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Monthly Archives: March 2019

2018 Hugo Award Nominations

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Nominations for the Hugo Awards closed on Friday. Here’s what was on my ballot, in no particular order for each category. Some stories are available to read for free online; where that’s the case, I’ve included links.

 

Novel

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. A compelling story that draws on Eastern European folklore, with several clever, determined protagonists.

The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty. A superb debut novel that made me immediately preorder the sequel.

Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett. The magic system in this story is fascinating and refreshingly different.

Fire and Blood, by George R.R. Martin. It’s not The Winds of Winter, but I loved the historical feel of the story, and there are definitely some interesting implications for the main plot of the ASOIAF series. The artwork is lovely too, and made me glad I bought the hard-copy edition.

A Veil of Spears, by Bradley P. Beaulieu. The continuation of the Song of the Shattered Sands series ups the stakes even further.

 

Novella

The Freeze-Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts

“We Ragged Few” by Kate Marshall (in Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Elevation, by Stephen King

“The Last Biker Gang” by Wil McCarthy (in Analog)

“Bury Me in the Rainbow” by Bill Johnson (in Asimov’s)

 

Novelette

“You Know How the Story Goes” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com)

“Do As I Do, Sing As I Sing” by Sarah Pinsker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“The Sweetness of Honey and Rot” by A. Merc Rustad (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“The Tragedy of Zayred the Splendid” by Grace Seybold (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com)

 

Short Story

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex)

“Suite for Accompanied Cello” by Tamara Vardomskaya (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“Strange Waters” by Samantha Mills (Strange Horizons)

“Three Meetings of the Pregnant Man Support Group” by James Beamon (Apex)

“Loss of Signal” by S.B. Divya (Tor.com)

 

Graphic Story

The Sandman Universe

The Order of the Stick. 2018 was a great year for this comic, with one of the most dramatic and emotionally satisfying moments in the storyline to date.

 

Editor, Long Form

Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link. I was very impressed with some of the books put out by their Small Beer Press in 2018, such as Su Wei’s The Invisible Valley.

 

Editor, Short Form

Ellen Datlow. In addition to her work as acquiring editor for Tor.com, I was blown away by some of the stories in her anthology The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea. I’d love to see the anthology as a whole win its category in the Bram Stoker Awards.

Scott H. Andrews. Editor-in-chief of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

C.C. Finlay. Editor-in-chief of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Trevor Quachri. Editor-in-chief of Apex.

Neil Clarke. Editor-in-chief of Clarkesworld.

 

Professional Artist

Doug Wheately. As mentioned above, I really liked his work on the illustrations in Fire and Blood.

Todd Lockwood. He may be familiar to Dungeons and Dragons players as one of the artists for the Monster Manuals, including the classic metallic and chromatic dragons. More recently, and qualifying him for a 2018 Hugo, he did the cover and interior illustrations for Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series.

 

Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This was the clear standout last year, with a number of excellent stories.

Tor.com

Analog

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Clarkesworld

 

Fanzine

Rocket Stack Rank

File770

 

Series

Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley P. Beaulieu

A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin

Wayward Children, by Seanan McGuire

 

Campbell Award for Best New Writer

S.A. Chakraborty, for The City of Brass

 

Lodestar Award for Best YA Novel

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

“The Freeze-Frame Revolution” by Peter Watts

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Peter Watts’s novella The Freeze-Frame Revolution tackles a fascinating science fictional premise: a rebellion whose members are only awake for a few days every millennium. Sunday is one of the crewmembers of Eriophora, a starship made from a hollowed-out asteroid and engaged in a mission to construct a series of jump-gates that will allow travel across the Milky Way. The crew spend the vast majority of their time in suspended animation, with different subsets being woken up depending on the skills needed to build any given gate. But it’s been millions of years since they’ve heard anything from the rest of humanity, and some of them are starting to wonder whether continuing with the mission is worth it.

This is a story that’s chock-full of big set-pieces: the Eriophora itself, the all-knowing AI that runs it, the artificial singularities powering the gates, the sheet time-scale of the ship’s journey. It would be easy for the human characters to get lost amidst all this, but Watts keeps the focus squarely on them. Their relationships and emotions are what drive the story forward. In particular, we see Sunday’s loyalties gradually shift as she begins to uncover the scope of certain actions taken by the long-ago mission planners. I also enjoyed the concept of subcultures developing among subsets of the crew who are habitually awakened together. (It reminded me a bit of Sue Burke’s Semiosis, in which each generation consciously chooses a set of traditions for itself.)

All this is not to say that the big set-pieces don’t pull their weight. Some parts of the book are quite grim, but one can’t suppress a sense of wonder at the grandeur of it all. A starship made from a miles-wide asteroid and fueled by a singularity! A millions-of-years-old mission! A galaxy-spanning network of jump-gates! The sheer scale of the project, and the boundless advancement of technology implied by such a project’s feasibility, harkens back to the Golden Age of sci-fi. This makes for quite an interesting juxtaposition with the overall tone of the book and Sunday’s eventual feelings regarding her “job.”

If Freeze-Frame has a flaw, it’s that the inciting event for the titular revolution leaves a loose end. Occasionally, when a jump-gate is completed, something comes through. Not an identifiable ship from Earth, but a strange phenomenon or creature. No two are alike, and while some are indifferent to Eriophora’s presence, others are hostile. An attack on the ship by one such “gremlin” plays a pivotal role in kick-starting the plot, and because of that, I expected there to be some revelation about the nature of these entities. Are they what humanity has evolved into? Are they alien stowaways on humanity’s jump-gate network? Are the jump-gates acting as portals into some alternate dimension inhabited by eldritch abominations? We never find out, and aside from some idle speculation, the characters don’t seem to treat it as a very important question either. But this is a small nitpick in a story that’s compelling overall.

“Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi

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Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, is marketed as YA, but people well above that age range will find it a gripping read, too. The main character, a young woman named Zélie, is a divîner: a person with the potential to develop magical ability. Although the divîners no longer have the capacity to develop into maji (full magic-users), the memory of their power causes them to be feared and oppressed. With the help of her brother and a disillusioned princess, Zélie sets out to restore the divîners’ magical abilities so that they can defend themselves against those who hate them.

One of the things this book does particularly well is to balance spectacle with smaller, more intimate character moments. Some scenes are breathtaking, such as the magical animation of a room-sized mural depicting the creation of the divîners by the gods. But Adeyemi never forgets that it’s the characters who make the reader care about all of this. Inan’s struggles with his self-loathing, Tzain’s exasperation with and love for his sister, Zélie’s self-doubt and determination, and Amari’s journey toward becoming a hero are rendered as vividly as the large set-pieces.

At its heart, this is a story about how oppression comes into being and how it can be fought. The novel addresses this topic from multiple perspectives. Of those, I found Amari’s storyline particularly compelling. Her gradual understanding of the divîners’ plight and deepening commitment to helping them made her a rich and interesting character. (I’ll discuss one particular development at the very end of this post, as it hinges on a major spoiler.)

Children of Blood and Bone also continues a trend that has been gaining momentum over the past few years: fantasy settings based on places other than medieval-era Western Europe. Adeyemi is Nigerian-American, and the place names and magic system of the book draw heavily on Nigerian geography and Yorùbá spirituality. Including a wider range of voices enriches the genre, and Adeyemi’s work is a worthy contribution to this movement.

The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is due out in December. I’m sure I won’t be the only person looking forward to it.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

The driving force behind Amari’s choice to join Zélie’s quest is Binta’s death, and Amari’s memories of their friendship were quite moving. Because of that, I was happy when Amari became a Lighter at the end of the book. It tied in nicely with the recurrent memory of light springing from Binta’s hand and Amari’s concurrent realization that magic doesn’t have to be something to be feared.