Burning God (I’m scared of the ending!!!) and The Wheel of Time continues to be my ever-so-slowly-moving companion. After having watched Season 1 of the TV show, it becomes all the more obvious how much better one could have told that story. Jordan went the most predictable and sometimes even boring route. But I’m going to keep reading to see if sparks will fly between me and these books eventually.

Currently reading:

  • Robert Jordan – The Dragon Reborn
  • R. F. Kuang – The Burning God
  • C. S. E. Cooney – Dark Breakers
  • Ryka Aoki – Light From Uncommon Stars

I’m just finishing one of my two C.S.E. Cooney ARCs and I can already recommend this one for fans of artists and faeries and beautiful prose. I’m listening to Light From Uncomon Stars, a pretty bonkers book that shouldn’t work but somehow does, and the rest is me not wanting to finish because then it will be over (Burning God) and not particularly wanting to continue because it takes ages for something to happen (Dragon Reborn).

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

The 2021 Hugo Award Winners (And My Thoughts On Them)

The 2021 Hugo Award winners have been announced and there is reason to cheer! I actually managed to watch the livestream which was pushed back from 2am my timezone to 3am my timezone and thus took a lot of willpower on my part! My alarm went off and I had a very serious debate inside of my head on whether to get up and do this thing or just check out who won the next day on Twitter. I’m glad I decided to watch it live, because the ceremony was very nice and you kind of had to be there for the slime mould alone (more on that later). It didn’t all go without technical whoopsies but overall it was quite well done and inclusive.

For all the winners, nomination and voting details go here.

So, on to the winners of my favorite categories, my hopes and predictions and what I think about who ended up with a rocket trophy. Before diving into it, let me say that I am filled with joy, I don’t begrudge anyone their win, I think every winner was absolutely worthy (even if they were not my personal top choice) and that this was a great Hugo Awards year!


BEST NOVEL + BEST SERIES

I’m grouping these two because they both went to Martha Wells for Network Effect and the Murderbot Diaries respectively. Congratulations!

I adore Murderbot and I am thrilled that it took home an award. Would I have preferred these two awards went to two different works? Yes. Do I understand why Muderbot was such a success last year? Also yes. During a time when we were all dealing with negative feelings, with fear and anxiety, with grief and loss, with isolation and self-centered people, it comes as no surprise that a book and series about an AI with anxiety and social awakwardness that is as heartwarming as it is exciting has touched so many of our hearts. So I am more than happy that Muderbot was recognized in this way, even though I really wanted Best Series to go to The Poppy War which cannot be nominated again (the trilogy being finished), unlike the Murderbot Diaries. But as I will be forever grateful for Murderbot and its adventures, I congratulate Martha Wells. Her acceptance speech was particularly moving and I hope this acclaim convinces her to keep writing and make even more great art.


BEST NOVELLA

Hooray, my second favorite novella has won! Congratulations to Nghi Vo and The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

I was hoping so very hard Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark would win because that book was such a great ride with layers upon layers, but Vo’s book was a close second for me and I appreciate what it does in terms of storytelling. I am very happy that Vo won and I hope this finally gives me the push to read something else by this new and exciting author. What surprised me about this category’s final tally was that Riot Baby ended up in last place. That novella didn’t work for me but it seemed to be everyone else’s darling so I expected it to come in as a close second. Apparently, that impression was far off because, well, the votes don’t lie.


BEST VIDEO GAME

This new category gives me lots of joy. Not only did I (and my partner) discover two games through it that we otherwise wouldn’t have tried, but we ended up loving them so much that they got my top two votes. Congratulations to Hades for winning the inaugural Best Video Game Hugo Award!

I expected either Hades of Animal Cossing to win, the first because it is crazy beloved among all sorts of fans, the second because it was everyone’s go-to feelgood game when the pandemic really hit and we all needed something to pick us up and give us hope. I didn’t see my boyfriend much once he started playing Hades but that was okay because I was playing Spiritfarer on the PS4 at the same time. I admit I was unsure about this category but I thought it was handled very well (what with getting a code to try some of the finalist games as part of the voter packet) and being able to play most of them enough to rank them. We’ll see what Best Video Game brings in the future, but for now I am glad we have this category and I am super happy Hades was the first to win it.


LODESTAR + BEST SHORT STORY

I’m grouping these two again because they were won by the same author who proved yet again that she is a pure delight and makes any awards ceremony better simply by being there. Congratulations to T. Kingfisher for A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking and “Metal Like Blood in the Dark”.

I had the pleasure of hearing Kingfisher’s acceptance speech in Helsinki in 2017 which was about whale fall. This time, she stayed true to herself and didn’t talk about the book and short story that won either, but rather about slime mould. Yes, that’s right! Everyone who attended or watched the Hugo Awards ceremony online now has some impressive knowlegde about this intriguing organism called slime mould and it makes me love T. Kingfisher all the more. Hers was my favorite short story so I have no complaints there. I did very much want Raybearer to win the Lodestar, especially because Defensive Baking has already won some other awards, but again – it’s understandable that many of us ranked this book high enough to win when sourdough starters gained interest during lockdown, when reading about a decent person trying to do the right thing even when it is hard and winning against the odds – when this book was just pure comfort during a dark time.

My beloved Raybearer sadly came in last and even though Jordan Ifueko will probably never read this, I want her to know that her books are among my favorites and have touched me deeply and given me so much hope during this terrible time.

Both surprising and a little disheartening is the fact that A Deadly Education came in second when it shouldn’t even have been in this category in the first place. It also received some nominations in the Best Novel category, but not nearly enough to make the final ballot. Let me reiterate: I really enjoyed this book! But I sincerely hope that, in the future, authors have the decency to refuse a nomination when it is in the wrong category. You can’t have it both ways. Either write YA and accept the unfortunate stigma that still comes with that (which, btw, we should really work on getting rid of) or write for adults but then remain unable to win awards for YA fiction.
If Naomi Novik had done that, a book that was actually written and published as a YA novel would have made the ballot, and that is When We Were Magic by the amazing Sarah Gailey. Now I adored that book but also find it quite problematic in some ways, but at least it is and always was meant for young readers and thus would have fit perfectly into this category.

The boundaries between YA and adult are blurry and arbitrary, I know. But we do need some kind of boundary to set this category apart from others. I hope that this kind of mishap will stay in the past, that readers and nominators and Hugo Awards administrators will learn from our/their mistakes and make sure this category honors the books and people it was meant to.


BEST GRAPHIC STORY

This was both a surprise and not a surprise at all. The winner of this category is Parable of the Sower, the Graphic Novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel by Damian Duffy with art by John Jennings. Congratulations!

Again, my number two spot has taken home the Hugo Award and I am both happy and positively surprised. On the one hand, it is a feat to win against an instalment of Marjorie Lu’s Monstress in any given year, on the other, the events of the past years have drawn more attention to Octavia E. Butler’s amazing body of work. This Graphic Novel adaptation is incredibly well done and it likely helped how pescient Butler’s story is. So considering all that, it isn’t surprising that this book won.
But what is surprising is that it differs so very much from other winners in tone. Where we went with hopeful, heartwarming, feelgood things in many categories, here we embraced the dystopian setting and chose a story that is gruesome and tough to read and where not very many good things happen to good people. But there is that tiny glimmer of hope and sometimes, that’s all it takes.


BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

Yay, this Hugo Award went to the inimitable Rovina Cai and her stunningly beautiful art! Congratulations!

I don’t begrudge John Picacio his 386 Hugo Awards, but it has been getting rather boring, watching him win this category over and over again. You’d get the impression there are no other artists out there who do anything worth mentioning when, in fact, the very opposite is the case. I would have been happy with either Rovina Cai, Tommy Arnold, or Galen Dara winning this year, but Rovina Cai’s art has been more present, at least in my reading (chaper art for Elatsoe, covers for various books I bought, and so on) and I am overjoyed to see her win this one. Her art is beautiful, instantly recognizable and enriches any book that features it.


About Seanan McGuire’s many Hugo nominations

  • In Best Novella, she had the most 1st place votes but ended up in third place overall.
  • In Best Series, she had the second most 1st place votes (which were just a little over half of what Murderbot got so it was not a close race) and ended up in third place overall.
  • In Best Graphic Story, she had the most 1st place votes (albeit only 18 more than Parable of the Sower) and ended up in second place overall.

So the tradition of the past years seems to continue. McGuire has a loyal fan base that will always get her easily onto the final ballot and will just as loyally vote for her as their number one spot, but when all ballots are counted and all voices are heard, her work remains middle-of-the-ballot.

Maybe when the October Daye series ends in a few years, this will give readers a push to finally give the series a Hugo Award or maybe the sequel to her highly successful Middlegame will blow us all away and garner her another Best Novel nomination? Either way, I am sure we will keep seeing McGuire on the ballot in whichever category she has published things. My only hope is that some of those things will grab me enough to vote for them as my 1st choice as well. The McGuire burnout is already knocking on my doors…


Overall, this was a spectacular year of Hugo Awards and I can look back on the SFF works published in 2020 with a big happy smile. My own personal hopes weren’t met perfectly, but enough of my favorites or second-favorites won that I feel joyful, and the favorite works that didn’t win are by authors who are still writing and creating and publishing, so I have high hopes for the future – go Rebecca Kuang, go Jordan Ifueko, go P. Djèlí Clark, I believe in you!
Now, it’s time to catch up on some 2021 publications so we can do this all over next year. I’ll see you then. 🙂

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!

The State of SFF – December 2021

The end of the year approaches and that means, for the very first time, it’s Hugo Awards season in winter.

Some quick life news because Covid is hitting hard again this winter (mostly unvaccinated folks), I got my booster shot and my partner is getting his in early December. Austria is currently dealing with the most cases per capita in the world, hospitals are starting triage because there is no more space for all the patients and even fucking cancer operations had to be postponed to accomodate unvaccinated Covid-patients. 😦

If you’re reading this and haven’t been vaccinated yet, please, please do so. Nobody is going to be angry with you for changing your mind, nobody is going to look down on you! Please make sure to protect yourself and others from this deadly disease and, by extension, from dying from other, preventable causes. (/end covid talk)

Quickie News

  • The second season of The Witcher is coming to Netflix on December 17th and I’m preparing all the coins to toss at my TV.
  • Holy shit, episode 4 of The Wheel of Time kicked ass! This isn’t news, I just needed to express my love for the episode somewhere. Goosebumps, I tell you.
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles are being adapted by Disney+ so we have yet another SFF series to look forward to. Bring them on, I say!
  • And there is talk that Amazon wants to make a Mass Effect TV show. If that happens, it will be a while, what with the Wheel of Time ongoing and Lord of the Rings coming next year. But it’s always good to have something to look forward to.

The World Fantasy Awards Have Been Announced

I am so happy that Alaya Dawn Johnson has won the award for Best Novel! Congratulations to all the winners in the various categories. Here are some of them:

  • Best Novel: Alaya Dawn Johnson – Trouble the Saints
  • Best Novella: Tochi Onyebuchi – Riot Baby
  • Best Short Fiction: Celeste Rita Baker – “Glass Bottle Dancer”
  • Best Artist: Rovina Cai
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm and Howard Waldrop

I have read quite a few Robin Hobb books and she remains one of my favorite fantasy authors to this day so I’m thrilled her work was honored this way. I have enjoyed Rovina Cai‘s covers and illustrations whenever I came across them (and I adore her style), I read Riot Baby and I have read Alaya Dawn Johnson before, although Trouble the Saints is still on my TBR. In fact, it’s on my still-to-read-in-2021 list. I had planned to read it during the Magical Readathon but you know how these things go. Now I’m all the more excited to dive into the book!


The Hugo Awards Ceremony Is Coming

I think this might be the most exciting year of Hugo Awards for me ever. Not only did I vote (again) but my favorite categories are particularly strong this year. It’s almost a guarantee that I’ll be happy with the winners because all of the finalists are so good! Additionally, with the Hugos having been pushed to December instead of August, there was a lot more time to read all those finalists.

It’s all going to happen on December 18th, at 8pm EST (that’s 2am for me) and if there is a livestream I will watch it as it happens and cheer on my favorites with as much enthusiasn as I can muster at that time of night.

It may not be the same as being in the same room with the finalists but, hey, at least I can wear pyjamas and nobody will judge me for it. 🙂


NaNoWriMo Is Over, Long Live NaNoWriMo

You guys, I did it! I participated in NaNoWriMo. Sat down on November 1st with a blank page and an equally blank mind and just started writing whatever the hell came to my mind. What I ended up with is an absolute mess with no structure, barely any plot, and a lot of notes to “add this later” but I have to admit, the experience was fun!

Don’t expect the Next Great Novel (or indeed any novel) from me, but despite it being super annoying at times, this experience was also quite rewarding. And who knows, maybe when I come back to this jumble of words I’ve created, I’ll actually be able to add a plot and then it might just grow up to be a proper book.


Exciting December Publications

I’m really glad publishing slows down in December and we have a bit of time to catch up on all those books we bought throughout the year.

KEN LIU – THE VEILED THRONE (December 7th)

Lalala, I’m not reading the synopsis because this is book 3 in the Dandelion Dynasty series by Ken Liu and I haven’t even started reading that one yet. But fans can rejoce, because this book is about 1000 pages thick.

With the invasion of Dara complete, and the Wall of Storms breached, the world has opened to new possibilities for the gods and peoples of both empires as the sweeping saga of the award-winning Dandelion Dynasty continues in this third book of the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR).

Princess Théra, once known as Empress Üna of Dara, entrusted the throne to her younger brother in order to journey to Ukyu-Gondé to war with the Lyucu. She has crossed the fabled Wall of Storms with a fleet of advanced warships and ten thousand people. Beset by adversity, Théra and her most trusted companions attempt to overcome every challenge by doing the most interesting thing. But is not letting the past dictate the present always possible or even desirable?

In Dara, the Lyucu leadership as well as the surviving Dandelion Court bristle with rivalries as currents of power surge and ebb and perspectives spin and shift. Here, parents and children, teachers and students, Empress and Pékyu, all nurture the seeds of plans that will take years to bloom. Will tradition yield to new justifications for power?

Everywhere, the spirit of innovation dances like dandelion seeds on the wind, and the commoners, the forgotten, the ignored begin to engineer new solutions for a new age.

Ken Liu returns to the series that draws from a tradition of the great epics of our history from the Aeneid to the Romance on the Three Kingdoms and builds a new tale unsurpassed in its scope and ambition


FEMI FADUGBA – THE UPPER WORLD (December 7th)

I stumbled across this striking cover, read the description and am now intrigued. Time travel, hard sci-fi and lots of physics? Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Plus, a Netflix adaptation already appears to be in the works.

If you had the chance to change your future, would you take it?

Perfect for fans of Neal Shusterman and Jason Reynolds, this powerhouse, mind-bending YA debut follows two teens, a generation apart, whose fates collide across time–and outside of it.

Today

During arguably the worst week of Esso’s life, an accident knocks him into an incredible world–a place beyond space or time, where he can see glimpses of the past and future. But if what he sees there is true, he might not have much longer to live, unless he can use his new gift to change the course of history.

Tomorrow

Rhia’s past is filled with questions, none of which she expects a new physics tutor to answer. But Dr. Esso’s not here to help Rhia. He’s here because he needs her help–to unravel a tragedy that happened fifteen years ago. One that holds the key not only to Rhia’s past, but to a future worth fighting for.

Soon to be a major Netflix movie starring Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya!


M. A. CARRICK – THE LIAR’S KNOT (December 9th)

Another sequel to a book I haen’t read yet but am super excited for. I am determined to read The Mask of Mirrors, the first book in the Rook & Rose series, next year. It sounds like excellent fun.

Trust is the thread that binds us . . . and the rope that hangs us.

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…


BRANDON SANDERSON and JANCI PATTERSON – EVERSHORE (December 28th)

This is the third of Sanderson’s Skyward novellas which he co-wrote with Janci Patterson. The first two are supposed to be read before and this third one after Cytonic, the third full novel in Sanderson’s YA series. I’m saving them all up and shall read them in the author’s suggested order but probably only next year.

From #1 bestselling author Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson comes the final of three Skyward series novellas, each told from the perspective of a different member of the team back on Detritus. Listen to Jorgen’s story along with Cytonic.

With the government of Detritus in disarray because of Superiority treachery, and with Spensa still away on her mission in the Nowhere, Jorgen must work together with the alien Alanik to pick up the pieces. They intercept a strange transmission from the planet Evershore and its Kitsen inhabitants, who say they have some of Jorgen’s people and want to return them—but can the Kitsen be trusted? And can Jorgen learn to master his increasingly erratic cytonic powers before they spiral out of control and destroy all hope of forming an alliance against the Superiority?


News from the blog

I was so productive in November! Seriously, I have to pat myself on the back here because usually, when I start a project or set myself a goal, I tend to aim too high, lose steam and eventually it all just fizzles out. Not so this November. I participated in NaNoWriMo and actually sat down to write on most days, I continued my running training which means going for a run 3-4 times a week, regardless of the weather and my mood (spoiler: my mood always imrpoves dramatically after I went for a run). I got my Covid booster and a flu shot. And I kept reading through my planned TBR, albeit a bit more slowly than I had hoped.
As for this blog, thank the blogging gods for pre-scheduled posts because that’s the one aspect where I didn’t do much. But with my ARC reviews and Reading the Hugos posts already planned, I hope you didn’t notice my absence. You can find those here:

I’ll post one more Reading the Hugos post in December (Best Series is coming!) but then I’m calling it quits for the year. I had planned to read the Astounding finalists as well but I just don’t have the energy anymore. I’d like to spend the rest of the year reading without pressure, picking up whatever I feel like without thinking about awards or lists. And then in January, I can go into full list-making mode with fresh energy and motivation.

What I read last month:

I read a lot of BIG books in November and for a while it felt like I didn’t get on with my TBR at all. If you have only books between 600 and 1200 pages each on your currently reading pile, progress can feel slow and motivation can droop a bit. Especially when the latest Stormlight book doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Currently reading:

  • Brandon Sanderson – Rhythm of War
  • R. F. Kuang – The Burning God
  • Robert Jordan – The Dragon Reborn
  • Margaret Owen – Little Thieves
  • Maggie Stiefvater – The Scorpio Races (re-read)

The big books won’t leave me alone, it appears. I’m getting close to the end of Rhythm of War and while it’s good (it’s Sanderson, after all), I’m nowhere near as into it as I was with the first Stormlight books. I’m drawing out The Burning God because I know it will break my heart and I’m scared.
The third Wheel of Time book offers an interesting start but my motivation mostly stems from the TV show and the way it depicts the characters much more interestingly. I’m still planning to continue reading the books.
Margaret Owen’s Little Thieves is the slightly less big (still 500+ pages) balm that my soul was yearning for. It’s fun and quirky, the protagonist is morally gray but sympathetic and the world feels rich and original without losing its fairy tale inspiration. A third of the way through, I am loving it!
Another comfort read, or in this case, comfort listen, is Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races which I’ve been wanting to revisit ever since I read it a few years ago. It’s wonderful to be back with those killer horses on the island of Thisby.

Until next year (!): Stay safe, stay kind, and keep reading. 🙂

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: Lodestar (Not-a-Hugo)

It has taken us way too long to finally create a (not-a-) Hugo Award for YA fiction! Sure, technically YA or MG novels could have been nominated in the Best Novel category but that has happened rarely with even fewer wins (one for Harry Potter, one for Gaiman’s Graveyard Book). Plus, there is so much great stuff being published that having six finalists just means more fun and reading goodness for everyone.

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

This may have been the category I was most excited for because although I had already read half of the finalists, the other three were all high up on my to read list. Hearing nothing but good things about them may have helped.


The Finalists for the Lodestar

First things first, this is a great ballot with not a single bad book on it. It’s also impressively diverse! Not only are authors of all sorts of different backgrounds represented, but the stories range from contemporary fantasy in a college setting to secondary world fantasy to a parallel Earth inspired by Lipan Apache myths… The characters are also vastly different from each other. I really appreciate this mix and the many perspectives I got to experience while reading through the ballot.

The one book I nominated in this category and still my absolute dear-to-my-heart favorite is Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. Man, did I fall for that book. I didn’t even expect to love it so much when I picked it up, I just thought it would be a nice story with an enemies to lovers trope in an African-inspired fantasy world. But once I started reading, it turned into an all-the-feels kind of novel that offered impressive characters and world building and had a lot of fun playing with tropes and turning them on their head. None of the tropey things I was expecting came to pass exactly as I expected them. Either they didn’t happen at all or they were twisted around to form something completely new and beautiful. I adored Tarisai, I adored many of the side characters, the found family, the super high save-the-world stakes and that ending! I actually re-read it before finishing the duology with Redemptor and it holds up on a second read as well.

T. Kingfisher‘s books are always, always fun and A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking was no exception. In fact, I felt that it was even better than last year’s finalist Minor Mage. Kingfisher’s humor really works for me and if a sourdough starter named Bob or a teenage girl whose magical abilities only work on bread don’t make you giggle, then I don’t know what to tell you. Young magical baker Mona discovers a dead body in her aunt’s bakery and then stumbles into an adventure that grows bigger the more you read. It is a super funny book that has serious moments as well. Mona is a great protagonist who knows what’s right and important and who I fell in love with so much I wanted to hug her. And then Kingfisher managed to deliver a pretty epic ending that got me all choked up.

A big surprise for me was Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. Not that the book didn’t sound interesting – it did! – but I liked it despite the fact that the mystery was super obvious and I had it completely figured out by the middle of the book. Normally, that takes out a lot of fun for me, but in this case, I didn’t mind. Because while the murder mystery is interesting, it’s not what makes this book great. With a trans boy as a protagonist, a dead gay ghost, a vegan witch with pink hair, and a lot of heart, this story was great even without the twist being in any way shocking or surprising. Yadriel’s everyday life was fun enough to follow. His family doesn’t quite understand how to handle him being trans, his Latinx grandmother cooks way too much (oh, that food sounded so delicious!), the other brujxs don’t treat him like he really belongs… and then there’s this boy that makes him feel all warm inside. Aiden Thomas definitely did something right in this book because I adored every page and it made me immediately want to pick up another book by this author.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn I was very unsure about. It has a cool cover, but King Arthur was never something I particularly gravitated toward and so I didn’t think a modern twist on Arthurian Legend could interest me. But again, this book has a lot more to offer than just that. In fact, some of the most interesting aspects didn’t have to do with King Arthur at all. This is about dealing with grief, trusting people, making new friends in a strange and new environment (in this case: college) and, of course, fighting monsters and doing magic, because that’s how we roll at the Hugo Awards.
I can’t say that I was particularly impressed with the magic system or the way Arthurian Legend was incorporated into the story but I just had so much fun reading it. I even liked the romance and how some side characters could surprise me after I had made my mind up about them. It wasn’t my favorite book but I liked it well enough and I will read more by Tracy Deonn. Probably even the sequel to this book.

The one book I expected to love but ended up feeling mostly indifferent about was Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger. This promised to have everything I love. An Earth that is almost but not quite like ours because it has magic, mythology that is real, Lipan Apache myths (which are new to me so I was excited), and a murder mystery. Add to that illustrations by the amazing Rovina Cai and you have a recipe for a new Dina’s favorite. But just like some books can positively surprise you, the opposite can also happen.
Not that I hated this book, not at all. It was nice enough, but it never really touched me. It started with the protagonists reading like 12-year-olds instead of the 17-year-olds they were supposed to be. There was such a disconnect between what I was told and what I actually saw happening on the page that I couldn’t properly connect with Ellie. I also really liked the myths that were woven into the story but the way it was done felt clumsy in retrospect. My favorite part was the murder mystery, the way it gets solved, and especially how clever the killer is (nobody likes a stupid villain, the smart ones are way more interesting). However, as it was all written in this cutesy, rather childish way, this book simply can’t keep up with the competition.

Lastly, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik was a book I probably enjoyed more than many other people, at least judging from reviews I’ve read. Although this book has many flaws, it was kind of fun. I still don’t know how to explain it. There is very little plot, the world building is done in strange ways – too many info dumps at first but leaving out many super important bits – and the characters aren’t exactly perfect. I feel like I shouldn’t have liked this book but for some reason I just did. I plan to read the sequel and hope that this gives me more clarity. However, I won’t consider this book for the Lodestar ballot. You can find my reasons below.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Raybearer
  2. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
  3. Cemetery Boys
  4. Legendborn
  5. Elatsoe
  6. A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education was not the least enjoyable book of this bunch and it isn’t unworthy of an award in general. It is, however, unworthy of an award for YA/MG fiction, especially when it was on the shortlist for the Alex Award which specifically awards adult books with a crossover appeal to a younger audience. ADULT books. Those are not what this category is for, those go in Best Novel if they get enough nominations or Best Series if they’re part of a well-loved series.
And the thing is, Naomi Novik is well-established, she has previously been nominated in Best Novel, she won a Nebula. She’s the only really big name on this ballot and doesn’t need the awards boost. Her books sell just fine.
Whether you think it’s in bad taste that she even accepted the nomination or the Hugo administrators should have caught the fact that this is an adult book in a YA category, I definitely feel that it shouldn’t win a Lodestar. That’s just not the right award for this book. So while I technically enjoyed reading it and would have ranked it differently had it been in the correct category, I am leaving it off my ballot completely.

I love the Lodestar and I’m so happy we finally have a YA/MG category in the Hugo Awards, so I really, really don’t want to see adult books take up the space meant for those books just because they technically can be read by a younger audience. This category was hard won and I mean to defend it!

When it comes to my ballot, I am firm on my first and last places. After T. Kingfisher’s Andre Norton AND Locus YA win for Defensive Baking I am debating ranking her book a bit lower. While I am super happy for her and have wanted her to win for years, I just loved Raybearer so much! Now that Kingfisher already has two awards for her book, I feel like Jordan Ifueko or someone else should get this one. At least in my head, that’s the dream outcome.
That said, I would be happy for either of my top books to take home the Lodestar. Sure, my hope is All The Awards for Raybearer but the Hugos are a democracy after all and we’ll see how my fellow voters decide.

Up next week: Best Novel

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Graphic Story

I love Graphic Novels but I rarely know where to discover cool new ones to follow. Enter the Hugo Awards and the wonderful WorldCon members who are more knowledgeable in the field than I am and nominate great stuff every year.

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

I have to say I felt pretty caught up this year. With two series ending last year, it was time for something new to show up on the ballot. And as expected, we have two sequels to previous finalists, a sequel to a graphic novel I’ve actually discovered all by myself and loved, volume 1 of something new (but written by a previous Hugo finalist) and an adaptation of a novel that I had previously read.

I was super excited to start reading this category. Not only was I looking forward to the sequels to stories I already liked, but the mixture of different styles, stories, and artists makes this a wonderful and varied ballot.


The Finalists for Best Graphic Story

  • Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans – DIE Volume 2: Split the Party
  • Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda – Monstress vol. 5: Warchild
  • G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward – Invisible Kingdom vol. 2: Edge of Everything
  • Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora – Once & Future vol. 1: The King is Undead
  • Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy, John Jennings – Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
  • Seanan McGuire, Takeshi Miyazawa – Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over

What an exciting ballot with a lot of newer series rather than just the next instalment in the ones that always get nominated. Of course the ones that always get nominated are there for a reason – they happen to be really good – but it does get a bit boring, reading the newest volume in the same series every year. With The Wicked + the Divine and Paper Girls finished, the only longer running series on the ballot is Monstress and I suspect it will keep coming back until it is finished as well.

Kind of a series starter but also not really is Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over by Seanan McGuire. Because on the one hand, this is volume 1 of the Ghost-Spider series but it heavily references events that happened in the comics that came before. Those were named Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider... It’s all quite confusing but you don’t need to read those in order to understand and enjoy Ghost-Spider vol. 1. It’s about Gwen Stacey and her inter-dimensional academic pursuits. Her identity as Ghost-Spider is well known in her own universe, but thank the multiverse, there are others where she can live and study in blissful anonymity. There’s even a Peter Parker over there, although quite a bit older than her Peter Parker. Gwen goes to college, makes some friends, there’s an evil scientist dude trying to catch her and so the adventure begins. And that’s really all there is to it. The dialogue is snappy, I loved the artwork, but storywise, this was a generic beginning for a generic comic book adventure. I had a lot of fun reading it, but I don’t think there’s anything special about it.

I liked the first volume of DIE last year except for some pacing and character development issues. Those issues remain for volume 2: Split the Party and the pacing problems actually get worse. I didn’t re-read the first volume and that may have been my mistake (although other comic series manage catching readers up on what happened previously just fine so I shouldn’t have to re-read). I remembered very little of who everyone was, except for Ash, and simply dove into the story. Gillen tried to show more of each character in this volume but that only means that each issue sort of focuses on one of them without ever really letting us get to know or care about them. I appreciated some of their stories, I loved the artwork, but just like last time, I didn’t really feel close to any character and I wasn’t invested in their fates. Add to that the wonky pacing and even Charlotte Bronte can’t save you. It was okay but not great.

The other Kieron Gillen comic on the ballot marks the beginning of a new series and the graphic novel entry for what seems to be a current Arthuriana hype in SFF. Once and Future Volume 1: The King is Undead is clearly written by the same guy who wrote DIE, not because it’s in any way similar in plot or characters but because the pacing is all over the place. A slow intro (which I enjoyed) then leads to events overtaking each other, up to the point where it becomes ridiculous.
The idea itself is a cool one – resurrecting King Arthur but as a zombie and with all sorts of crazy magic – and I really liked the characters. Shy, single protagonist dude, the accidentally-dragged-into-the-story love interest, and most of all, the grandma. 🙂 As you can tell, I don’t actually remember anyone’s names but that grandma kicked serious butt and I would gladly follow her story for longer.

Just as expected, Parable of the Sower was phenomenal. It’s not that hard when you consider the novel it’s adapted from was brilliant. But adapting into a graphic novel takes more than just picking out the most important plot beats and having someone draw pictures. Damian Duffy got things incredibly right in this adaptation with the very rare jarring pacing jump. Mostly, the novel flows well, creates an immersive and terrifying world, and characters you’ll remember for a long time. I was stunned at how absorbed I got reading this, seeing as I had read the novel not that long ago and thus knew all the twists and turns this story would take. The artwork is not beautiful as such, if you want pictures that look pretty, but it works so well in conveying the tone and the raw world of this story. It shouldn’t look pretty!

This fifth volume of Monstress was probably my favorite so far. I’m still not as hyped about this series as many other people seem to be but it is consistently good, the artwork is always stunning, and the story is full of darkness but always with glimpses of hope. In this part, we live through a siege, and watch our protagonsit pretend not to care about individual people but then totally go out of her way to make sure those individual people survive. It’s heartwarming, if you can say that about a story set during a brutal war…

Invisible Kingdom is the book I was happiest to see on the short list. I had read the first part last year and liked it so much that I decided I had to continue the series and now the middle volume of only three (that’s right, folks, this trilogy is concluded) is nominated for a Hugo. As I adored every single page, the way the characters grew and developed, the romance I had been hoping for, the world building that became even better, and the gorgeous art with its rather unique and bright colors, this goes easily to my number one spot. It may not be as important a work as Octavia Butler’s story but damn if it didn’t get me the most invested and excited for the third volume.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Invisible Kingdom Volume 2: Edge of Everything
  2. Parable of the Sower
  3. Monstress Volume 5: Warchild
  4. Once and Future Volume 1: The King is Undead
  5. Ghost-Spider Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over
  6. Die Volume 2: Split the Party

Up next week: The Lodestar

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

The Most Fun You Can Have Without FTL: John Scalzi – The Consuming Fire

I love these moments when I appraoch a book series sceptically, expecting it to be not for me, and then enjoying every single page. John Scalzi may not be a character-focused writer but damn if he doesn’t write exciting, clever, and super funny stories that keep me glued to the page. Although other people said the trilogy declines after the first book, my impression was the opposite. I enjoyed this even more than The Collapsing Empire and I will jump into the final book very soon!

THE CONSUMING FIRE
by John Scalzi

Published: Tor, 2018
eBook:
336 pages
Series:
The Interdependency #2
My rating:
7.75/10

Opening line: Years later Lenson Ornill would reflect on the irony tha his time as a religious man would be bracketed by a single and particular word.

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi is the dazzling follow-up to The Collapsing Empire – a space opera in a universe on the brink of destruction.

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional pathway between the stars, is disappearing, leaving planets stranded. Billions of lives will be lost – unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures. But it’s not that easy. There are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth – or an opportunity for them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others prepare for civil war. A war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as between spaceships. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy . . . and all of human civilization is at stake.

Middle books in trilogies have a tough job and are often treated as the unwanted stepchild, a book that kind of has to be there to connect the cool beginning and the epic ending, but one that doesn’t really move the plot forward and doesn’t really offer any big twists. Well, there have been several middle parts of trilogies that ended up being my favorites in their respective series, because despite their reputation, middle books – when done well – can kick serious ass!
The characters are already established, the world is set up, so now there’s plenty of time to dive deeper into the human relationships, go sightseeing in this fictional world, and maybe even reveal a vital plot point or two.

Well, Scalzi does most of this to perfection. The world of the Interdependency, dependent on the Flow connecting all the various stations and planets that make it up, is a cool idea. Which Scalzi immediately decided to destroy in the first book because the Flow is falling apart, the “roads” that connect one place to another are closing and all the Interdependency’s stations will soon be on their own. A state they cannot survive because none of those places have all the resources needed for long-term survival. And the one planet, End, where people can live on the surface, is already closed off and happens to have a civil war raging on it. Plus, Ghreni Nohamapetan is there and if there’s one thing you don’t want on your habitat, it’s a Nohamapetan.

I read The Collapsing Empire in June and still had the major events in my mind, but Scalzi does a phenomenal job at reminding us not just of the biggest plot points but also reintroducing us to the world and its characters. I appreciated this enormously!
With the Nohampateans’ scheming it’s good to be reminded of just how far the intrigues go, who is controlling whom, and what the current emperox Grayland II plans to do about it. Because she doesn’t alraedy have enough on her plate what with the Interdependency crumbling alongside the Flow…

Look, I had so much fun reading this book, I hardly know how to explain it. It offers a perfect combination of political intrigue, scientific and historic discovery, action-packed sequences, and even more emotional moments between characters. And not always the characters you’d expect. 🙂
Whether it’s lines like “Alas, poor Dorick” or pretty much anyhting Kiva Lagos says or thinks, there is also humor aplenty in this book and even the kind that shows how Scalzi doesn’t take himself too seriously.

[…] which on one hand would be a very not-Kiva thing to do, but on the other hand who gave a fuck if it was “not-Kiva,” because she wasn’t some fucking fictional character destined to do whatever some goddamn hack wanted her to.

I actually cheered out loud during certain scenes when one of my favorite characters did something particularly brilliant or when Grayland II used words like a Jane Austen character. Making them sound like a compliment but actually being deeply biting and cleverly insulting. It may just be me, but I totally love it when characters do that, especially when the person they’re talking to deserves it.
And Kiva is just Kiva. Hardly a sentence passes her lips that does not contain the word “fuck” which is probably why she has no fucks left to give when Nohamapetans try to trick her. Kiva may be the only character in this series that truly stands out and maybe that’s why I love her so much. She’s far from perfect, she’s definitely not your average Mary Sue, but despite her sometimes questionable actions, her heart is in the right place.

As for the other characters, they are still pretty weak. At one point, during a dialogue, I got confused as to who is speaking because everybody pretty much sounds the same. They all have a similar sense of humor and sarcasm and can’t be well distinguished. But even though I am such a character reader, I didn’t mind. Because the story is just so much fun. You get to watch the good, the bad, and the in between guys as they try to scheme their way into positions of power, as they try to save people’s lives, as they try to work on the science of the Flow, and that means there’s never a boring moment.

I loved how Scalzi managed to advance what we know about this world and its technology while still leaving a few questions open to be answered in the next book (I hope). That Memory Room has been super interesting from the get go but there’s more to learn in there than you’d think. And the Flow, although its demise has been calculated and proven by the worlds brightest mathematicians and Flow specialists, has a few surprises in store as well.

I think this series may just turn me into a proper John Scalzi fangirl after all. I cannot wait to pick up the third book and I have already pre-ordered Scalzi’s next novel The Kaiju Preservation Society. Because come on, that sounds too cool not to check it out!

MY RATING: 7.75/10 – Very good!