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Monthly Archives: March 2018

“Updraft” by Fran Wilde

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Fran Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft, has rightly earned a great deal of acclaim. Set in a city of bone towers, the story follows a young woman named Kirit. On the eve of her coming-of-age, Kirit displays a remarkable ability that makes her a pawn in an ongoing power struggle.

The worldbuilding in this novel is incredible. The setting is unique on a large scale, but the author also takes care to extrapolate out the small details of how people in such a world would live: what they’d eat, what materials they’d use for crafting, etc. Wilde does a deft job of supplying this information in the course of the story, without resorting to infodumps.

In addition to the physical setting, Updraft also presents the reader with a complex social structure. We’re also shown how this structure derives from the society’s history, which is another nice bit of verisimilitude. As the narrative progresses, we learn about factions and secrets within the society. I found the story compelling and was engaged by the mysteries Kirit discovered. The climax of the story was exciting, and I cared about what happened to Kirit, her mentor Wik, and her friend Nat.

Updraft is the first in a trilogy, and as soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to start in on the next book. I also have a theory about the nature of the setting, and I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right.

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“Lord of Emperors” by Guy Gavriel Kay

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When I reviewed Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium, I said that most of what went on in that book was setup. In Lord of Emperors, we get the payoff. The players behind the political machinations we were introduced to in that book become clear, as do their motivations. As in the first book, Crispin gets thrown in the deep end but manages to navigate remarkably well.

One of Kay’s strengths is worldbuilding, and Lord of Emperors broadens the setting we were introduced to in the first book. We get some glimpses of life in Bassania, and a new major character is a doctor from that country who ends up making his way to Sarantium and treating some very important patients. Although he’s coming in halfway through the story, Rustem is quickly integrated into the plot and given meticulous character development.

Overall, this is a worthy conclusion to the story that began in Sailing to Sarantium. It also gave some new richness to Children of Earth and Sky, which takes place in the same setting hundreds of years later.

“The Changeling” by Victor LaValle

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I had previously read and enjoyed Victor LaValle’s novella The Ballad of Black Tom, and I’ve always loved stories about the Fair Folk, so I was excited to read LaValle’s new novel The Changeling. Set in New York City, the story follows Apollo Kagwa, a man whose wife begins to act distant and distracted around their newborn son, Brian. At first, postpartum depression seems to be to blame, but after a horrific event, signs emerge that the real Brian may have been stolen away and replaced by something inhuman.

LaValle really shines when he’s depicting the family relationships in the story. The bond between Apollo and Emma, as well as Apollo’s love for Brian, come across very strongly. I also appreciated the friendship between Apollo and Patrice. In a fantasy novel, you can have all the magic and fantastical creatures you want, but the tale will succeed or fail on the portrayal of human relationships. By that metric, this book is a strong success.

I did perceive two major flaws with this novel, but both concern major plot revelations, so beware of spoilers ahead:

Emma blames Apollo for not believing her about Brian, and Brian appears to agree that he failed her in doing so. But prior to Emma killing the changeling, there are no hints of Brian’s nature that would be visible to Apollo. (Or even to the reader—we only know it’s coming because of the title.) It felt vastly unfair to me that Emma would blame Apollo, or that he would blame himself, simply for not believing a supernatural claim in the absence of any evidence.

We also discover, late in the book, that Apollo’s father once tried to kill him using a similar method to the one Emma uses to kill “Brian” the changeling. Of course, this immediately raises a question in the reader’s mind: did Apollo’s dad believe him to be such a creature? And given that the book has already established the existence of changelings in this setting, that leads to a second question: Was he right? Yet, Apollo never makes this connection, and it’s never followed up on for the reader. The narrative treats Apollo as unambiguously human, but that plot point makes one wonder…

Hugo Award Nominations

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Nominations for the Hugo Awards have been open for a couple of weeks now and close on March 16. Here are the works I plan on nominating, in no particular order within each category:

Novel

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman: Gaiman is probably the only author who, if he published his grocery list, I would read it. He does a wonderful job with the myths here.

With Blood Upon the Sand, by Bradley P. Beaulieu: This is the second book in Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands series. Not only does it avoid “middle book syndrome,” it’s downright excellent.

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden: Probably my favorite out of all the books I read in 2017.

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin: A stunning conclusion to the Broken Earth series.

Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant: A truly unique take on the mermaid legend, and I love the thought she put into the biology and sociology of the mermaids.

 

Novella

“Mira’s Last Dance” and “Penric’s Fox”, both by Lois McMaster Bujold: Bujold and Grant/Seanan McGuire are tied for “most mentions on my Hugo Nominations list.” Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series is wonderful; after the first one, I’ve bought each one as soon as it came out.

“Dark or Dusk or Dawn or Day” and “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”, both by Seanan McGuire: I loved the horror movie setting that most of “Sticks and Bones” takes place in, and “Dark” was a great standalone novella.

“The Doors at Dusk and Dawn” by Bradley P. Beaulieu: I love the way the novellas in the Song of Shattered Sands series add depth to the main storyline of the novels.

 

Novelette

“This World is Full of Monsters” by Jeff VanderMeer (Tor.com): An eerie story of transformation with some really stunning descriptions.

“Gravity’s Exile” by Grace Seybold (Beneath Ceaseless Skies): An interesting world and story.

“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone (Tor.com): A wonderfully creepy Lovecraftian story.

“The Worshipful Society of Glovers” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny): Poignant and heartfelt, with one hell of a twist at the end.

“Concessions” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Strange Horizons): An interesting setting, and the author did a good job of portraying the main character’s dilemma.

 

Short Story

“The Cold, Lonely Waters” by Aimee Ogden (Shimmer): Mermaids! In space! I liked the descriptions of the mermaids’ spaceship.

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell (Strange Horizons): I loved the concept behind this story and the main character’s gradual transformation.

“The Transmuted Child” by Michael Reed (Interzone): The Buddhist concepts underlying this story were really thought-provoking, and I liked that it included truly alien aliens.

“A Nest of Ghosts, A House of Birds” by Kat Howard (Uncanny): This was an absolutely beautiful story.

“The Morrigan” by Stewart Horn (Interzone): An excellent modern update of a mythical being.

This was by far the hardest category for me to pick five nominees in. I also greatly enjoyed “The Lights We Carried Home” by Kay Chronister (in Strange Horizons) and “Men of the Ashen Morrow” by Margaret Killjoy (in Beneath Ceaseless Skies).

 

Best Series

The Song of the Shattered Sands, by Bradley P. Beaulieu

The Broken Earth, by N.K. Jemisin

Penric and Desdemona, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bone Universe, by Fran Wilde: This is the only series of the four whose installments I haven’t reviewed on this blog. I finished the first novel, Updraft, recently, and have just started the second book, Cloudbound.

 

Best Related Work

“The Shape of the Darkness as it Overtakes Us” by Dimas Ilaw (Uncanny): A powerful essay about how stories of heroes overcoming dystopian governments have given hope to the author, whose birth country, the Philippines, is currently suffering under a dictator.

 

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Strange Horizons

Uncanny

Interzone

All of these magazines had a number of stories I enjoyed. The first three also make all their stories available for free online. Lightspeed also features some excellent work (and can be read for free), but its content is skewed too heavily towards reprints instead of new work.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, editors of Uncanny

Scott H. Andrews, editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Jane Crowley and Kate Dollarhyde, editor of Strange Horizons

Andy Cox, editor of Interzone

 

Best Fanzine

Rocket Stack Rank: This invaluable website catalogues short stories, novelettes, and novellas produced by a number of different magazines and a couple of yearly anthologies. It also provides a brief summary and short review of each one to help readers find stories they’re likely to enjoy.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

“The Spoils of War” (Game of Thrones): This episode of the fantastic visuals of the loot train attack, as well as some brief but insightful character moments.

“Beyond the Wall” (Game of Thrones): Great banter among the men on the expedition to capture a wight, thrilling battle scenes, the uplifting arrival of the dragons, and the heartwrenching death of Viserion.

“The Bone Orchard” (American Gods): An excellent start to what I think is the standout film/TV speculative fiction presentation of this year.

“Git Gone” (American Gods): A compelling portrayal of the despair Laura felt and her relationship with Shadow.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

American Gods, Season 1

Game of Thrones, Season 7

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

 

As mentioned above, some of the magazines that published short stories, novelettes, and novellas on my list make the stories freely available online, including Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Tor.com. The fanzine I nominated, Rocket Stack Rank, is also not monetized. All of these are great places to find new sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories to read.