Should ‘Raybearer’ win a Lodestar Award?

Phew. It feels good to be doing a Hugo related post after so many posts about Narmer and the God Beast. I’m sure there will be more of those to come, but let’s break for a little while and talk about Jordan Ifueko’s incredible debut, Raybearer.

This book is amazing. I hesitate to say a masterpiece because I don’t feel like I’m qualified to make such distinctions (although honestly who cares lol), but it was definitely one of the most exciting books I’ve read in recent memory.

To me, it’s strengths lie in its consistent pacing, unique setting and the sheer power of this book’s main character.

Tarisai is quite literally a sympathy magnet. From page one, it is impossible not to connect with this lonely girl who’s been completely isolated from people her own age and a traditional family. That conflict is built right into the most basic aspect of her identity, her Hollow (unique magical power), which allows her to see other’s memories. This should allow Tarisai to build even closer connections with those around her since she can literally share their experience. Instead, it means that she cannot even be held when she’s sad, for her servants believe that she might accidently steal their memories.

Every conflict in Raybearer seems to stack against Tarisai in this similar manner. At the beginning of the story, her only purpose is to fulfill the last wish of her absent mother (who calls Tarisai ‘Made of Me’ yuck) who wishes that she befriend the crown prince of Aritsar (so he’ll invite her into his council), and then kill him. A purpose for which she must truly love this prince before being able to act out her orders (which of course she doesn’t want to do).

Of course, heroes do hard things, it’s what makes them heroes, but as I was reading the story, I found myself admiring how inventive each new conflict became as the script was flipped again and again on poor Tarisai.

And she truly just keeps doing the damn thing.

I don’t mean to mean to imply that she simply skips through each new challenge (quite the opposite), but the way she is able to continue onward despite everything is truly inspirational. This, perhaps more than anything else is what makes the book such a compelling read.

However, the setting also played a huge roll in my enjoyment of this book. Ifueko creates a rich (sorry just watch this youtuber say how rich the book is real quick) world which seems to draw from many African cultures (though I believe the author mentioned it was mainly Yoruba) yet still presents as unique and immersive.

Some of the more unique aspects of the world for me (which I think could have been explored a little more perhaps) where the magical creatures. We meet sprites, and albagato (a kind of genie type figure), shape shifters and large mythical cats. An entire underworld of spirits which we only just hear a small portion of.

But this is a small gripe, easily overlooked when considering one of my favorite aspects of the world. Its music. Song and rhythm seem to underpin our very understanding of this culture’s history and legacy. Aritsar’s myths and legends (the main one about a story telling Pelican which is weird and fun just on it’s own) are mostly passed on through children’s songs. But one of the key instruments featured in the novel are various drums. Perhaps this is not surprising as drums are important to many African cultures, however, Ifueko took the time to describe their sound — literally write out the noises they made — and the meanings behind each beat.

As a drummer myself, I was simply loving these passages. They felt so true to how the instruments can sound and the passion they can have when played. I’m not sure if Ifueko has any percussion in her background, but she was certainly convincing enough for me (I would also like to note that I listened to this book on audio, and so the voice actor also did an amazing job with these portions and I think really heightened the experience in a way that reading on the page may not have been able to accomplish).

Finally, I think it’s important to note, that this book never seemed to drag. Because of my work schedule picking up, I didn’t have as much time to listen as I have in the past (due to Covid), and so I had to give this book up several times and then wait for it to return. Each time I was as excited as the last to get started again.

This is all the more impressive considering all of the elements packed into this story. Themes such as uniqueness and diversity over homogeny (in culture), colonialism too but it was interesting because it wasn’t like a foreign power coming in that the MC’s need to fight, but instead more like just one group that kept expanding. Perhaps less like the British Empire and more like the expansion of the Mongols.

Anyway, I can feel myself beginning to ramble so I think it’s time to ask that all important question which is the reason we’re here . . .

Lodestar Award?

Yes. It seems I keep having to add this caveat, but as of 10/6/2021, I’m feeling that the Lodestar award should go to Raybearer. This was a hard decision for me, as I’ve already enjoyed two previous Lodestar contenders (Cemetery Boys and A Deadly Education), which were both amazing reads. I really thought Cemetery Boys was going to be my ride or die, but I think the deciding factor ended up coming down Raybearer’s unique setting.

For each of the other reasons I’ve outlined above — great pacing, and an incredibly powerful main character — Raybearer is an excellently written piece of art, but the thing I’m most excited about for the sequel, is simply being able to explore this world a little longer. Cemetery Boys showed us a unique setting as well, and I loved learning more and more about the Brujx. It was fun to think that their world existed just beneath our own. But the sense of immersion you experience into Raybearer’s secondary world shined a bit brighter. I guess I’m just a sucker for Secondary World fantasy . . .

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Should Raybearer win the Lodestar? What were your favorite elements of the story? The world (the answer is the drums! Lol)? Let me know in the comments, I’m excited to see what you all think.

Silver Medal for Empire of Gold

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a little while because it’s been hard to bring myself to say that The Empire of Gold is probably the weakest part of this trilogy. I thought The City of Brass was totes badass, and The Kingdom of Copper was brilliant!

But The Empire of Gold just didn’t surpass the bar set by its two amazing predecessors.

Perhaps the main draw (for me) of this series is the intricate and thoroughly magical world which Chakraborty has imagined. It feels new and astonishing, and is equal parts mysterious and delightful. That sense of wonder is only slightly dimmed by the fact that this is our third rodeo in Daevabad. After all, magical djinn, shedu, karkadann, and peri, are never going to fully lose their luster when compared to our real lives of (in the pandemic) Zoom calls and homemade lunches . . .

(I’m also getting slightly distracted by the World of Daevabad website which includes a definition of a creature called Ishtas, which I don’t remember from the book but is apparently “A small, scaled creature obsessed with organization and footwear.” Lolz! Ok back to the review . . .)

This complex and immersive experience has been delivered to us on two previous occasions and it is what we expect from a Daevabad book. I can’t say that the novel fails to deliver on this promise, because it doesn’t. The Empire of Gold is stuffed full of new and exciting bits of this world which are completely unexpected, or have been so thoroughly teased that we’re essentially frothing to find out what they actually are (for me this was the Marid and how this world related to that of Ancient Egypt).

Another key strength of the book, is that all of the cast we’ve come to know and love return, and they too are just as fun and delightful as they have been in previous books in the series. We finally get to see the resolutions of their arcs, and for me, everything came to a satisfying conclusion (which I won’t spoil for you here).

But only a silver medal?

Yep! Despite all of the praise I’ve showered on the book so far, I still felt it suffered from two fatal flaws (which are possibly the same flaw so maybe only one). Namely, this book was TOO LONG, and (in my opinion) failed to fully deliver on its promises (and maybe even over-delivered on a few that were less than relevant). There were many points during this book in which I felt we were making little to no progress towards the main goal of the novel.

I credit the length issue (784 pages and almost 29hrs in audio) to powers that were perhaps beyond the author’s control (although I’ve done no actual research to test my hypothesis). It is pretty standard practice in the Fantasy genre to write in trilogies (although there are plenty of series that go for way longer). I definitely had the sense reading this, that the author knew this was her last chance reveal all the many things she’d hinted at over the previous two books, and so I felt that our characters wandered the map tying up loose ends which in many cases I had forgotten about and did not seem to bring us any further down our main plot thread.

The second issue, that of failed promises, I’m not entirely sure how to quantify or explain. Simply, I was just disappointed in the way certain resolutions took place.

Slight spoilers ahead . . .

I had been waiting for connections to Ancient Egypt (Nahri is from Cairo and grew up in the shadow of pyramids, discovering clues on papyrus scrolls with Ali in the library, mentions of Sobek, an Ancient Egyptian crocodile god . . .) to be made clear and was curious how their vast and intricate culture would be pulled into the mythos of Daevabad, but when it was, I almost wished it had stayed separate. Like the pieces didn’t really fit together somehow.

And while I was so curious about the Marid after reading The Kingdom of Copper, I was disappointed with what we ended up getting. In the previous books, the Marid seemed to have a single nefarious and unknowable purpose, but after meeting no less than three marid ‘gods’, it was quite clear that they were not the grand conspiracy they appeared, and we still had issues in Daevabad which we needed to solve. Basically I grew impatient with our side quest in Ta Ntry (the name of which is suspiciously close to Ta Netjer, which in ancient Egyptian would have translated to “God’s Land”, also called Punt. It’s kinda neat that they are sorta in the same spot on the map, but ultimately, I’m unsure exactly what connection is to be made.)

TLDR and Hugo award considerations:

The Empire of Gold is still a great book, filled with magic and wonder; however, I felt it suffered slightly from its overwhelming scope and (in my opinion) a failure to deliver on it’s most interesting promises. It is somewhat sad that the final book was marred with these flaws, but in general, I’m happy with the ending, and feel this is a great series. I was surprised that this individual volume was not a Hugo Best Novel finalist at first, but after reading it, I can see now how it might not have earned enough votes.

The series is still my top contender for best series though, even with a bit of a flubbed landing. I think I’ll do a Best series post later on if I’m able to finish each of the series on that shortlist.

Thanks all for reading this! Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments!

Should ‘Silver In the Wood’ win Emily Tesh an Astounding Award? (aka best debut) #WyrdAndWonder

A hard question to answer. Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is a great novella for many reasons.

The first reason, is its up close-and-personal interpretation of the ‘Green man’ myth. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the folklore surrounding this figure, so I can’t really comment on Tesh’s interpretation.

The impression I have though, using really only this story as a reference point, is that The Green Man is a kind of tree spirit, similar to a Dryad from classical mythology (indeed there is a dryad that follows our main character around and is very protective of him), which protects the forest and keeps out all the bad stuff that wants to come in. However, a few things set our main character apart:

  • he is male and most dryads are female in the book
  • he lives near a big oak tree which might make him something like a Hamadryad but I’m not sure

This sort of mythic existence puts him in a sort of tenuous relationship with the rest of the wood’s inhabitants. At first, humans see him as wild and scary, but ultimately get over it as the story progresses.

Whatever the folklore textbooks have to say, the interpretation written here feels simultaneously personal, and mythic in a way which is really engaging and is probably the first thing I noticed about the book.

I feel this mythic quality is accomplished by the second awesome part about this novella: Tesh’s prose. They’re lovely, and seem to rely on some seemingly impossible phrases (how exactly does time pass “slow and green”) which don’t hang up the reader, but give us our own freedom to imagine their implications. Throughout the entire work, we’re in a place where things don’t quite make sense but are nevertheless mystical and fantastic.

This novella’s final and perhaps most endearing quality is its romance arc. It seems to try and hide itself behind the thickets of legend and worldbuilding, but the reality is that this story does not start until Tobias meets Harry Silver, and can’t end until . . . well I won’t spoil it. Needless to say, it is the thread that pulls us through.

My only gripe, is that I felt like I was left wondering in a few too many places. The story seems to have complex character relationships based on a complex and long history, but I felt like we never got enough of that history to understand why the action we were taking would bring about the end we desired. Even in a scant 100 pages, there was at least two moments in which I wondered why we where seeing something and ultimately felt the scene could have been pruned away.

Astounding Award?

I suppose the answer to this question will ultimately come down to how it stacks up against the competition.

This title is a great read, and there is much to love within this bite-sized package. There is a clever mythology at play here, a genuinely enjoyable romance, and beautiful prose, but I also felt that some key information was missing, while other sections seemed to provide things which weren’t relevant.

Looking back at my review of The Vanished Birds, I seemed to have similar complaints, although I feel it’s longer page count might give it some more leniency than Silver in the Wood. Short works don’t have as much time for extra material. Every word counts.

Micaiah Johnson’s debut is probably still the story I’ve enjoyed most in my Hugo Contender read-through (though I’m not going to look back through all the posts to make sure I didn’t contradict myself). My review of The Space Between Worlds cites strong characters, and a well-developed setting as it’s strong points, and I believe that in these categories, it simply out-performs Silver in the Wood.

No Astounding Award for Tesh this year (in my rankings at least), though I’m sure she’ll contend for other awards in the future. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’m hoping you’ll still go read Silver in the Wood as it is a great book!

If you have questions comments or gripes, leave em in the comments. Thanks all!

Should ‘Black Sun’ Get A Hugo? #WyrdAndWonder

For new viewers from the #WyrdAndWonder crowd (also check out my previous Wyrd And Wonder Posts), I’ve been working my way through a really long list of Hugo contenders and asking the question: “Should [book title] get a Hugo?”

Obviously, my priorities changed slightly once the Hugo Finalists were announced, but I’m still going to be blogging as many of the original list as I can until the award is given sometime in December.

Luckily for me, this book fits squarely into the Fantasy genre, and I’m not going to have any qualms reviewing it as part of Wyrd And Wonder.

Now, this is only the second book on the finalist list that I’ve finished, and for me, it is the front runner for the award right now. I reviewed Network Effect by Martha Wells, a while back, and concluded that while it was a great book (and I love me some Murderbot!), it was not the right choice for the Hugo this year, as I decided it wasn’t ‘new’ enough to really reflect the genre at this moment.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is the first entry in (what I assume) will be a trilogy (or maybe a series), and there is very little here that I would not consider ‘new’, at least to me.

The first thing I noticed about the book (other than its harrowing first chapter), was the depth of the world in which the story takes place. In an interview with Roanhorse on NPR, the author says she’d been:

“. . . reading about Pre-Columbian cultures for decades. But for this book I really dug into everything from Polynesian sailing methods to what we know of the Maritime Maya to the habits of corvids. I also read a lot about crows.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/17/924734316/i-longed-to-see-something-different-so-i-wrote-it-questions-for-rebecca-roanhors

All of that is used to awe inspiring effect in Black Sun, whether it be out in the sea, sailing the mother waters under a Teek captain, or crossing the Holy City of Tova’s suspension bridges to be closer to the sky. And after 464 pages (well almost 13 hrs for me on audio), there is still so much more of this world I would like to see.

I also really enjoyed the role that crows played in this story. Our black feathery friends (or maybe enemies) are never skimped upon when it comes to depictions in literature – renown as tricksters, harbingers (of fate or death), and companions to the gods of many cultures – the crows in Black Sun felt fresh and different, and I’m anxiously awaiting more stories like it.

Also important, I learned a new (to me) pronoun. Shey/shem/sheir/shemselves. It’s no secret that people learn from the books we read, it is perhaps one of the most important reasons to read in the first place, to expand our horizons. I’m thankful to Rebecca Roanhorse for including this detail in her work.

Finally, the book felt like it had a story to tell that was more than just the events that happened in the plot (I suppose in English classes they call that theme). In particular, the book deals with prejudice in many varieties, but I felt that despite the darkness of the events that were taking place, I still held hope that perhaps those prejudices could be overcome.

So Hugo?

Yup! This one is the one for me so far (and actually a bit of a surprise since I did not much enjoy Roanhoarse’s other Hugo contender Trail of Lightning). I think what sold it for me (say over Network Effect I mentioned earlier), was the themes which seem so prescient, and of this moment, as to be a worthy representation of what the genre is considering during 2021 (well 2020 I guess but these lines are fuzzy).

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about Black Sun. Please let me know what you thought of the book in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Gideon The Ninth: Fun AND Provoking

I’ll admit, it’s been a little while since I read Gideon the Ninth (November 2020), but since Harrow the Ninth is a Hugo finalist, I thought it might be good to review the first book here, before my eventual review of the sequel. Please forgive any cobwebs that might blow by as I get going . . .

Initial reactions?

I think my initial reactions to this book were a little bit surface level, but definitely positive. Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is a FUN book. This story is equal parts exciting, mysterious, thought provoking . . . and in a lot of instances, just weird. Obviously I loved it!

The main character, Gideon, is probably the main draw for most, and deservedly so. She is — by turns — funny, crass (I think one of the first lines, if not THE first line has to do with her looking at inappropriate magazines), self-serving, heroic, and very likable.

As the story progresses, we get to know her more intimately, and we see that the adjectives I just used are but one facet of Gideon, and that she has many more facets which encourage or contradict our impression of her seemingly at random (although nothing is ever truly random in a novel I suppose). To say it succinctly, Gideon is a mess, and she would probably be the first one to describe herself as such . . . after which she’d probably do pushups.

Now I don’t say that Gideon is a mess because I want imply that this is somehow bad character building, or bad writing. On the contrary I think it is excellent character building and excellent writing because it is super relatable. I guarantee that nobody reading this blog (so like all three of you) has ever found themselves living in a futuristic necromantic society (without having read this book I doubt I would have thought those two words could be used together) in which walking skeletons are quite common, and people routinely raise the dead from their graves. So far as I know, that doesn’t happen, so the fact that Muir is able to get us to relate to a character for which these things are even somewhat normal, is a feat in and of itself.

Then the author boots us into a kind of gothic puzzle-type mystery of which all of Gideon’s comfort with the paranormal, contrives to do her absolutely zero favors.

And then there’s Harrowhawk . . .

She is probably the next thing that people get most excited about when talking about this book. Harrowhawk is Gideon’s — again by turns — nemesis, friend, employer, enemy, lover, peer (she’s the only other person in all of Ninth House even remotely Gideon’s age) . . . and a list of other things that I’m probably too lazy to write here. If Gideon is a mess, Harrowhawk is a complete disaster (again in a good way).

I won’t say much more about this here, other than to say that my one complaint of the novel is that there is a pivotal change in Gideon’s perspective when it comes to Harrowhawk, and I wondered as I was reading, if someone in Gideon’s circumstances would have actually felt this way given all the trouble Harrowhawk puts her through. I’m unsure, but it definitely made for good drama.

I feel the last part of this book that goes in the ‘fun’ category is the aesthetic. Everything in this book is so unequivocally gothic, that it often rushes right past frightening, stays for a quick lunch in absurd, and then launches right into laughable. Again, I felt this was intentional, and very much ‘in-character’ for Gideon who seems rather fed up with all the doom and gloom that is the Ninth House.

Initial Reactions Implies there were then Secondary Reactions?

Yes, the ‘provoking’ part of the title.

So I did some googling to try to refresh my memory about what happened in the first book, and realized there was actually a bit of controversy regarding Gideon and Harrow’s relationship. It’s a queer romance, which was gathering hype, because representation is important, and their isn’t (to my knowledge) a lot of mainstream Science Fiction which includes this and so people wanted to be happy about it. This should not raise any flags, or be considered a controversy.

But a lot of people are taking issue with the fact that it’s so screwed up. Essentially, Harrowhawk is in a lot of ways abusive, and uses not only her power as head of Ninth House, but also Gideon’s feelings for her to further her own agenda. That abuse of hierarchy, some have condemned as Slavery Romance, and when looked at in such a light, is pretty gross.

But the publisher, Tor Books, argues there is value in depiction of problematic relationships in fiction, so long as they do not Romanticize them. Their argument goes along the lines that books like Dracula, and The Mysteries of Udolpho give readers a safe place to:

. . . encounter monsters, serial killers, and other dangers they might fear, so too they allow readers to look at problematic relationships from a safe distance.

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

They reference Gideon’s Gothic aesthetic and clear influence and then continue on to point out that:

Books that depict problematic relationships can be a crucial tool to help readers who may be navigating their own toxic relationships understand that other people have gone through the same thing and that they don’t have to accept it as normal.

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

Finally they come to:

To queer readers, many aspects of Gideon and Harrow’s relationship feel familiar. Queer people often end up forced to interact with someone they hate, such as if they’re the only two out kids at a small school . . .

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

Now a lot of this, I’m unsure how to talk about. I can see after reading some of this debate that my earlier complaint that someone in Gideon’s circumstances might have chosen differently, was woefully simplistic, and comes from a place of my own privilege and agency in real life.

As for the debate above, all I can say is that I don’t ascribe to a view of literature that must have all the unsavory things removed. Yes people model their behavior after things they learn in stories, but I don’t believe that the only way to model good behavior is to model only good behavior. I believe we are smart enough to distinguish when an author is glorifying something we don’t agree with, and that as long as we’re thinking critically about what we read, we will still walk away without feeling the need to go out and enact whatever atrocity we’ve just seen.

I believe that people can write things that hurt other people, intentionally or unintentionally, and that we should always look at the motivations for why we feel we need to write the stories we write. We need to make sure that we are not writing a story to hurt someone or silence them.

Finally, it seems to me, that despite the moral ambiguity represented in Harrowhawk and Gideon’s relationship, I didn’t feel that the book condoned this behavior in anyway, simply showed it, and allowed readers to do, as we’re doing now, discuss and come to our own conclusions.

So it’s a good book?

In my opinion, yes! Go and read it. Sorry this post was a bit of a ramble, but I think it’s important to think about these things. Gideon the Ninth won both a Locus Award, and a Crawford Award (unfamiliar with a Crawford), and was a Hugo Finalist which is what put it on my radar. It certainly wraps some difficult themes in a goofy-fun mystery/adventure, and for that, I think it is deserving of all the awards and praise it has garnered.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know in the comments.

2021 Hugo Award Finalists Reaction Post

The Finalists are Finally here!

So, I know it’s Wednesday, and normally I would have posted another review of something from my prospective Hugo reading list, or perhaps a review of another book I’ve been reading, but this week is different . . .

This week, the finalists for said Hugo Awards were announced, and so I’m gonna do a bit of a reaction post. All of the categories are listed here, but for most of them I will probably have little or nothing to say. I’ll try to let the meatier reactions sift up to the top of the post . . .

Here we go!

Best Novel

For me, this is the most important category. Not to take anything away from any of the other categories, but it’s most interesting to me, because let’s face it, I’m more interested in novels. More interested in reading them, more interested in writing them, more interested in everything I can find out about novels. It’s just where I’m at.

So, what’s my reaction?

Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that I only managed to have read one of the books that actually made the finals. I’ve been playing a little bit of a game with myself every year since I became aware of these awards which is to see how many of the finalists I’ve read when they’re announced, and then judge myself for whatever the number was. I’ve come to consider it a bit of a pulse check to see whether I’m generally inline with the “genre” or not. It’s a bit silly, but I can’t help myself and I’ll probably never stop.

Last year I had already read three of the six books selected (my all-time high score), which to me, seems legit. When I first started playing this game, I was consistently reading zero of the front runners, but I also wasn’t reading a lot of recently published Sci Fi and Fantasy. I’ve tried to change that, and . . . sometimes I fair better than others.

Anywho, this year, the only one I’ve read was Martha Wells’ Network Effect. This is doubly disappointing as I had essentially written this one off in an earlier post. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, I have at least purchased. It is probably the one I’m looking forward to the most. I also had already purchased Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal.

I’ve read two other books in the Lady Astronaut Universe by Kowal (Calculating Stars, and Fated Sky) and loved them both, but I think I heard somewhere, that the new book does not take place from the point of view of Elma York, the Lady Astronaut. I’ve seen this sort of thing many times before, and Kowal is an excellent writer, so I’m sure I’ll love this book, but I’ve been procrastinating on it because of the main character change, and because of the fact that it’s been quite some time since I read the first two, and I’m wondering if I should do a re-read . . . that will be a game time decision.

I’m pretty excited for Harrow, just because I love the Locked Tomb Universe but given the end (which is all I’ll say), I have a lot of questions going in.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke seems like it will be quite a trip. I’ve never read anything by the author before, so this could be the surprise hit.

I didn’t really like Rebecca Roanhorse’s other Hugo contender, Trail Lightning, but I think I can go into Black Sun with an open mind.

That’s pretty much my reaction for the novel round. Onward!

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

I moved this up to the top of the list because to me, it’s in the same vein as the best novel award category. Apparently, it’s separate from a Hugo, so theoretically, the books in this category could win both which is kinda neat.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik the most. Have read some Novik in the past (Uprooted, and Spinning Silver) and while I enjoyed both of those titles immensely, I’m glad we’re in different territory here. I’ve got the first book in Novik’s Temeraire series on my shelf waiting to be read too. Looks like I have a lot of Novik in my future . . .

Also, very curious about Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. First, it has an excellent cover, and second, I just keep hearing about it.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher, I was thinking of picking up just on the title alone . . . now I have even more incentive.

The others in this category I haven’t heard of, but now is perhaps as good a time as any to familiarize myself with them.

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

I’m sneaking this one up to the top too, as I think it’s pretty important. Of the names on this list, Micaiah Johnson is probably who I want to win. I read The Space Between Worlds recently, and actually thought it would be a finalist this year . . . Ooops.

Would also be happy with Simon Jimenez winning for much the same reason. The Vanished Birds was great and (to me) belongs on the finalist list above.

I have read Jenn Lyons’ A Ruin of Kings, and while incredible in scope, and a massive undertaking, I wasn’t quite enthralled enough to continue the series.

Lindsay Ellis I haven’t read yet, but am somewhat familiar with her from her YouTube channel of all things . . . Am excited to read Axiom’s End.

A.K Larkwood (Unspoken Name) and Emily Tesh (Silver in the Wood) are unknown to me at this point but now that I google them, I realize that I have both of their debuts on my shelf . . . awkward . . . Well at least at some point, past me was excited enough about these books to buy them, so I’m gonna trust past me and get hype now.

Best Novella

Novella is probably going to be the next most interesting category for me. I managed to have read (but not reviewed) one title on this list which was Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted. It’s a fantastic story, but I’ll be honest, I’m hoping something else on the list surprises me.

I think the second strongest contender will probably be Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire. I’ve read three other Wayward Children books, and each one seems to be more impressive than the last. I think I’ll need to read two more to get to this one, and I’m pretty excited to start on that journey.

Ring Shout, by P. Djeli Clark is another I’m excited for. I’ve been eyeing his Dead Djinn in Cairo series for quite some time too but that’s not the point of this post.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi, Finna by Nino Cipri, and The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, I know relatively little about. You’ll notice two of them were on my Novel List so clearly I didn’t even know how long they were . . .

We’ll see.

Best Novelette

Unfortunately, I know almost nothing in this category. I’ve at least heard of Aliette de Bodard. Her Servant of the Underworld has been on my list for quite some time but I haven’t read it yet.

In any case, it will be a fun to try out some new authors!

Best Short Story

This is another category where I’m pretty out of my depth. I’ve read one book and a few short stories by Yoon Ha Lee, but haven’t found anything by them I’ve super enjoyed (although I have high hopes for Dragon Pearl).

Right now, Little Free Library” by Naomi Kritzer is looking the most interesting based off the title alone. We’ll see! . . .

Best Series

Unabashedly, I want The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty to win this category. I’ve recently finished The City of Brass and am almost done with The Kingdom of Copper (to be reviewed on this blog soon!), and I pretty much can’t wait for The Empire of Gold. It’s probably the most I’ve enjoyed a series since the early days when I started Mistborn . . . wow I’ve just had a revelation . . .

Anyway, I will not be disappointed if Wells takes this for the Murderbot Diaries. It’s a long series but definitely one of my favs as of late.

I couldn’t get into Scalzi’s The Interdependency which is surprising, because I have long considered him one of my favorite authors. (you can read some of my past posts on his work like my review of Miniatures and Redshirts . . . and I though I’d written more on him here. Oh well here’s a Scalzi Tag so that future me won’t have to search for posts about him)

Lady Astronaut which I mentioned above is an incredible series . . . I wonder if this would include only the first two books, or the one that is being considered now for novel? Either way, would not be sad to see Kowal win this either.

October Daye (by Seanan McGuire also mentioned earlier) and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang are both series I’ve never read so . . . Can’t say much about them.

Best Related Work

I can’t say I know much of what is up for an award in this category except: Woah! What is George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)

I mean I watched as much of the 2020 Hugo as I could, and it was awkward, and maybe a little off-putting, but wow it sounds like there is a lot to unpack which I missed. I’ll be reading that shortly.

Best Graphic Story

I’m just not a Graphic Novel person. Not yet. Anywho, none of this looks familiar. Not much to say here.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Movies! First impression was surprise to see Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga on the list. I haven’t seen it (but love Will Ferrell so I definitely want to).

Palm Springs will probably be my choice for this. I’m a sucker for “Groundhog’s Day” type storylines, and I felt this one really brought something new to the table.

Soul is probably the one that should take this award just on merit alone. If not for Palm Springs I would vote for it.

Tenet – I’ve been looking for an excuse to just buy this one . . . looks like now I have it.

May still check out Birds of Prey, but I think I sort of missed its moment. Will probably still check it out.

I haven’t heard of The Old Guard yet . . . Maybe that means it’s the sleeper pick haha.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

I’ll be honest, without re-watching these individual episodes, and maybe the whole shows to give them context, I’m not really sure how to make this decision. If She-Ra hasn’t won anything before in this area, I’d say that I would want it to go to that show.

Mandalorian may deserve a prize just for making me feel like I should continue to keep watching Starwars media.

The Good Place is always a fav . . .

I haven’t watched much Doctor Who

Best Editor, Short Form

Some familiar faces here. Neil Clarke, editor of Clarke’s World Magazine is probably the person on this list who’s work I’m most familiar with. Looking at his wikipedia page though, it appears he’s been a nominee for this award 8 times! (wow). Basically every year from 2012 to 2020 with the exception of 2015 . . . impressive. He’s done an amazing job and I would be upset if he doesn’t take home this award in 2021.

Best Editor, Long Form

Sadly, I don’t know any of the Editors on this list . . .

Best Professional Artist

Again, unfamiliar . . .

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is probably my fav short fiction mag in this group. I think it’s last award was in 2017 so . . . maybe time for another?

Strange Horizons is probably the other one I’ve read the most, and has apparently been a finalist every year since 2013. Maybe this will be the year!

Uncanny will also be a strong contender here. I’ve really been reading a lot of them (well what little short fiction I’ve read recently has come from them), so I would not be upset if they take this award either.

I haven’t read FIYAH yet but am anxious to check it out.

Best Fanzine, Best Fancast, Best Fan Writer, Best Fan Artist

I’ve grouped these together for brevity as they are essentially all the same answer . . . Which is that I don’t recognize much here.

Best Video Game

So this is the first year this category has been available, and I was super excited to hear about it being created. I’ve been pretty much glued to my PS4 since this pandemic started and so I thought it might be a good one for me to flex some insight . . .

I have played zero of the games on this list hahah. Animal Crossing is a cultural phenomenon but sadly not one on PS4. Final Fantasy VII Remake seems a little sus in my opinion as it’s a remake . . . I guess since this award hasn’t existed in the past I’ll let it slide (ya know because I have control over these things)

Hades is probably the game on this list I’m most excited to play. Love greek mythology and the gameplay mechanics seem intriguing . . . plus literally everyone I know won’t stop talking about it.

Last of Us Part II is interesting to me for a different reason, namely, story. So far, from what I’ve heard of this game so far, it really brings storytelling in videogames into the realm of literature. I thought this of the most recent God of War game, so I’m anxious to see this happen again with a new title. But . . . I need to play the first one first. I think it’s on sale for $10 right now so I really have no excuse . . .

Ooof I think that’s everything

Wow. We did it! We got through the whole list! This is way too long to proofread and I’ll probably miss the mistakes anyway.

Let me know what stuff you’re most excited for in the comments and thanks for reading this gargantuan post!

Until next time!

Should ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ get a Hugo?

No? Of all the books I’ve read so far on my quest to predict 2021’s Hugo winner this is the book I’ve enjoyed the least.

Now this will perhaps be something of a hot take as this book seems to be universally loved by fans and critics alike. It’s a bestseller in the New York Times, USA Today, National Indie, and Washington Post.

WaPo calls it a “Genre-defying tour de force” in their article: V.E. Schwab delivers another compulsively readable novel with ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’

Gary K. Wolfe over at Locus believes that “. . . most readers will fall in love with Addie as fully as Schwab herself has. And, well, she is pretty cool.(here’s the link to the Locus review)

And there are probably about a million other reviews online from major publications and small blogs like my own that would agree with those sentiments and have come up with their own ways to put their love of Addie into words.

I don’t want to take away from that. Live your joy. I will not try to deny that there was plenty to love in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (in fact, I’m going to start my review by listing the things I did like about the book because I think that is generally more useful, and if you are only gonna read so far you might as well learn about the good things) . . .

But this book wasn’t that for me.

**slight spoilers ahead**

(I’ve never done a spoiler warning on this blog before I don’t think. It was kinda fun!)

Fine, What Were the Good Things?

This quote:

“Freedom is a pair of trousers and a buttoned coat.”

Pg 163 (you know what book we’re talking about)

I was only slightly sad that she didn’t point out the joy of pockets. Now you may say, “What do you know of this? You’re a man.” Indeed, but I have talked to women before and occasionally they talk back. Sooner or later, they all mention pockets.

Needless to say this book is filled with gender commentary like that, whether it be in the little things like the clothes Addie is and isn’t allowed to wear (and what she feels able to get away with since she won’t be remembered), or one of the overarching themes of love and possession (aka abusive relationships). I especially enjoyed the way the book’s bi and queer relationships were in full view of the reader without any subtlety (or apology). They are simply a part of the world, and this is as it should be.

I also thought the main premise was intriguing and put something new (at least to me) on the themes and considerations of immortality.

And of course, the prose are expertly written.

Good. Good.

So what gives?

For me, two things mainly. The first: little or no sense of wonder beyond Addie’s original meeting with The Darkness. And second? Paaaacccciiinnnggg.

For the first, it is useful to think of WaPo’s review of ‘genre-defying’. Typically, this kind of sentiment is seen as an achievement, but I felt that in the case of Addie LaRue (randomly italicized because I thought it sounded like a mystery title), it was the book’s biggest weakness. A music venue in an abandoned subway tunnel is perhaps the most spectacle we get after establishing our MC’s curse.

I wanted more.

For the second, we have these short little chapters, which alternate between past episodes in Addie’s Life, and her “present” in 2014 (it was super interesting to read why Schwab chose to set the novel before 2016). At first, the short and punchy prose make these snippets fly by, and we feel like we’re running through the book instead of reading it. But after 50 such portions (and 3 parts!) we’re only halfway through the novel. I’ll admit, I had started typing up this post at that point, thinking I was going to put the book down.

By the halfway mark, Luc (the villain) didn’t really seem all that consequential. He sort of just shows up randomly which I guess could be stressful on its own but we don’t really have the full context yet though we think we do. We’ve seen a lot of Addie by this point, but all we know is that she’s proud, somewhat selfish, and suffering a whole bunch because of one bad move a long time ago. Whatever is going on with Henry is still a mystery.

Now, all of these things do get wrapped up and threaded together by the end (in a way that I’m still unsure whether or not is satisfying), but here too, we run into the constant stop-start, of these tiny chapters. By the last fifty pages, I just wanted everything to happen already.

Perhaps this is just me though . . .

So Hugo?

I don’t doubt this one will be a contender, but if it makes the finals (which it very well may given how popular the author and this book seem to be), it will not be the one I vote for. I enjoyed the premise and the way the story delivered its messaging, but I was really missing that sense of wonder, and on a more practical point, I almost put the book down because of the pacing . . . if I had then there would have been no chance for me to see all the things I ended up enjoying about the book, and that is definitely a problem.

Thanks all. Hope you found this review useful! Sorry it was a bit of a downer.

Please skin me alive, leave your thoughts in the comments! Until next time . . .

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!

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.

Hugo?

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!

Should ‘Rhythm of War’ Get a Hugo?

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Last week, I wrote about my plan to review books that might get nominated for a Hugo award, and so here’s my first entry into that endeavor.

Now anyone who knows me, will know that Brandon Sanderson is by far and away my favorite author. A casual look at my goodreads account will show you that I’ve read well over 30 titles by the man, and when it comes to obsessing over his books, I am pretty much as nerdy, and rabid, as they come. If a new Cosmere book drops, I drop whatever I’m reading at the moment, and usually whatever I am doing to go read it. Even if what I’m doing is traffic.

On this bloggo, I’ve talked about his “short stories” Dreamer, and Snapshot, as well as his YA novel The Rithmatist.

Needless to say, I’m a Fanderson.

Which is why I am utterly shocked to say that Rhythm of War will not be the title I will be nominating for the Hugo come March 19th.

I know! Weird right? I suppose I should explain . . .

Did I enjoy the book?

Oh yes. Immensely. There is no shortage of things to love in Rhythm of War. Without spoiling too much, there are rhythms, and there is war. There is magic (so much magic), and adventure. The characters are flawed and have expertly crafted change arcs. Characters you want to hate, you end up liking, and characters you’ve loved for years, you find maybe aren’t as perfect as you thought. And of course, that awesome moment where everything comes together, and the thing we’ve been building towards for about 1,000 pages, finally happens! And uses up the entirety of the special effects budget (if it were a movie which hopefully someday it will be!).

And as with all of his books, Rhythm of War gives you that sprinkle of answers that only lead to more questions. Worldbuilding on top of worldbuilding until your simply stunned with the complexity of it all.

If you have not read the book yet, please drop traffic and go do so. It is wonderful. I mean that times ten for anyone interested in Cosmere books, or even just the Stormlight Archive in general.

Yes, Brandon Sanderson knows how to give a reader what they want, and Rhythm of War does not disappoint.

So why isn’t it getting your nomination?

Well, to put it simply, it isn’t new.

Still My Fav Stormlight book!

While Rhythm of War is an amazingly written and crafted book, it is amazingly written and crafted in the same way that The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive 1) was amazingly written and crafted. In the same way as Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive 2), or Mistborn, or even Elantris or Warbreaker (though those two had some growing pains to be sure).

Rhythm of War seems to be suffering from a problem of scope and time. It is the fourth installment, in what is going to be at least a five books series, and probably a ten-book series, if Brando Sando achieves what he’s set out to do with these books. And at a certain point, it is just an iteration of the premise that Way of Kings began over ten years ago, and (IMHO) Words of Radiance perfected seven years ago.

But the Hugo is supposed to represent the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy right now, in 2021 (or ya know 2020 since that’s when the books were published). Not what was undoubtedly one of the best books of 2011, or 2014.

And so, it’s not my pick this time. I think it belongs on the list for most popular, and it has earned every single reader it has, but I don’t think it quite lines up with what the Hugo is supposed to be and do.

If Brando Sando dropped the first installment of a new series tomorrow, I would absolutely be looking at it for a best of award (if it really was great). But not this time around. Not for Rhythm of War . . .

Anywho, see y’all next time!