‘The City of Brass’ was (Daeva)Badass

Daeva jokes aside, this book is good.

I haven’t read much in the way of Islamic or Middle Eastern folklore, whether it be the actual lore itself, or stories that use it as a springboard into whatever tale they wish to tell. It would seem that I have been remiss not to do so, because if The City of Brass is any indication, there is a lush and amazing history there, just waiting to be explored.

And that’s exactly what this book does, it drops you in 18th century Cairo, spends about five minutes there, and then shows you a whole new world (that was not meant to be an Aladdin pun/reference, but I’m gonna let it lie) which is intricate, magical and really just incredible.

Reading The City of Brass was equal parts surprising and delightful. Each character’s motivations were slowly revealed (and in many cases changed) as we learned more about Daevabad’s past and everyone’s relationship to that history. I think this is probably a very difficult trick for writers, but is always one of my favorites to see executed well (as it was here)

The last thing I’ll talk about is what prompted me to actually read this really fun book (so glad I did). I’m still reading through my prospective Hugo list, and one of the books on that list (The Empire of Gold) is the last book in the trilogy which City of Brass starts. To put this book into that context, The City of Brass was nominated for many awards when it came out back in 2017, including the:

World Fantasy Award: Best Novel
Locus Award: Best First Novel
British Fantasy Award: Best Newcomer

However, it somehow did not make the final list for the Hugo in 2018 (which I believe is the one it would be eligible for if it came out in 2017) Fun trivia though, the author supposedly missed the best new author finalist category by a single vote! Crazy.

Anyway, my immediate reaction was: How did it not make the list? But then when I looked at the 2018 Hugo list, I realized that it was up against very stiff competition. As good as this book was, I don’t know that it was better than The Stone Sky which ended up winning that year (Jemisin’s third Hugo win in three consecutive years. Boom hat trick).

Anyway, City of Brass is an all around excellent story, and I can’t wait to read the next one, The Kingdom of Copper.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments. See y’all next time!

Toxin Cat

It’s Friday so I figured I’d better give Max something to do over the weekend. This time I actually managed to hit (exactly) the 750 words I was trying for. Critiques are appreciated, leave them in the comments. Enjoy!

Toxin Cat

Max shuddered as he watched the yellow canary flap it’s wings a few final times before falling to the bottom of a large clear-plastic cube. Dead.

Max chanced a glance at Ms. Pine, but if this was strange or out of the ordinary, he saw no shock or horror touch her expression. Her eyes remained green and sharp behind her plastic face shield.  

Max was beginning to enjoy these cryptic notes from Ms. Pine, but he had to admit, this was the most mysterious yet. All it had said was:

 Available to cat sit this weekend? Bring PPE.


Finally, a sandy brown and white cat emerged from a cardboard structure near the back of the large cube. A few balls of yarn, some mouse shaped stuffed animals, what appeared to be a scratching post summed up the cube’s remaining contents.

Max looked on in horror as the cat proceeded to spit a purple liquid onto the canary, wait a few seconds, and then pick it up in its mouth and carry it back into the cardboard structure.

“Sphinxy will get two of those a day.” Ms. Pine said, before rambling off a long list of particulars. “Always wear your respirator”, “he’s protective of the litter box” and “the slime is a dermatoxin” stood out as unusual but the rest seemed manageable.

“You can suit up over there,” she said, gesturing to the bathroom with a glove covered hand. “I’ll be on my way then. Thank you. And Max? Don’t forget to play with him a bit. It’ll all go much easier.”

And then Ms. Pine was gone.

Max fed Sphinxy the canaries in the morning. He read Ms. Pine’s magazines. Once, on the way back from relieving himself, he squatted down so he was level with Sphinxy. The cat made a noise that was more akin to a lion’s roar then a cat’s meow, and then left to lay within his cardboard structure. Max couldn’t help but notice he lay right next to the litter box.

The next day, when Max suited up – gown, gloves, face shield and respirator – he found himself loathe to enter the cube. What kind of animal spit dermatoxins anyway?

But Sphinxy seemed to show no interest in him whatsoever, instead content to drag his claws down the side of the scratching post. When Max picked up the cardboard structure, there was still no reaction from Sphinxy.

But as soon as he stretched his hand towards the litter box, the lion’s roar sounded again, and Max found his entire face shield covered in the purple mucous. Trying to wipe it off simply smeared it along the shield; he couldn’t see a thing.

Max took off the mask and turned to Sphinxy. The cat just licked its paws as if nothing were amiss. When Max reached for the litter box again, Sphinxy dove through the air heading straight for his face.

Thankfully, Max was wearing the respirator, otherwise he would have been literally up to his eyeballs in claw marks. However, when Max began to have trouble breathing, he knew that his face hadn’t been the target. The respirator was broken.

Max began to hyperventilate. What had Ms. Pine said to do if this happened? She hadn’t! What had she said? Somehow all that came to mind was “Don’t forget to play with him a bit. It’ll all go much easier.”

Max reached for one of the stuffed mice, struggling to get air inside his lungs. Suddenly he had Sphinxy’s attention again. Max waived the mouse up and down, pretending to hop it across the cube. Sphinxy pounced but it was different from before. It was playful.

Max kept at it a few more minutes, as long as he could, his lungs burning and his vision starting to spot. When he finally stopped, he reached one hand towards the litter box. Sphinxy’s eyes darted towards him, but then went back to playing with the mice.

Max emptied the litter, and put it back in its place. When Ms. Pine finally returned, Max was seated on the floor in front of the cube, playing with Sphinxy through the plastic.

Max waived goodbye to Ms. Pine and stowed a smaller version of the clear plastic cube under his gown and gloves. When he was well out of site, he dropped the PPE to the ground and opened the cube. A yellow canary beat its wings for the first time in months, and flew off into the sky. Alive.

Should ‘The Space Between Worlds’ get a Hugo?

Another Beautiful Cover

As I mentioned last week, in my Hugo Nomination post, this story nearly dethroned The Once and Future Witches as my nomination for the award. However, I did not have to settle for nominating just one great book, and instead, got to nominate three! So . . . props to that!

Which means! I don’t have to try and come up with and defend a reason why this book got the nomination over the other, or vice versa, which honestly is a huge weight off my shoulders. I do not know which I would have chosen (Or, at the end of all this, which I will choose though I suppose many of my choices will be eliminated by the other voters and I can just pick my favorite of the finalists)

A little background on my expectations for this book: I had none, really whatsoever. This was another book that made it onto my list because I’d seen it on the Goodreads Best Science Fiction 2020 list, and a few other places on the net.

The author, Micaiah Johnson was completely new to me, and probably new to most people, as this book appears to be a debut (excellent!). I’m not sure if I even read the premise or if I just dove in blind but I can say that in either case, I was completely blown away.

I’ll start by admitting that I’m no stranger to multiverse stories, and have always had something of a soft spot for them. I can think of at least six novels I’ve read in the past that relate to it in some way (Michael Zapata’s The Lost Book of Adana Moreau being the most recent, and Michael Crichton’s Timeline being the first. I suppose you don’t need to be named Michael to write one though). And then of course there is all the movies (The One with Jet Li perhaps being an oldie but one of my fav’s), and TV shows (looking at you Rick and Morty).

Oh and duh, Into the Spiderverse.

Needless to say, it would seem that perhaps there are infinite possibilities and ways an author can use this trope, and an infinite amount of stories which already have.

Yes, it would seem that there is something altogether irresistible about the notion of ‘what could have been’. What would my life be like if I had done X instead of Y? Would I still have chosen to do Z? The world may never know, but I have always wanted to.

And that only considers the life you could have lived if you had made different choices. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the things that affect your life over which you are completely powerless (who doesn’t want to wake up in a universe where covid-19, or most of 2020 didn’t happen?). It’s a loop you can get stuck in forever if you let yourself.

So Why Was This Example So Good?

Well, I suppose the kinds of things that make any story good, whether it involves a multiverse or not.

An intricate and well-developed setting. In this case, a kind of post apocalypse in which the beautiful future we’ve always imagined is only available for the few super rich, while everyone else struggles to survive in the mud and ash.

A compelling main character who is driven and moral (though I don’t think she would consider herself to be moral). One who we want to see succeed though we cannot for the life of us see how she will pull it off.

The list goes on, but I believe it is this (traveling through the) multiverse component that compounds all of the choices our heroine makes. It is so much harder to see a villain be evil when we have traveled to a universe in which they are good. How can our heroine survive when she never has before (a seemingly literal use of the odds are against her)?

Of course everything I’ve described here seems so reduced and easy when described in a post like this, but the author’s skill really shines through if (hopefully when) you read it, because the reader can’t look at the story on this level while it’s happening. All you’re concerned with is what is going to happen next!

So . . . Hugo?

As of 3/23/2021, assuming none of the other books I recommended are finalists? Yes in every universe. I think it will take an extremely good book (or a lot of soul searching on my part) to knock this one from the top spot.

We’ll see what the future holds . . .

See you next time!

My Hugo Nomination – Plot Twist!

Image from Michi Trota on Encyclopedia Britannica

So, today is the big day! Or perhaps more correctly put, the last day in which we can nominate who we think should possibly win a Hugo award. I’ve been doing some posts leading up to the nomination, in which I essentially review books and say whether or not they’re the books I’m going to nominate. I was thinking it would be cool, and somewhat dramatic, to go through the books and close in on the final title.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, was looking like the front runner, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to review The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson, which has been causing me to doubt my earlier choice. I wasn’t sure how I was going to rectify this situation (partially why it’s taken me so long to post the review although it’s mostly laziness on my part).

The Twist?

Yes! The Twist! I logged in today, still unsure who I was going to pick. Then to my complete and utter surprise, when confronted with the form, I learned that you can submit up to five titles for the award! Oh happy day! I like nothing more than to defer decision making as long as possible.

So, to answer the question of who I nominated for the 2020 Hugo award, my answer is three:

You’ll notice that I could have also added Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson, and Network Effect by Martha Wells, but as I discussed in previous posts, I just don’t think they’re the right choices. So, I only used three of my five options.

I’ll make sure to have the Micaiah Johnson review up next week, and then from there, I’ll continue working through my list until the finalists are announced, and then I’ll rush to try and read them before voting for the winner happens. I’m very anxious to see who the finalists will be. Hopefully somebody I picked!

Anyway, until next time . . .

PS: Have a nominee in mind? Post them in the comments. It might be too late to get them on the ballot, but I’m still always curious to read good books I haven’t yet heard of.

Should ‘The Once and Future Witches’ Get a Hugo?

Another extremely worthy candidate. Probably the best I’ve reviewed yet. My original draft of this post believed that it would have no trouble becoming a finalist. In my humble opinion, it’s that good.

But I was also basing that opinion (not my opinion of the book) around the hype that I was seeing when I listened to this lovely piece of work back in January (2021). When it was finally available from the library (long wait list is usually a good sign that people love it), I was seeing this book at #3 on audible, and #1 in it’s respective genre (which I will not try to classify because Amazon is fickle about these things and displays only the genres it’s doing best in at the moment, which apparently changes quickly).

All of that to say, it seems its popularity has waned a bit recently but I think that is just the product of time passing, nothing to say of the book’s quality (which is stellar). We can still find it on NPR’s Best Books of 2020 (the order does not seem to matter on this page, every time I refresh it looks different but the books are still the same. Just a different order), and BookPage’s Best books of 2020: Sci-fi and and Fantasy (you’ll notice The Vanished Birds is also on that list).

So why did I enjoy this book?

Hmmm. Where to start?

The most engaging part of this book is definitely its three main protagonists (each a POV). Estranged sisters, half of the fun of this book is whether or not they will come back together and trying to tease out what split them apart.

I think the next selling point is the kind of Take-Back-The-Narrative quality of this book. It seems to flip the script from assuming that witches should be feared because they’re evil, to assuming witches should be feared because they’re powerful and you’ve tried to suppress that power for too long. Of course, witches want vengeance for centuries of mistreatment, but they’ll settle for just being able to live . . . until they’ve been pushed too far to settle for that either.

I wonder if that seems familiar to anything happening in the world these days . . .

Anyway, my final thought is that this story would have been an interesting and empowering story even if the world it took place in was devoid of magic, simply because the characters are so sympathetic (wow that word is so sterile sounding) but the fact that they do have magic just makes the story that much more incredible.

Hugo nomination?

This is definitely the one to beat. I mentioned earlier about thinking this one would be a finalist no problem, and that I wouldn’t need to cast a vote for it, because enough other people would, but seeing how its popularity seems to have come down in recent months (though just barely) I’m now unsure whether or not my vote might count or not. Or if this one will soar on without me.

Ultimately, in my opinion, The Once and Future Witches has all of the right parts for a Hugo winner, and it will (for me) just come down to whether or not I end up just enjoying another book more.

The Slagorez

Another week, another fiction. This time Max takes on the Slagorez . . . kinda. My goal was to do this one in 500 words. I hit 512 (if I can count). Getting closer. Enjoy!

The Slagorez

Max nearly spilled his bucket of Jebalix when he came through Ms. Price’s door. A chalk outline traced the floor in the center of her living room. Cameras flashed but nobody appeared to be operating them.

“What is that?” he thought, as his eyes fell across the chalk. Certainly it wasn’t human. There were too many arms . . . or maybe it was too many legs?

Whatever it was, he’d already done enough to please Ms. Price for one day. He’d brought the Jebalix here, afterall. He should leave. Now.

But then there was a buzzing sound from inside his pocket. An email from Ms. Price. Max opened the message but would not admit that his interest was piqued.

Hello darling,

Please excuse me for not being home when you arrived; I just needed to get out of the house. Anyway, I assume you’ve got the Jebalix? Please pour them into the hole in the center of the outline. I’m using them to bait a Slagorez. Hopefully one of the cameras I’ve rigged to take pictures at random intervals will catch a picture of it in the house and we can get Monster Control to come and dispose of it.

Don’t wait for me, you’ll want to be gone when the Slagorez arrives.


What the hell was a Slagorez? He took up his bucket again, walked over to the hole, and began pouring in the chomping Jebalix.

There was a sharp sound that came from the window and Max caught the slightest glance of something slide across it.  Just a hint of white powder, swirling in the air, was all the trace it left behind.

On instinct Max ducked behind the sofa. Everything became quiet, and Max noticed he no longer heard the flash of Ms. Pine’s cameras.

When Max finally chanced a peak, what he saw resembled a starfish covered in confection sugar. It lay flat against the hole and a slurping noise came from within. Max stood for a moment, awed by the way its many arms and legs fit so perfectly into the outline.

There was a gurgling sound and Max found two powdered eyes staring his direction. He turned to leave but then remembered the cameras. The automatic wind had been switched off and some of the tape had come loose. Despite himself, Max climbed upon the sofa as the Slagorez began to spasm, attempting to lift itself from the floor.

Max cranked the wind as the Slagorez got to its many hideous feet. Max nearly shouted with joy when he heard a click signaling the tape was wound.

But nothing happened . . .

Finally, the flash went off! There was another loud bang and the Slagorez was gone.

Max’s heart still pounded his entire walk home. This was certainly the last job he ever took from Ms. Pine. But then a week later, a letter came with a simple message in her quick but elegant script.

I saw the picture. You were amazing! My hero.

Max hoped she’d have another job for him soon.

Should ‘The Vanished Birds’ Get a Hugo?

Cool looking cover!

It could. It very much could. If nothing else, it will certainly be a strong contender. Of the books I’ve reviewed so far (Rhythm of War, and Network Effect) this book, to me, felt the most like a Hugo award recipient. I suppose this requires some explanation . . .

Unlike previous books I’ve considered, I came at this book almost completely blind. As mentioned in the Hugos are coming! post, I sort of cheated when trying to find a starting point for what books I would review. Sadly, at the time I made the list, I’d only read two books published in 2020, and both had been part of a longer series, so that’s how I’d known about them. As such, you might say that I only came across two titles published in 2020 ‘organically’ meaning, completely on my own, without any help from advertisements.

I relied on various lists around the internet to help me compose my eventual list. I believe The Vanished Birds was part of the Goodreads choice awards for Science Fiction, and I’d seen it in a couple other places on the net (Top 10 Tuesday SF Debuts at Onemore.org; as a runner up at Polygon’s The best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2020 to catch up with; and finally on Tor.com’s Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2020)

I’ll say immediately, that one of the things that drew me to the book before any of the many others I’ve but on the list, is that this book was a debut. I have my old standby authors who I read obsessively like anyone else, but I’ll admit that I occasionally let one eye wander to see what is new within the genre. For the Hugo award, this seems extra important as I feel a book winning a yearly award, should be ‘of the moment’ for the year it wins. Also, I don’t have to read any other works to get context for this one, whether it be other books in a series, or some of the author’s other books which are unrelated.

So, seeing that it was a new author that I didn’t recognize, I bumped it up on the priority list (I’m sure this was made easier because I did not have a long wait in the library queue).

So what did you think?

I really enjoyed this book. For me, enjoying this book seemed to stem from two things: 1) the character relationships, and 2) I felt like there was a kind of aesthetic pleasure in the descriptions and prose.

The future presented in The Vanished Birds is both beautiful and awful. Connected, but lonely. Given the book’s focus on traveling through something akin to wormholes (although I think they’re termed something else), there is also an emphasis on the passage of time, a kind of immortality, and being isolated from the rest of humanity through overly long lifespans.

Tack on a ruthless corporation bent on expanding ever outward into the galaxy, and there’s a lot of motives acting upon the characters at once. In many instances, all they can do is deal with the pressure on their own or try to bond with the few people that are in their unique situation. A kind of found family. I’m always a sucker for found family for some reason.

The only part I did not like about the book, was sadly the end. I had a feeling that during the last quarter of the book, the main story had already finished, and that everything the reader was supposed to take away from the book had already been given.


The Vanished Birds was the closest we’ve come to a yes for me. I think this book really set the tone and is the one to beat for any books I review going forward. It was extremely helpful in getting me to define what my criteria for the nominations will be, and I’m hopeful I can type those up so y’all can see them in another post.

I don’t think this one will get the nomination from me though, even it is certainly good enough to be nominated. I have no doubt it will have many, many other people pushing for it, and rightfully so.

I’m going to hold my vote for now though.

See you next time!

The Jebalix

So, back in my I’m Baaaackkkk! post a couple weeks ago, I mentioned I’d like to start posting some fiction on this site as well. Here is the first foray into that endeavor. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up regular posting. We’ll see.

For this piece, my goal was to write a complete story in 250 words. It took me 369, but I’ll try harder next time. Please feel free to give any comments or feedback you’d like. Enjoy . . .

The Jebalix

Max eyed the Jebalix nest and wondered if the coin Ms. Price had given him would cover a new set of hands. Judging by the various prosthetics he’d seen on the other temp workers as he’d entered the habitat, he guessed that it probably wouldn’t. Judging by their broken and desperate demeanor, Max also suspected he should probably find work elsewhere.

But a whole month’s rent was sitting in that nest, if he could just grab one of these slimy little monsters and bring it back to Ms. Price’s house. He raised his hand towards the nearest Jebalix and shuddered as it pushed a chomping beak through its gelatinous body, nearly removing his hand right then and there.

Max began to envy those other workers their hook hands and club arms. It gave the beak something to clamp on to that wasn’t going to hurt . . .

Max removed his belt and dangled it in front of the nearest Jebalix. As before the beak came forward, chomping heartily onto the leather garment. While the beak was distracted, Max used his other hand to scoop up a Jebalix and place it in his bucket.



A second beak tore some flesh off his hand and he dropped the creature before managing to place it within the bucket. It plummeted to the ground and Max shuddered a second time when he heard it splat against the habitat floor.

Max stared in horror at the beak, still clutching his leather belt. Then he smiled and tossed one end of the belt so that it lay flat across the nest. Each of the Jebalix pushed a beak forward and clamped on to the belt. From there it was as easy as holding out the bucket and pulling the belt back towards him. When gravity began its work, each of the Jebalix landed promptly in the bucket. Max beamed as he looked down at the Jebalix, sloshing and chomping furiously in his bucket. He patted the coin in his pocket and breathed deeply as he went back towards Ms. Price’s house. One month’s rent paid with no loss of limb or life? Maybe this was a job he could keep after all.

Should ‘Network Effect’ get a Hugo?

A beautiful day for some Murderbot 🙂

Hello. We’re back with another exciting episode of “Do I think this book I read would/should get a Hugo”.

Martha Wells is another author I’ve become a big fan of over the last several years (although one I’ve apparently never posted about on this blog). I first came across All Systems Red, the first installment in what has become The Murderbot Diaries, back in 2017 and according to Goodreads, actually read the darn thing in April of 2018.

By this point, it had already won an Alex Award, and was on the list of Verge’s Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2017, which I suppose is a tad confusing, since it is in fact, a novella. By the end of 2018, Murderbot had won a Hugo, a Nebula, and the Locus Award for best novella.

The hype was real . . .

And completely warranted. Murderbot was a fresh take. We have all seen, read, and built up a healthy fear of autonomous robots. In nearly all instances, they are designed to kill people, or they “go bad” and figure out how to kill people on their own. At their most heroic, they still kill a bunch of people, but not the ones we’re rooting for so that’s good even though we’re still kinda worried that whatever black-box logic has kept them from killing us, will suddenly change, and they’ll start doing what they do best, killing all the humans (also us).

I suppose Murderbot falls into this last category, as it uses all its super advanced equipment, methods, and strategy to save a couple of researchers (mostly by killing things that are trying to kill those researchers), but the book makes the killing machine its protagonist. We get to look inside the black box. As we read, we learn why this particular killing machine is on our side.

Namely that is because it doesn’t want to fail its contract. It doesn’t want to fail its contract because this will make it harder for it to sit around in its repair cube (or really anywhere) and watch its favorite TV show.

This is — not necessarily surprisingly; but refreshingly — incredibly relatable.

Who here has not undertaken extreme measures in the pursuit of laziness? I thought so. And then there are the themes. Trust, free will, what it means to be human (and in later installments: trauma, friendship, recovery and consent) . . . All the important stuff. But all of it through the lens (camera footage?) of our incredibly likeable protagonist.

So you liked the first one, what about the others?

Oh yes. There are three other novellas within the series before we reach the topic of this post (which I will also reach any moment now). All of them are excellent reads which I devoured one after the other, until I was anxiously awaiting the most recent addition.

Lovely Murderbot Covers

And this most recent one?

A great read as well, if not quite as good as the others. As this was the first ‘novel length’ Murderbot adventure, I felt myself missing the quick pace of the novellas. Not to say that this book dragged necessarily, but I think the smaller scope of the previous adventures were a key factor in their success. If you have not yet read this book, definitely go ahead and jump it to the top of the TBR pile.

So Hugo then?

Sadly no. Murderbot is by far one of my favorite characters in fiction right now and I will gladly pay whatever money they charge for the next installment (and any after that!), but I think its chances are suffering a bit from the same thing that I mentioned in my Rhythm of War post last week, it’s no longer new. Network Effect is the fifth installment of a series that seems to be showing little signs of slowing down. I believe at least one more novel is going to come out soon, and who knows how many more after that.

Plus, as a novella, Murderbot has already taken home a Hugo. It’s time to share Murderbot . . . SHARE!

I’m just kidding. I don’t think that’s how the Hugo’s should work. If you write several excellent novels, whether one after the other, or in different years, you should not have to relinquish your chances based on past performance.

Murderbot has come a long way since All Systems Red, and has managed to keep all of what won it so many awards back in 2018, and perhaps even tread territory in subsequent installments that would have made it worthy in 2019. But for 2020, for Network Effect, it just didn’t quite get there.

Thanks all! Please leave any comments or insights in the comment section. Looking forward to hearing y’all’s thoughts. Until next time . . .